June 09, 2005

Culture Complex


From The Wall Street Journal: The Great Ground Zero Heist; Will the 9/11 "memorial" have more about Abu Ghraib than New York's heroic firemen? by Debra Burlingame:

The World Trade Center Memorial Cultural Complex will be an imposing edifice wedged in the place where the Twin Towers once stood. It will serve as the primary "gateway" to the underground area where the names of the lost are chiseled into concrete. The organizers of its principal tenant, the International Freedom Center (IFC), have stated that they intend to take us on "a journey through the history of freedom" -- but do not be fooled into thinking that their idea of freedom is the same as that of those Marines [mentioned earlier in the editorial]. To the IFC's organizers, it is not only history's triumphs that illuminate, but also its failures. The public will have come to see 9/11 but will be given a high-tech, multimedia tutorial about man's inhumanity to man, from Native American genocide to the lynchings and cross-burnings of the Jim Crow South, from the Third Reich's Final Solution to the Soviet gulags and beyond. This is a history all should know and learn, but dispensing it over the ashes of Ground Zero is like creating a Museum of Tolerance over the sunken graves of the USS Arizona.

The public will be confused at first, and then feel hoodwinked and betrayed. Where, they will ask, do we go to see the September 11 Memorial? The World Trade Center Memorial Foundation will have erected a building whose only connection to September 11 is a strained, intellectual one.

There have been two responses to this editorial that I've seen. GOP Blogger has communicated with a Lower Manhattan Development Corp. representative who claims the memorial board members and the memorial itself will not be, contrary to the editorial, a lopsided, left-leaning presentation.

However, a new op-ed in today's The Wall Street Journal in defense of the IFC's approach to the memorial is more revealing. In A Fitting Place at Ground Zero, Richard J. Tofel throws around a lot of quotes from Bush to Lincoln about "freedom" as if the concept will be important to the memorial, but then he admits that it really won't be:

To be sure, the International Freedom Center will host debates and note points of view with which you -- and I -- will disagree. But that is the point, the proof of our society's enduring self-confidence and humanity. Moreover, the International Freedom Center will rise above the politics of the moment. It will not exist to precisely define "freedom" or to tell people what to think, but to get them to think -- and to act in the service of freedom as they see it. And it will always do so in a manner respectful of the victims of September 11.

Keep in mind the context here: the "sue Rumsfeld for torture" ACLU* and other leftists groups are involved in the memorial. How can the memorial be "respectful of the victims of September 11" if, like the ACLU, we do not "precisely define 'freedom'"? True political freedom is not a matter of opinion. After all, didn't Mohammed Atta and his fellow Islamic mass murderers "act in the service of freedom as they [saw] it"? Didn't they want the Islamic world to be "free" from Western culture and "globalization"? Isn't that the very reason they chose to attack the capitalistic World Trade Center in the great New York City? Will views sympathetic to Atta's "point of view" be allowed on the hallowed ground where thousand were slaughtered by him? Have they already?

If one iota of appeasing, multicultural, moral-equivalence, anti-freedom ideology is allowed to desecrate the 9/11 memorial, it will be a victory for the very monsters who brought down the towers. Ask yourself: would it prove our "self-confidence and humanity" if we rose "above the politics of the moment" and allowed Nazi-sympathizers to express "freedom as they see it" at Auschwitz, or even the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum? No, it would not. It would be an insult to the victims. And likewise we must not allow terrorist-sympathizers and apologists any platform at the WTC memorial.

In fact, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., should serve as a model for the WTC memorial, as a guiding principle on how to create a real tribute to the 9/11 victims that does not shy away from naming the enemy, its anti-freedom ideology, and telling the full, horrible story. It's not a matter of scale but of content and presentation. Not only does the Holocaust Museum explain how and why Nazism came to power but also how and why the Nazis systematically murdered millions. It tells survivors' stories and how the free state of Israel was born. It shows how life was reclaimed from a culture of death, destruction and tyranny. There are even television monitors -- conscientiously shielded from children -- that unblinkingly show the true horror committed against Jews and others.

Will there be such a presentation at the World Trade Center memorial? Will there be, as Burlingame put it, "a memorial that ... acknowledge[s] the yearning to return to that day"? There won't be if we can't even stand up, define and defend what is morally right about American freedom. That is the only way to respect the victims of 9/11, because that is why they were murdered.

*[CORRECTION -- June 15: I incorrectly credited the ACLU with the “Guantanamo is a gulag” statement; that analogy actually belongs to Amnesty International. However, the ACLU has expressed a similar sympathy with enemy by suing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and others for “direct responsibility for the torture and abuse of detainees in U.S. military custody,” and they support government inquiry into alleged abuse at Guantanamo Bay (see here). This post has been edited to reflect the correction. Thanks to Peter Malloy for pointing out the error.]

FrontPageMagazine has another good overview of the issue by Jacob Laksin, How the Left Hijacked the September 11th Memorial (hat tip Larwyn):

The final design of the center’s memorial will not be finalized until the end of 2005, but unless an aroused American public speaks up, all signs suggest that the finished product will be little more than a propaganda vehicle for the blame America left.

