Under a crassly misleading title “9/11 Families Stunned by President’s Support of Mosque at Ground Zero,” Andy McCarthy of National Review quotes Debra Burlingame as being “stunned,” as if she and she alone speaks for the 9/11 families.
She doesn’t. She claims to speak for some of the families though an organization called 9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America, but from the group’s own website I can’t tell if anyone beside Burlingame, let alone other 9/11 survivors, belongs to this organization. Whatever her following, she has been the ringleader of a group of people opposed to any sort of memorial on the Ground Zero site that doesn’t reflect their extremist right-wing political beliefs and their vengeful, hateful views. She is, in short, a nasty piece of work.
Let’s review. First off, once again let me remind everyone that no one has polled the survivors, although plenty of people who were no where near Manhattan on September 11 keep presuming to know what they think and to speak for them. And if I were a survivor of one of those killed and not a mere eyewitness to the atrocity, I’d be looking for a lawyer who would sue the asses off anyone who presumed to speak for me.
Of the three principal 9/11 family associations — none of which are affiliated with Debra Burlingame —
The Families of September 11 have made no statement about the Islamic Center that I could find on their website.
The September 11 Families’ Association has taken no stand on the issue, but in a recent addition to the website have said only “Currently, there is a firestorm of opinion on this issue, with September 11th families coming out strongly on both sides.”
May 20th, 2010
New York – Today, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, a nationwide group founded by family members of those killed on 9/11 issued the following statement, which may be attributed to their spokesperson, Donna Marsh O’Connor:
September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows strongly supports efforts to bring an Islamic Cultural Center to lower Manhattan, near the Ground Zero site. We believe that welcoming the Center, which is intended to promote interfaith tolerance and respect, is consistent with fundamental American values of freedom and justice for all.
We believe, too, that this building will serve as an emblem for the rest of the world that Americans stand against violence, intolerance and overt acts of racism and that we recognize that the evil acts of a few must never damn the innocent.
And I’d like to point out that a few days ago, when I wrote a blog post about the statement above, I titled it “A September 11 Family Association Supports the Islamic Center.” That is accurate. I don’t presume that this one organization speaks for all family members. (However, the names of several survivors are listed on the website as members, so at least I am reasonably certain the organization represents more than one person.)
But let Debra Burlingame flap her lips, and National Review says 9/11 Families Stunned by President’s Support of Mosque at Ground Zero, as if Debra Burlingame were the designated spokesperson for all of them. And righties everywhere will point to what Debra Burlingame says as PROOF that ALL SEPTEMBER 11 FAMILIES are opposed to the Islamic center, and that their tender sensibilities are being crushed under the weight of those liberal “elitists” who actually take religious liberty seriously.
But the truth is, it’s the Right that is arrogantly assuming they know what the September 11 families think and presuming to speak for them. This is nothing but arrogance; it is their usual small-minded view that theirs is the only correct opinion, and anyone who disagrees is not a real American, and possibly not even a real human being.
Anyone who genuinely respects what the September 11 families suffered will shut up and let them speak for themselves. I understand that Debra Burlingame lost a brother that day, and she is welcome to speak for herself and those people who choose to associate with her. But that leaves out the majority of the September 11 families.
It’s obvious that the many survivors of the victims of September 11 are not all of one mind about the proposed Islamic center, either in favor or opposed. We can see from the public record that some are very much opposed to it, but others are very much in favor of it. For example, this was recently reported in the New York Times, about Mayor Bloomberg’s outspoken support for the center:
In a widely watched address, Newt Gingrich, a former House speaker who has worked with the mayor on education reform, criticized the planned center and encouraged Mr. Bloomberg to change his mind.
But Mr. Bloomberg was heartened to hear that some of the families of 9/11 victims supported his position; they told him so a few weeks ago at a fund-raiser for the memorial at the site.
“One hundred percent of them in the room kept saying, ‘Please keep it up, keep it up,’ ” he recounted. “ ‘Our relatives would have wanted this country and this city to follow and actually practice what we preach and what we believe in.’ ”
Please, do not let the twisted, bigoted haters like Debra Burlingame become the only September 11 family member whose voices are heard.
Update: What Josh Marshall says:
No doubt the president’s advisors would much have preferred not to address this at all, wish it had never come up. But it’s difficult to imagine any president doing otherwise. We learn again that saying you’re for “democratic values” and freedom actually means being for “democratic values” and freedom. Are we in the tradition of the opening and plural societies of Amsterdam and London and America? Or the closed and authoritarian ones of Madrid and Moscow? The infrastructure of the Republican party has chosen to hoist its sail to religious bigotry. There’s no other way to put it. The president has done the only thing he could possibly do which is to state clearly that we’re Americans and we don’t discriminate on the basis of religious belief.
Right now about half of rightie bloggerdom is arguing to the effect that we are not bigots and we support religious freedom but we want to stop the building of this [alleged] mosque because it upsets us and we don’t like it. In other words, they are in favor of religious freedom except when they disapprove of it.
For example, at a site called neo-neocon there’s an argument that while some Sufis may have a right to build an Islamic center in lower Manhattan, it’s wrong for them to do it because it upsets a majority of Americans.
And if the blogger at neo-neocon drops by here — toots, I was in lower Manhattan on September 11. I’m an eyewitness. Where were you? If the answer is “watching on television a long way away” I say my opinion overrides yours.
And I say “rights” are meaningless unless they can be exercised. To say of course they have a right to build the mosque, but we must bully and intimidate them and throw all kinds of fits and stir up all the enmity we can so they don’t do it — um, no. That is not “principle.” That’s a “mob,” even if it’s virtual.
JUDITH: Well, why do you want to be Loretta, Stan?
LORETTA: I want to have babies.
REG: You want to have babies?!
LORETTA: It’s every man’s right to have babies if he wants them.
REG: But… you can’t have babies.
LORETTA: Don’t you oppress me.
REG: I’m not oppressing you, Stan. You haven’t got a womb! Where’s the foetus going to gestate?! You going to keep it in a box?!
JUDITH: Here! I– I’ve got an idea. Suppose you agree that he can’t actually have babies, not having a womb, which is nobody’s fault, not even the Romans’, but that he can have the right to have babies.
FRANCIS: Good idea, Judith. We shall fight the oppressors for your right to have babies, brother. Sister. Sorry.
REG: What’s the point?
REG: What’s the point of fighting for his right to have babies when he can’t have babies?!
FRANCIS: It is symbolic of our struggle against oppression.
So, neo-neocon is all in favor of a symbolic freedom of religion, as long as people she doesn’t like don’t try to express that right in ways that make her uncomfortable. Then, they’ve got to be stopped. Like most other of the bigoted Right, she stops just short of declaring that the government must stop the building of the mosque, but she wanted President Obama to come out against it.
But when Obama defends the building of the mosque in freedom of religion terms (”I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.”) he is refusing to make the obvious distinction most ordinary Americans have managed to draw: that just because there’s a right to do something doesn’t mean it should be done.
This is like saying you have a right to express your opinion, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to let you do it if we disagree with you. And people wonder why I don’t try to reason with these people. You might as well teach metaphysics to rocks.