Yesterday morning I got an e-mail directing my attention to the videos posted at a site maintained by people who oppose the design for the Flight 93 memorial in Shanksville, Pa. This memorial project has been the subject of controversy for years. Back in 2005, then-Rep. Tom Tancredo was reported to have sent a letter to the National Park Service "asking the Interior Department to reconsider the crescent-shaped design of the memorial to those aboard a plane hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001, because some may think it honors the terrorists." Tancredo quite sensibly argues that "regardless of whether 'the invocation of a Muslim Symbol' was intentional, 'it seems that such a symbol is unsuitable for paying appropriate tribute to the heroes of Flight 93 or the ensuing American struggle against radical Islam.'"
The design was originally called the "Crescent of Embrace." Apparently, in light of the negative reaction it sparked, the design underwent cosmetic changes intended to allow the crescent to be presented as a broken circle. But the videos featured at the aforementioned site point to other features of the design that its opponents claim are indications that it is in fact a memorial to the hijackers, not to the heroic passengers whose decisive action kept them from achieving their probable mission: to fly the plane into the White House.
The report about Rep. Tancredo's letter quotes Joanne Hanley, identified as superintendent of the Flight 93 national memorial. "The name is irrelevant, really," she said, "There's a lot of misinformation out there and conjecture and hidden meaning that just isn't there."
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Given the battle now raging over Imam Rauf's "Cordoba House" project, both the controversy over the Flight 93 memorial's design and the offhand official response to it appear in rather a different light. Events have turned the conclusions of the crescent design's opponents from arguably idiosyncratic emotional speculations into precursors of what is more and more the general conviction of the American people.
We have been through an election that put the White House into the hands of an individual who has openly prevaricated about Islam's contribution to America's heritage. He has used the "bully pulpit" in ways that validate the notion that American misdeeds somehow invited the terrorist attacks. He has, by word and symbolic deed, projected an American posture of submission to the opinion and authority of the Islamic world. With the likes of Barack Obama in the White House, it's hard to dismiss the possibility that a memorial intended to honor those who died thwarting an act of terrorism has a design that instead pays tribute to its perpetrators.
But when the design was adopted, George W. Bush was president. Isn't it absurd to suggest that there were forces at work in the Bush administration willing to signal America's submission to an interpretation of events that had crowds of people in the Islamic world dancing in the streets to signify their elation over the blow struck against the Great Satan? Yet it is not absurd to consider the possibility that even during the Bush years there were lingering aftereffects of the overconfidence and naiveté that led to the national-security failures the 9/11 terrorists exploited. It is not absurd to examine the possibility that such mentalities continued and kept decision makers from even considering how deeply the infrastructure of radical Islamist ambition has insinuated itself into America's governmental and social fabric.
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Have Obama and Imam Rauf inadvertently heightened Americans' sensitivity to facts and apparent resonances that look like happenstance when considered in isolation, but appear from the vantage point of that heightened sensitivity to form a design that equates remarkably with the symbolism of triumphant Islamic conquest? Is there some specious argument of religious right that requires that we countenance even the possibility that a memorial to those who acted against terror, and in the best tradition of America's constitutionally recognized citizen militia, will instead be seen in the course of history as a clever tribute to their assailants? And if such arguably camouflaged symbolism may confuse the view of future generations, what of the open declaration of intent made clear in Rauf's evocation of Cordoba's monument to Islamic conquest, made when he originally christened the project now widely known as the Ground Zero mosque? (By the way, the reference to the citizen militia points to a deeply rooted aspect of the American spirit evoked by the action of the Flight 93 passengers, but nowhere alluded to in any aspect of the "Crescent/Circle of Embrace" design.)
One reason we lift up leaders to some height above the ordinary purview of our lives is so that they may take account of the way our lives will appear to our posterity. Shouldn't our leaders be working to assure that our commemoration of 9/11 purveys to posterity the citizen spirit that thwarts, resists and overcomes the coercive threat of terror? Why instead are so many, of every political stripe, taking stands that will allow those memorials to be used in tacit proofs that the terrorists succeeded in their intention? Will future generations see in the 9/11 sites the significance that Obama has quietly conveyed already – that on 9/11 the long arm of Islamic retribution cowed the wicked spirit of American liberty, setting our nation on the road that takes us first to submission and thence to surrender and dissolution?
I can't believe Americans in this generation really want this to be our legacy. But if we do not, we must not only raise our voices to object, we must raise up leaders who will rely on the passionate strength of our objections to turn the tide against those who steadily, consistently, inexorably seek to consolidate their selfish power upon the ruins of America's self-respect.