July 15, 2005

Interntional Freedom Center

The IFC memorial on the former site of the WTC towers is still embroiled in a fight over just how the memorial issue should be handled, though it appears just today that they may be forced into considering other locations for it. One of the more extreme suggestions has been repeated by Bill Maher, and is something to the effect of a Why They Hate Us pavilion. It's not clear that the IFC is going to such lengths, but a Why They Hate Us section at the 9/11 memorial would be roughly equivalent to a Why The Jews Deserved It arena at the National Holocaust Museum.

The IFC had been vaguely described as an all-encompassing museum on the history of freedom and oppression. That's a noble and important effort (if done correctly) and I'd be willing to make a charitable contribution to such an enterprise (from a reputable developer). But would we write on a loved one's tombstone how great everyone else is? Do we hear about the wonders of Harding, Coolidge and Hoover at the FDR Memorial?

Bill Maher's idea is tragically stupid and woefully crude. It's unbelievable disrespectful to take what is in effect hallowed ground and turn it into a time to explain why they deserved to die or why the actions weren't unjustified. That would be the equivalent of going to a AIDS clinic or memorial and explaining how having unprotected sex or sharing needles brings AIDS on yourself; but at least in that case, you're being highly inappropriate in an accurate way. But the fact is that the 'Why They Hate Us' schtick is heavily overplayed. They hate us because we have a great country and they don't, we have a great economy and they don't, we have power and influence and they don't, we have different cultural norms and our mores and cultural media are being accepted by many Arabs and Muslims while Arab and Muslim culture are not being accepted by us. They hate us because they are neo-fascist bigots that hate people who stand in the way of gaining power; their hatred isn't our fault, no matter what mistakes or missteps might have been made in US foreign policy. But more than that, the 3,000 people who died didn't do anything to bring this wrath down on them any more than the rape and burn victims of Darfur brought hell down on themselves. Why They Hate Us is an idea both horribly crass and horribly wrong.

But even a step down from blaming the victims, putting broad context to a specific event, is crass. It belittles the event. If somebody complains of a stomachache and you shoot back that there are starving people in Ethiopia, then you are not commiserating, but denigrating. For the purposes of mourning the victims of Islamic terrorism against the World Trade Center, we don't need to hear about the Holocaust, slavery, apartheid or the civil rights movement. Those are all important things to learn about and learn from, and anyone who disagrees is a fool or a bigot. But we don't need to hear about them at the site of the WTC.

A brief segment or exhibit linking the attacks to humanity's endless struggle for freedom against oppression would not only be tasteful but powerful and intellectually stimulating. But it should be a conclusion or a capstone to an actual memorial. You do not mourn someone's pain by only talking about the pain of others. Not only do the organizers realize this fact, they are counting on it. They hope to lose the outrage and sadness Americans feel about 9/11 in a general sea of sadness and inspiration for the whole history of freedom.

By all means, build the IFC memorial as planned - just build it across the street, across town, across the country, anywhere not in the way of a real WTC memorial. The site of the towers should have ample space reserved solely for the victims and mourners of the attacks.

And by the way, I seriously think whatever we build there has to be taller than the WTC towers were. Nothing like an extra ten or twenty stories for an added "fuck you" to the terrorists and their sympathizers.


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