July 13, 2005

Art of Desecration


A New York Times editorial yesterday villainized the Take Back The Memorial campaign against the International Freedom Center as the work of a "sharply political" "handful of angry family members" out to impose "censorship" at the WTC memorial site. If you are one of the over 32,000 33,000 people who have signed the "Take Back The Memorial" petition (including over 1,600 1,700 9/11 family members), you might take exception to that charge.

The Times' criticisms are based on the false assumption that the WTC site was somehow destined to be a publicly-built venue for the arts and political discourse. Operating from that premise, the attempts by Take Back The Memorial to ensure that the WTC memorial site deals exclusively with 9/11 are characterized as "abrogating the rights of everyone else."

One particular passage reveals the Times blindness to the real issue. They write that if Governor Pataki attempts to "appease one small, vocal group of protesters," "he runs the risk of turning ground zero into a place where we bury the freedoms that define this nation."

"Bury"? The Times has the gall to use the word "bury"? There are actual Americans buried at Ground Zero, murdered because they lived in a free county, and the Times' main concern is not the victims but that Ground Zero have an art gallery able to exhibit "controversial images of 9/11 and America's role in the world," all in the name of "free speech."

The real issues are how to properly use the hallowed ground of the WTC site to memorialize 9/11 victims and to historically document the attacks, and whether or not the IFC "freedom museum" and "arts center" are distractions from (and potentially even desecrations of) that memorial. As currently planned, the WTC memorial is already buried beneath the International Freedom Center building. With left-leaning individuals deeply involved in the IFC, it's not difficult to imagine how much worse it can get.

But because of the vigilant efforts of Take Back The Memorial, the IFC is on the defensive. They are making small concessions, apparently hoping that it will be enough to save their project. For instance, a recent IFC letter (see here and here) proposed mixing pictures of WTC heroes with the historical pictures in their "freedom museum," moving the IFC building a few feet away from the memorial, and adding a special 9/11 family room. But these are all obvious, crass attempts to placate those who simply do not want the WTC memorial site to become a venue for public political discourse, artistic or otherwise. Particularly worrisome is that a publicly-built, Ground Zero venue might feature anti-American sentiments. That would be a desecration of hallowed ground that cannot be allowed.

But the answer is not to regulate the speech and art that might appear at the International Freedom Center to fit someone's definition of "appropriate." The answer is to not build the IFC to begin with.

The Times summed up by saying:

What we build at ground zero has to honor the memory of one terrible day in the history of America, but it also has to belong to the future as well, a future as optimistic and forward-looking as we can imagine. It cannot be a place devoted entirely to death. If ground zero is not a place of life and creativity, of true artistic and political freedom, then it will not be successful even as a place of grief.

First of all, there is nothing inherently "optimistic and forward-looking" about art or politics, so that line is pure pablum. The "place devoted entirely to death" line a straw-man criticism. No one refers to, say, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum as a "place devoted entirely to death," and no one has proposed such a thing for the WTC site.

What is being proposed is that instead of the IFC a larger, more comprehensive 9/11 memorial museum than what is currently planned be built. There are plenty of other places for "artistic and political" expression and a "history of freedom" museum. The memorial area of Ground Zero should be exclusively dedicated to highlighting the lives of those taken from us on 9/11 and in 1993. It should document what happened and why. That alone will inspire visitors to appreciate their freedoms.

If you haven't already, consider signing the "Take Back The Memorial" petition. And for the latest information on the issue, see the Web sites for Take Back The Memorial and 911FamiliesForAmerica.org.

Our two previous cartoons on this issue: Step Right Up and Culture Complex.

UPDATE I -- July 14: Jeff Jarvis fisks the Times editoiral: Do not build it. Not there.

What's shocking is that anyone ever thought it would be a good idea to have such debates over the graves of the heroes and innocents of 9/11. It was a bad idea to include such an institution there. When I first heard "cultural center" at the World Trade Center, I was thinking perhaps a nice theater or perhaps a downtown extension of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, not a forum for debating issues (and bashing us). But, of course, once you open the doors to art and expression, you can't shut it off to some and not others; that is not the American way. And so what's mistaken is to open those doors there, at this sacred place. Do it elsewhere. Not at the World Trade Center.

UPDATE II -- July 15: Big news from Take Back The Memorial: IFC & Drawing Center to be "Reconsidered".

We welcome the decision by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to pursue other locations for the International Freedom Center (IFC) and other non-9/11 related cultural amenities. But make no mistake, that pursuit must continue until it ends with the removal of the IFC and The Drawing Center from Ground Zero. We do not view this decision as ‘one last look around’ - we view this as the last chance for the IFC and The Drawing Center to find a home other than the atop the graves of 2,749 people. They cannot remain there and we will not rest until they are removed.

New York Post coverage:
Article on yesterday's LMDC meeting: 'Site'-seeing Tour
Editorial on the latest development: Freedom Center Fakeout
Commentary on the Aspen Institute's involvement: Cover's blown on freedom center shills
Op-ed from three NY congressmen: Fossella, King & Sweeney: Quit The IFC Games

Blog coverage:
9/11 Families for America: Fear takes hold of the LMDC
Michelle Malkin: They're Feeling The Heat
Jeff Jarvis: Do not build it. Not there.

UPDATE III -- July 18: 911FamiliesForAmerica.org has updated commentary regarding last week's developments (Fear takes hold of the LMDC: Part II) and posted news from New York Business: Drawing Center may quit WTC (more commentary here).

Amid a storm of controversy over plans for the Ground Zero cultural centers, the Drawing Center says it has put the entire planning process for its move downtown on hold and is considering whether it should pull out of the site.

Museum officials have not spoken publicly about their role in the controversy. But in an interview with Crain's last week, Executive Director Catherine de Zegher voiced her frustration with demands that the museum agree to limit the type of art it would show in its new home. The institution wants the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. to guarantee that it will have complete freedom in curating its exhibitions. ...

The Drawing Center, one of the four cultural institutions chosen to move to Ground Zero a year ago, came under attack last month for exhibiting work that satirizes President George W. Bush's comments about the Axis of Evil. Around the same time, the International Freedom Center, a new museum chosen to share a building with the Drawing Center, came under fire because some potential programs were deemed unpatriotic by families who lost loved ones on Sept. 11.

Posted by Forkum at July 13, 2005 11:11 PM