Other commentary:
Jeff Jarvis
Charles Johnson
Michelle Malkin

UPDATE I -- June 10: Michelle Malkin has more links, including Take Back The Memorial.

UPDATE II: sisu has excerpts from a FoxNews interview with Debra Burlingame. And Martin Lindeskog has additional links.

UPDATE III -- June 13: The Wall Street Journal posts reader responses to the editorials (via Take Back The Memorial). WSJ reader Robert Bove wrote:

My suggestion for Mr. Tofel and his supporters is to show some real courage and build their "International Freedom Center" in Damascus or Teheran. The effort might help him define freedom--and pronto.

UPDATE IV -- June 14: The International Freedom Center has responded to allegations of having a left-leaning agenda: IFC Myths and Facts. And Take Back The Memorial responded in kind point by point.

The latest IFC response is even more revealing. A paragraph worth highlighting:

The IFC's highest aims are to inspire people, and engage them in service. It will tell the stories of Naziism-but also of the Greatest Generation that defeated it; of the Soviet gulag-but also of the courageous dissidents who helped bring it down; of Jim Crow segregation-but also Martin Luther King, who helped stamp it out. Inspiring people through these stories to do freedom's work today is our best long-run defense against more 9/11's.

Notice that IFC's "highest aim" is "to inspire people ... to do freedom's work," by using historical examples -- as if 9/11 itself doesn't inspire Americans to appreciate their freedom. Let's be blunt -- IFC seems to be using Naziism, Jim Crow and The Greatest Generation to distract memorial visitors from 9/11, to dull the significance of 9/11 by overwhelming it with distantly-relevant historical information. And if "doing freedom's work" is really so important to IFC, why can't they even mention in their reply the democratic progress in Iraq, much less the progress in Afghanistan, a country directly connected to the 9/11 attacks? Is it because mentioning the battle for freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan would bring attention back to 9/11?

Notice also that there's no mention of the Isalmofascists who today are oppressing millions and seek to oppress millions more -- not to mention that they are the ones who slaughtered thousands on 9/11. Jim Crow? What about the oppression committed by the Taliban? The jailing of dissidents in Iran? The lack of ideological freedom in Saudi Arabia? If Nazism and Communism are worth mentioning, why isn't Islamism -- the one ideology dedicated to crushing freedom that had anything to do with 9/11? Mentioning Islamism would bring the focus back to 9/11 and why those who committed the atrocity did so. And that, apparently, is what the IFC doesn't want.

Aside from the need to document and explain 9/11 at the memorial, I hope the victims will be represented by more than just their names carved in a wall. Hopefully there will be photographs. Perhaps there will be some of the original "missing person" signs that covered New York City in the aftermath. But I have one suggestion. Instead of seeing Nazi and Soviet atrocities, let's see the people who were murdered on 9/11 -- let's see a wall of 3,000 video monitors showing the home movies of those killed and the loved ones who survived. Let's see them alive and enjoying the freedom America offers. And then let's remember that that is why they were killed.

Yes, the history of freedom is crucially important to understanding how to defend our freedom. But at the WTC site, it would be a gross act of evasion to do so without fully integrating such history to the events of 9/11, as the IFC appears to be doing, especially in their refusal to define freedom. Instead, the WTC 9/11 memorial should focus exclusively on 9/11 and any directly relevant history. Leave the other history to other memorials and museums. The WTC memorial provides an opportunity to identify the anti-freedom ideology that motivated the 9/11 killers as well as the opportunity to explicitly defend the freedom they sought to destroy. That is "our best long-run defense against more 9/11's."

UPDATE V -- June 15: IFC president Richard Tofel appeared on the FoxNews channel to address this controversy. Take Back The Memorial has the video and a response here.

UPDATE VI: I just watched the video in the last update, and the Take Back The Memorial response is spot-on. The IFC is cherry-picking the one element of the mission statement that could be bent to justify what they have planned -- assuming you completely ignore the rest of the statement.

The passage from the mission statement cited by Mr. Tofel is: “strengthen our resolve to preserve freedom, and inspire and end to hatred, ignorance and intolerance.” First of all, this is flat out impossible if the IFC does not first define freedom, which they have explicitly refused to do. Secondly, there’s all this talk about historical violations of freedom but still not a word about Islamism. How can IFC be serious about inspiring an end to “hatred, ignorance and intolerance” if they consistently refuse to even acknowledge the very hatred, ignorance and intolerance that brought down the towers?

UPDATE VII -- June 16: Take Back The Memorial continues their excellent coverage of this controversy. Go there to stay abreast. The latest includes a video of Neil Cavuto criticizing IFC plans and statements from families of 9/11 victims regarding the plans.

UPDATE VIII -- June 19: See our latest cartoon on this topic here.

Posted by Forkum at June 9, 2005 05:59 PM