Building Babel

About This Episode


Building Babel follows a year in the life of Sharif El-Gamal, the developer of Park51, the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque," a Muslim-led community center two blocks from the World Trade Center. With unlimited access to his life at home and in the office, the film paints a portrait of a Muslim-American businessman up against impossible odds.

A passionate Brooklyn-born Muslim, Sharif El-Gamal sees Park51 as a centerpiece of his own Muslim American identity. Born of a Polish-Catholic mother and Egyptian-Muslim father, El-Gamal only turned to Islam after 9/11 shook his faith to the core, and sees Park51 as a way to give back to the Lower Manhattan community. Married to a Muslim convert and the father of two daughters, Sharif represents an Islam that remains foreign to most Americans, especially given the way the media and politicians have continued to use Park51 as a point of controversy.

Despite a principle goal of helping to rebuild Lower Manhattan, opposition to the plan has been virulent and non-stop. Thousands of Americans have rallied against the prospect of a Muslim institution being constructed in such proximity to Ground Zero, and Park51 has become an internationally discussed symbol of Islam's relationship to the Western world. Building Babel follows Park51’s development through the daily experiences and struggles of the men and women trying to make it a reality.

In revisiting the frenzy that surrounded the Park 51 project with special guest WNYC Reporter Arun Venugopal, this America ReFramed episode examines the role that mass media plays in the creation of polarizing issues.