Saturday, August 27, 2005

Freedom Center Free to Leave

Has anyone out there been reading the regular articles and editorials in their New York-area newspaper of choice about the rebuilding at Ground Zero? My gut has to tell me that the answer is no, because if anyone were reading these pieces, I think the opposition to the current plans for a memorial space would be expanded to beyond the group of "families" who are now alone in protesting this injustice. And it is an injustice. (Righting America has some commentary and links to key articles in this debate.)

Let's make this quick. In addition to the large, 50,000-square foot space being given for the construction of the official memorial, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation has allotted 300,000 square feet - six times what was given to the memorial - to the International Freedom Center. The IFC will be a museum with exhibits on the pursuit, attainment, and maintenance of freedom around the world. Think the fight for Polish independence and Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement, for example. It will also look closely at the abridgement of freedom. Think Native American relocation, Tiananmen Square, and Abu Ghraib. Why all this at Ground Zero? The planners say that September 11th fits into a long line of events and eras throughout history where freedom was threatened.

The planners are absolutely right, and their museum sounds thought-provoking and downright interesting. But they're absolutely, positively wrong in thinking that such a museum belongs at Ground Zero. The 2,700 families who lost loved ones there aren't so much concerned with where their loss fits in on the grand scheme of fallen fighters for freedom. Or maybe in some way they are, but not at the moment that they're standing on the site of their family member's murder.

The Freedom Center represents a quiet attempt primarily on the part of left-wingers to politicize the memorial at Ground Zero. The IFC is going to be used, whether purposefully or not, to criticize American policies of the past and present. Let's not be mistaken; a good deal of American policy from the past and in the present deserves criticism. But Ground Zero is no place for protest and debate. Leave politics out of that cemetery. Politics does not belong there.


At 12:49 PM, Blogger Sharon GR said...

Amen, Sam.

At 6:10 PM, Blogger Hairpinandarrow_blog said...

Hi Sam! Thanks for visiting my blog. I absolutely agree with your anaylsis. When money and opportunism get involved, little things like "keeping politics out of the cemetary" get lost.

Debra Burlingame's goal is to make the memorial a true memorial, a place, "...that allows them to take in the sheer scope of the destruction, to see the footage and the photographs and hear the personal stories of unbearable heartbreak and unimaginable courage. They will want the memorial to take (us) back to who (we) were on that brutal September morning.

Instead, they will get a memorial that stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the yearning to return to that day. Rather than a respectful tribute to our individual and collective loss, they will get a slanted history lesson, a didactic lecture on the meaning of liberty in a post-9/11 world. They will be served up a heaping foreign policy discussion over the greater meaning of Abu Ghraib and what it portends for the country and the rest of the world.
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... 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 driving force behind the IFC is Tom Bernstein, the dynamic co-founder of the Chelsea Piers Sports and Entertainment Complex who made a fortune financing Hollywood movies. But his capital ventures appear to have funded his true calling, the pro bono work he has done his entire adult life--as an activist lawyer in the human rights movement. He has been a proud member of Human Rights First since it was founded--as the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights--27 years ago, and has served as its president for the last 12.
The public has a right to know that it was Mr. Bernstein's organization, 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.

In fact, the IFC's list of those who are shaping or influencing the content and programming for their Ground Zero exhibit includes a Who's Who of the human rights, Guantanamo-obsessed world:

• Michael Posner, executive director at Human Rights First who is leading the worldwide "Stop Torture Now" campaign focused entirely on the U.S. military. He has stated that Mr. Rumsfeld's refusal to resign in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal is "irresponsible and dishonorable."

• Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU, who is pushing IFC organizers for exhibits that showcase how civil liberties in this country have been curtailed since September 11.

• Eric Foner, radical-left history professor at Columbia University who, even as the bodies were being pulled out of a smoldering Ground Zero, wrote, "I'm not sure which is more frightening: the horror that engulfed New York City or the apocalyptic rhetoric emanating daily from the White House." This is the same man who participated in a "teach-in" at Columbia to protest the Iraq war, during which a colleague exhorted students with, "The only true heroes are those who find ways to defeat the U.S. military," and called for "a million Mogadishus." The IFC website has posted Mr. Foner's statement warning that future discussions should not be "overwhelmed" by the IFC's location at the World Trade Center site itself.

• George Soros, billionaire founder of Open Society Institute, the nonprofit foundation that helps fund Human Rights First and is an early contributor to the IFC. Mr. Soros has stated that the pictures of Abu Ghraib "hit us the same way as the terrorist attack itself."

While Gov. George Pataki, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and LMDC are focusing their attention on the economic revival of lower Manhattan, there has been no meaningful oversight with respect to the "cash cow of Ground Zero." Meanwhile, the Freedom Center's organizers are quickly lining up individuals, institutions and university provosts with this arrogant appeal: "The memorial to the victims will be the heart of the site, the IFC will be the brain." Indeed, they have declared the World Trade Center Memorial the perfect "magnet" for the world's "great leaders, thinkers and activists" to participate in lectures and symposiums that examine the "foundations of free and open societies." Put less grandly, these activists and academics are salivating at the prospect of holding forth on the "perfect platform" where the domestic and foreign policy they despise was born.

Less welcome to the Freedom Center are the actual beneficiaries of that policy. According to the New York Times, early renderings of the center's exhibit area created by its Norwegian architectural firm depicted a large mural of an Iraqi voter. That image was replaced by a photograph of Martin Luther King and Lyndon Johnson when the designs were made public. What does it mean that the "story of humankind's quest for freedom" doesn't include the kind that is fought for with the blood and tears of patriots? It means, I fear, that this is a freedom center which will not use the word "patriot" the way our Founding Fathers did...

The people who visit Ground Zero in five years will come because they want to pay their respects at the place where heroes died. They will come because they want to remember what they saw that day, because they want a personal connection, to touch the place that touched them, the place that rallied the nation and changed their lives forever. I would wager that, if given a choice, they would rather walk through that dusty hangar at JFK Airport where 1,000 World Trade Center artifacts are stored than be herded through the International Freedom Center's multi-million-dollar insult."

How do we get a real memorial back?

By taking a little action ourselves: signing Debra's petition and keeping people current--just like you are doing in your blog.

This lengthy quote (sorry about that. I'm not a person of few words, it seems) has been taken from an article written by Debra. You can find it in my Links and Essentials.


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