Also published in Islamophobia Today
The anti-Islamic propaganda film Innocence of Muslims exacerbated the stereotypes and animosities between Americans and Muslims worldwide. The anti-American protests that have swept across the world have proven that for better or worse, one film can make a difference. For this reason I’m informing you about the documentary feature film Journey into America (2009) and its subsequent initiative One Film 9/11.
Journey into America is a groundbreaking and timely documentary that records Ambassador Akbar Ahmed and his team of students as they visited more than 100 mosques in cities, suburbs and towns across America. Unlike Innocence of Muslims, which enhances animosity towards Islam with antagonistic messages, Journey into America teaches that cultural dialogue and interfaith understanding is our best chance at improving relations between Americans and Muslims.
Journey into America reveals how recognition of the humanity of others is key to a civilized society. As interfaith activist Eboo Patel noted, Journey into America launches the next generation of bridge-builders, many of whom are non-Muslim Americans working towards strengthening bonds with the Muslim world. U.S. Representative Keith Ellison, the first-ever Muslim elected to Congress, called Ahmed’s project ‘the essential pillar in the effort to building the interfaith bridge of understanding’. Ingrid Mattson, the former president of the Islamic Society of North America, called Journey into America refreshing because it takes away the fear and strangeness of encountering strangers, which, again, was essentially the opposite of what Innocence of Muslims attempted to do.
Noam Chomsky, one of the foremost intellectuals in the world, stated in Journey into America that ‘America is a very frightened country’. The film, however, combats fear by informing, provoking, and inspiring Americans to see their Muslim neighbors as fellow Americans. In the film, you can see the tremendous warmth and hospitality of Muslims towards a predominantly non-Muslim team. The film debunks the myth that Muslims can’t be good Americans and that Islam is fundamentally incompatible with American values. One of the film’s most powerful scenes is when the team visited the Arlington National Cemetery gravestone of a Pakistani American who gave his life for the U.S. during the Iraq War. What could be more ‘American’ than that?
For Muslims worldwide, Journey into America can serve as a lesson on the Muslim experience in the U.S. The film can help shatter the prevalent notion in the Muslim world that America is a monolithic entity which hates Muslims and Islam. By watching Journey into America, Muslims worldwide can learn that the has U.S. welcomed their fellow Muslims throughout its history with open arms and that Muslim-Americans are proud of being American and happy living in the U.S. A particular scene detailing the life of one Pakistani immigrant shows how the ‘American Dream’ offers unlimited opportunities for Muslims. Simple and practical stories such as these help demonstrate to Muslims worldwide that many Americans value their Muslim neighbors and that many Americans adhere to the pluralist and egalitarian vision laid out by founding fathers.
Journey into America should be required viewing for all Americans and Muslims worldwide. For this reason I have started the initiative One Film 9/11. The purpose of this initiative is to screen Journey into America in as many places of religious worship around the world on September 11th, 2013 in the hope of improving relations between American and Muslims.
We learned through Innocence of Muslims that one film can make a difference in the way Americans and Muslims perceive each other. Now is the time for Journey into America to make the difference, but for the better. If you want to help, please join One Film 9/11 at onefilm911.wordpress.com.