By now many of you have heard of the propaganda film Innocence of Muslims which led to a tragedy in Benghazi and an almost-tragedy in Cairo. For better or worse, these events proved that one film can make a huge difference, which is why I want to inform you about Journey into America (2009) by Ambassador AKBAR AHMED and its subsequent initiative One Film 9/11.
Ambassador Ahmed is a scholar of contemporary Islam, a respected interfaith spokesman, and believer in the vision of America’s founding fathers. His ultimate goal is to improve the relationship between Americans and Muslims both in the U.S. and in the Muslim world. The film documents Ahmed’s team as they travelled around the U.S. for nine months to visit more than 100 mosques in cities, suburbs and towns across America. His team of students, of which I was one, explored the relationship between Americans and Islam in light of 9/11.
In Journey into America, some influential theorists had through provoking things to say about Islam and American identity. Noam Chomsky, one of the greatest critics of American society and U.S. foreign policy, said Americans have always been driven by ‘myth and ‘fear’. Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, an American-born convert to Islam and leader of Zaytuna College, talked about Malcolm X and the last respected forms of racism in American society. Reverend Jessie Jackson, the civil rights campaigner alongside Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s, said Americans have to work hard at inter-ethnic relations.
Many of the sensational comments made in Innocence of Muslims are also made in Journey into America. On Madison Avenue in Manhattan at the annual Muslim Day Parade, a white woman screamed to Muslims that the Prophet Muhammad was a ‘child killer’ and ‘rapist’. Muslim- Americans, in turn, screamed back ‘your country kills more people than anybody!’ and ‘you’re the child killer!’.
Journey into America, however, isn’t just a film about Islam. It’s a film that dissects the competing narratives of American identity. To put the experience of Muslim Americans into context, we had to journey into non-Muslim communities to see how Mormons, Native Americans, Jews, and other groups responded to the events of 9/11. The main question we asked all Americans was What does it mean to be American? Ultimately, we found the need for more cross-cultural and religious understanding, people who are willing to build bridges rather than burn them, and a return to America’s quintessential principle of religious freedom.
Innocence of Muslims motivated me to initiate the project One Film 9-11. This project, which started on September 12, 2012 in light of the attack in Benghazi, is a mission to screen Journey into America in as many mosques as possible around the world on September 11, 2013. Journey into America was groundbreaking in 2009 and needs to break ground again in 2012 and beyond.
As we learned through Innocence of Muslims, one film can make a huge difference. Please help me make Journey into America one of these films, but for the better.