Friday, June 10, 2005

The Stealth Hijacking of Ground Zero

As the rebuilding process at the World Trade Center site - Ground Zero - crawls along at the snail's pace dictated by New York City's contentious politics, alert observers have detected a new element in the plans to memorialize the horrific events of September 11, 2001. In addition to the much debated and fought-over memorial to the victims of that dark day, a new International Freedom Center (IFC) has been added to the plans. On its face, the idea for such a center doesn't seem offensive, until one discovers exactly what activities it plans to host. According to Deborah Burlingame, member of the board of directors at the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, the IFC's backers, which include a roster of prominent leftist activists, including George Soros, come with a distinct agenda, one that has little interest in commemorating the more than 2,700 American civilians viciously slaughtered by Muslim terrorists at Ground Zero.

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.

Given the ideological predispositions of those backing the IFC, and a general understanding of New York's intellectual climate, it is no stretch of the imagination to conclude that the "activists" who will be invited to speak at the IFC will consist of the usual motley collection of leftists who will use Ground Zero as a platform from which to denounce the US foreign policy, globalism, American capitalism, US "cultural hegemony," US "imperialism," racism (always American racism, naturally) and every other target on the radical left's hit list. One would not be surprised to see representatives of Hamas or Islamic Jihad invited to the IFC to publiclly denounce Israel or praise the September 11th hijackers - to the resounding applause of students from CCNY, Columbia University and NYU brought in especially for the event. If this sounds improbable, consider that one of the IFC's contibutors is Columbia University professor Eric Foner, a radical leftist, 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.
Professor Foner is entitled to his odious opinions, and parents foolish enough to finance their children's indoctrination at Columbia deserve exactly what they get, but Ground Zero is no place for the sort of ideological agitation to which Professor Foner and his ilk will doubtless resort. Especially, since the IFC will be funded hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money.

Ms. Burlingame properly observes that the proposed IFC would occupy such a significan position in at Ground Zero that it would distract visitors from the September 11th Memorial and offer ideological confusion at a site made sacred by the loss of so many American lives. Of course, such is exactly the intention of the IFC's supporters.
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. 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. While the IFC is getting 300,000 square feet of space to teach us how to think about liberty, the actual Memorial Center on the opposite corner of the site will get a meager 50,000 square feet to exhibit its 9/11 artifacts, all out of sight and underground. Most of the cherished objects which were salvaged from Ground Zero in those first traumatic months will never return to the site. There is simply no room. But the International Freedom Center will have ample space to present us with exhibits about Chinese dissidents and Chilean refugees. These are important subjects, but for somewhere--anywhere--else, not the site of the worst attack on American soil in the history of the republic.

The Memorial at Ground Zero should not be co-opted for pushing anyone's ideological agenda. It should exist solely to commemorate the thousands of innocent civilians murdered by Islamist fanatics on that sunny September morning. Ms. Burlingame concludes:

The so-called lessons of September 11 should not be force-fed by ideologues hoping to use the memorial site as nothing more than a powerful visual aid to promote their agenda. Instead of exhibits and symposiums about Internationalism and Global Policy we should hear the story of the courageous young firefighter whose body, cut in half, was found with his legs entwined around the body of a woman. Recovery personnel concluded that because of their positions, the young firefighter was carrying her.

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.

Those interested in expressing their displeasure at the planned IFC can contact the 911 Families for America, IFC, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and New York Governor George Pataki and join in the effort to banish the IFC from Ground Zero.


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