SPECIAL UPDATE -- June 22: Take Back The Memoria reports: NYC councilman backs family members' call for halt to IFC.
The city councilman who represents Ground Zero yesterday called for a halt of the controversial International Freedom Center planned for the World Trade Center site because of concerns voiced by outraged 9/11 families.
"The families have raised legitimate questions as to whether or not that type of museum should be in the memorial quadrant," said Councilman Alan Gerson. "We should put the Freedom Center Museum briefly on hold. We need to rethink this before we proceed," Gerson told The [New York] Post following a hearing on Ground Zero reconstruction
If you haven't already done so, sign the "Take Back The Memorial" petition now.
[End of special undate. Orgininal post follows.]
For three long years we have played by the rules as set forth by Governor Pataki, Mayor Bloomberg and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. It got us nowhere.
We want a proper, fitting and respectful September 11th Memorial for the 3,000 innocent souls who perished that day. Not “a history lesson about tolerance.”
The planners of the World Trade Center Memorial have been put on notice that we are going over their heads to make our case to the American people. Please join us for a press conference to kick off our national campaign to enlist the American people in a Fight for Ground Zero. Our loved ones deserve no less.
I wrote extensively on the topic of the International Freedom Center in this post.
UPDATE I -- June 20: More about today's Take Back The Memorial rally at 9/11 Families For America.
UPDATE II: SIGN THE "TAKE BACK THE MEMORIAL" PETITION.
Also released: press conference. Excerpt from statement by Edie Lutnick:
But now 9/11 faces a different tragedy. Forgetfulness. The 9/11 Memorial will be buried underground. It‚s stories, artifacts, and place in history hidden underground. The fear, loss, hope and heroism of 9/11 replaced in prominence by stories from a different time, about a different day. While the memories of 9/11 are hidden underground, while 9/11 tries to squeeze between the infrastructure underground, a shiny new building is going to be constructed for the International Freedom Center. The message will not be the hope and renewal of 9/11, but a debate on world politics. The space will not be a sacred remembrance, but rather a speaker‚s corner. When you come to the WTC site you will not be immersed in 9/11. You will be met with world politics. No one who has come to the WTC site in the last almost four years has asked about world politics. Why? Because, it isn‚t the appropriate place. Everyone knows that.
The International Freedom Museum must be removed. If the museum building stays, it must be filled with 9/11 from top to bottom. There is no reason why cost or space should ever be an issue in teaching 9/11 to our children, while money and space exist to debate world politics. Make no mistake, we think Martin Luther King deserves to be honored, that there is a place for Ukrainian victors to be studied, but NOT on the site where 20,000 body parts of 2749 innocents were recovered. [Emphasis added]
UPDATE IV: Jeff Jarvis reports on the rally.
The families, always with the pictures of their lost loved ones, began changing: "9/11 memorial only" and "take back the memorial." And then a few family members spoke.
One appealed to the American people to join with them and take back the memorial. Another said that lessons of a freedom center would be fine, "but not here, not on sacred ground."
"Nobody is coming to this place to learn about Ukranian democracy and be inspired by the courage of Tibetan monks," he said.
Another spoke for many when he said that the remains of his family member were never found. "We have no place to go," he said, "we have no place to grieve" -- other than this place.
The sister of a firefighter pointed to her 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter and asked whether the lesson of what is to be built at the World Trade Center will be that "9/11 is something to be ashamed of."
"We will make sure this site is not violated a second, time," she said.
UPDATE VI -- June 22: Take Back The Memorial has posted two enlightening videos. The first video features Take Back The Memorial's Debra Burlingame and International Freedom Center's Richard Tofel on Fox & Friends. The second video is an O'Reilly Factor segment dealing with the first video and an off-stage encounter between Burlingame and Tofel.
Judging by Tofel's statements, the IFC's sales strategy appears to be this: Say the word "freedom" a lot; mention that President Bush said freedom was attacked on 9/11; note that most people agree that freedom was attacked on 9/11; then draw the conclusion that we should build a history-of-freedom museum and lecture hall at the WTC 9/11 memorial site.
At face value, this reasoning has its appeal, and they know it. Who would argue against building a museum dedicated to the history of freedom, right? The problem is that the IFC has proven time again that it can't be taken at face value.
To build a "freedom museum," one would have to begin by defining freedom. After all, some people believe that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." Obviously we don't want terrorists being commemorated at the 9/11 memorial, so surely the IFC will define "freedom" in order to exclude exhibits, lectures and debates by terrorist sympathizers and apologists, right? No, not really. In his WSJ editorial., Tofel was explicit: "[The International Freedom Center] 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."
How can the IFC "celebrate the triumphs of freedom," as Tofel puts it it the video, while also refusing to even define "freedom"? They can't, not if they are truly concerned about freedom. "Freedom as they see it" is an intentionally open-ended concept that will leave the IFC plenty of room to smuggle in whatever exhibits they want. At "best," they could include exhibits and lectures about any fight for freedom not directly connected to 9/11 -- from the holocaust to civil rights -- thus detracting attention from the 9/11 atrocities and the Islamists who committed them. At worst, they could include speakers sympathetic to, say, the Palestinian "freedom fighters" who target civilians in their war against Israel -- just as Mohammed Atta did at the World Trade Center on 9/11.
But why be suspicious of the IFC's motives? Is there any indication of what they want to "smuggle in" to the WTC site?
The public has a right to know that it was the Mr. Bernstein’s organization [Human Rights First], joined by the American Civil Liberties Union, that filed a lawsuit three months ago against Donald Rumsfeld on behalf of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was Human Rights First that filed an amicus brief on behalf of alleged “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla, an American citizen who the Justice Department believes is an al Qaeda recruit. It was Human Rights First that has called for a 9/11-style commission to investigate the alleged torture of detainees, complete with budget authority, subpoena power and the ability to demand that witnesses testify under oath.
Burlingame characterizes Bernstein as "a driving force behind the IFC." This New York Times article noted how much so:
A Freedom’s Future space [within the International Freedom Center] will be devoted to public service. Lawyers would be invited to volunteer with Human Rights First, for example, or doctors and nurses with Medical Missions for Children or CURE International.
So when Tofel talks about inspiring memorial visitors to "act in the service of freedom as they see it," what he has in mind, as least in part, is working for groups like Human Right First, which is actively fighting the American military in a time of war.
Is this "celebrating the triumphs of freedom"? Is this the kind of activity that should be allowed at the WTC 9/11 memorial site?
There are some organizations that might be truly appropriate for soliciting volunteers at the WTC, like the U.S. armed forces. But somehow I doubt that would fit into the IFC’s scheme of things.
(Sign the "Take Back The Memorial" petition if you haven't already.)
Posted by Forkum at June 19, 2005 05:35 PM