Movie Review – Building Babel
April 21, 2012 Leave a comment
Park51, a name that does not ring a lot of bells in the American psyche. But what if I were to say “9/11 Mosque”? Does that conjure up images of New Yorkers and Americans rallying together to stop the construction of an Islamic center just blocks from the site of the Twin Towers? Polarizing and a view into the window of religious dialogue and tolerance, Building Babel is an appropriate title to a film that shows the monumental task of courting controversy and believing in what you do.
Director David Osit is a one man camera crew who jumps into the controversy of the Park51 building and it’s creator Sharif El-Gamal. The film opens up with phone messages that are left by people opposed to the construction of the “9/11 Mosque”. Religious hate drips off of every word and Sharif shrugs it off, chalking it up as another day at the office. This is the tone of the film, one where hate and religious opposition is always and will forever be prevalent in the life of Sharif El-Gamal. Osit doesn’t just bring the hate and difficulties to light, rather the aim is to understand the struggles of the creator of the Park51 Project and to understand more about an average Joe by all accounts.
Sharif El-Gamal is a family man, a regular loving father who cuts up his daughters spaghetti and leads them in a nightly prayer. He is a go getter in terms of real estate and a self-made man with a dream to building an Islamic community center where Muslims can go to enjoy a country club like atmosphere. Job and learning center, prayer room, athletics room, and a whole litany of other beneficial programs at the location of 51 Park Place, New York City. The problem with that location is that it is two blocks from the site of the World Trade Center. A location that he didn’t think would court the sort of outrage that he imagined.
Building Babel is a focus on Sharif’s struggle to not only get the project off the ground, but the battle he faces every day with the concept of religious freedom and character assassination. If you didn’t know anything about the man behind the project other than what the news outlets tell you, he is apparently the most hated man in America. He is called un-American and a terrorist, sullying the sanctity of the 9/11 grounds which also have titty bars and bookies sitting on the same plot of land that the park is being built. The media and protestors vilify this man, associating the horrific acts of 9/11 with religious blindness. Sharif’s intentions are pure, but the reality of a religious intolerant society mares what would be a helpful community center. Sharif puts together a crew of workers to act as PR and outreach to tell relay the points and benefits of the center, but the controversy drowns out any progress.
The documentary, much like the current state of the Park51 Project, doesn’t go anywhere. There isn’t a fully developed story other than following the controversial man behind the project and the missed message that they were trying to get out to the public. I was left wanting a bit more about the development of the project, but was given more about personal struggles and triumphs, but those go hand in hand with the challenges that face Sharif and his Islamic Community Center. I think it does more to bring to light the Islmaphobia that is rampant amongst the talking heads of the news cycle and the mindset of those who preach tolerance but never practices it. You see people shoving the Christian ideology in the face of Sharif, but you never see them practicing tolerance.
The film would have benefited more as an intimate window into the polarizing effect that the Park 51 site has on America. But as a human interest story, the documentary is interesting enough to shed light on the figurehead of so much zeal and hate. He is American. He is a family man and a religious man. He is no different from you and I, but his actions have sparked a political debate that paint him as an enemy. If there is something to take away from all this, it is that Park 51 and Building Babel becomes the talking point for religious freedom in America.
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