'Frontline

The Man Behind the Mosque' Airs on PBS 27 September

by Cynthia Fuchs

27 September 2011

 

“I’m a New Yorker from Brooklyn. I’m not a community activist, I’m not an Islamic academic. This isn’t something I’ve been studying. I’m a New Yorker who is a real estate junkie who has ambition…” Sharif El-Gamal pauses. “That’s who I am.” Premiering on 27 September,, Frontline: The Man Behind the Mosque considers who that might be, as well as how his plans to build at Park51 became a symbol of across the United States and beyond. Called the “Ground Zero mosque,” the project at Park Place was supposed to provide space for prayer and community activities, and make El-Gamal some money too. But when blogger Pamela Geller raised an alarm on her website and her and Robert Spencer’s group, “Stop the Islamization of America,” began to protest the falsely named “Victory Mosque,” the controversy “caught fire,” says El-Gamal. Frontline briefly notes the famous people who jumped on this fast-rolling bandwagon, from Newt Gingrich to Sean Hannity, but it stays mostly focused on El-Gamal’s professions of surprise, his tearful concerns for his own children as the focus of strangers’ fear and hate, and his increasing tensions with his mentor and, for a time, Park51’s Imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf. The mix of personalities and interests is, of course, much more complex than the Fox News debates or the NYC tabs presented them. Frontline makes that much clear.

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