Scheduled to open on May 21, thirteen years after the attacks, the September 11 Memorial Museum at the World Trade Center site promises to become one of the most visited and influential cultural institutions in the United States. Although built with around 1 billion dollars in federal grants and other government support, the memorial operates as a private foundation, immune from public input on its exhibition content.
The curatorial team made numerous politically-charged decisions in the design of the museum’s permanent exhibition, and one of the most sensitive, and likely subject to substantial international scrutiny, will be the characterization of Islam in relation to the ideology of al-Qaeda. Islam is the religion of nearly one-fourth of the world’s population, and tying the beliefs of 1.6 billion people to the actions of a small group would be highly reckless in such a prominent setting. Therefore, I was alarmed to discover that the museum has indeed chosen to conflate terrorism and religion, with their advance materials using the highly problematic term “Islamic terrorism.”