Arts & Culture

Critics Claim Flight 93 Memorial Glorifies Islam

The story of Flight 93 is, for lack of a better description, incredibly moving. One of four planes to crash during the September 11th attacks, this plane is unique in that it crashed in a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania … Read More

By / May 6, 2008

The story of Flight 93 is, for lack of a better description, incredibly moving. One of four planes to crash during the September 11th attacks, this plane is unique in that it crashed in a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania following a courageous passenger effort to regain control of the hijacked cockpit and to subvert an additional planned attack.

In 2005, Paul Murdoch’s design for a national memorial to the victims of Flight 93 was chosen from a pool of over one thousand applicants. The design, which features a large ring of red maple trees surrounding a circular walkway and stone wall that frame or “embrace” the axis of the plane’s flight path and the crash site where forty people lost their lives on September 11th, 2001. All visitors will enter through a western portal walking along , passing by a large bell tower containing one bell for every Flight 93 passenger. The project was initially titled “Crescent of Embrace.”

The mock-up images on Murdoch’s website are truly stunning projections of what the site will begin to look like upon its halfway completion, currently scheduled for September 2011, in time for the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Unfortunately, not everyone is so happy about the design. Some have gone so far as to call the project “an insult” to the memorial’s honorees.

So what’s all the fuss about? Although it may not be immediately obvious, put your thinking cap on and consider the following picture. Here we have: a gigantic, red crescent structure surrounding sacred ground, with a western gate, a large eastern wall, and a gigantic, noise-making tower. That, my friends, is what some would call a mosque: minaret, qibla, and all.

At least, that is what about 5,300 petitioners are saying about Murdoch’s proposed plan. The New York Times reports that representatives from this opposition group met with the Flight 93 Memorial Task Force and the Flight 93 Advisory Committee over the weekend in attempts to halt all construction of the proposed memorial and to come up with a new, design. And if the task force and advisory committee do not comply, they say they’re taking their campaign to Congress.

“It’s really revolting to me, this whole thing,” Tom Burnett, Sr., father of Flight 93 passenger victim Tom Burnett, Jr. who has been outspoken against the proposed memorial design since it was first chosen. Harry Beam, a former Army lieutenant colonel and primary anti-memorial design activist also spoke on behalf of the full group as to why the design is offensive. “They all believe there’s no place for Islamic symbolism or anything that would elevate the status of the terrorists,” he said.

Murdoch, who, coincidentally, is currently involved in the renovation of the American Jewish University campus, has shrugged off suggestions that his design is subliminally Muslim. When interviewed by the Times, he called the protests “someone else’s distraction.” But the fact that his project’s name was changed from “Crescent of Embrace to “Circle of Embrace” and the originally planned gap at the western end of the memorial has been altered and is now set to be filled in by trees suggests that Murdoch I not as impervious to criticism as he says.

While this is an emotional subject, the more one learns about Murdoch’s design, the more unfortunate it becomes that what was clearly intended to be sensitive, well thought out plan has been degraded to an architectural “[elevation of] the status of the terrorists.” That kind of sentiment is more hurtful than the proposed memorial design will ever be. The design is centered, both literally and metaphorically, around the memory of the crash victims, and any criticism should be too.