Debra Burlingame Doesn’t Represent the 9/11 Families

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Obama Administration

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.

The September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, a group founded and steered by families of September 11 victims, has issued a strong opinion in support of the Islamic Center.

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.

Reminds me of

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?!

LORETTA: crying

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?

FRANCIS: What?

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.

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21 Comments

17 Comments

  1. c u n d gulag  •  Aug 14, 2010 @6:33 pm

    I can see where all of this is going.
    It’s based on recent precedent: Zones!
    Apparently, two or three blocks is too close.
    So, we’ll find a religious ‘comfort’ zone where the families of the victims feel comfortably far away enough from those who share a religion with those who created the victims, but want to make a point by stretching out an olive branch by building a facility dedicated to peace near the where the attack occured.
    It’s like the ‘Freedom of Speach’ zones created by the Bushies.
    Once, the entire country was a free speach zone (within reason, of course – the ‘fire in a crowded theatre’ exception). But, that was too scary for the Bush Junta. So, we had “Free Speach Zones,” far enough from the action so the “Little Boots” didn’t have to have his hair mussed by protesters comments being within earshot, and spoiling his beautiful self-esteem.
    So we started with “Free Speach Zones” for those who didn’t agree with the adminstration in power. ‘Seperate, but equal – as long as they were far enough
    away.’
    Now, “Free Religion Zones” are next, for those religions who we must grant rights to, but not too close to so the rest of us can hear or notice them. ‘Seperate, but equal, as long as they are far enough away.’
    Zones. Seperate, but equal.
    Sound familiar?
    Do you think this sounds like progress?
    Me neither.

    PS: If you want to find a plus side, no one but that asshole at the AFA called for there to be no more Mosques built in the US. I’m sure there are people who agree with him, I just think he was the only one stupid enough to say so…

  2. Bonnie  •  Aug 14, 2010 @11:15 pm

    I love “You might as well teach metaphysics to rocks.”

  3. Bill Bush  •  Aug 15, 2010 @9:34 am

    Just when I was despairing over Obama’s “Republican lite” modus operandi, this gives me renewed hope for him. The fact that he would actually call for living by the Constitution (which the Righties seem to regard as silly putty for their use only) seems to have become an act of bravery. I still have his bumper sticker on my car, but I haven’t sent any money lately. May have to revisit that. I’m just enough of a realist to recognize the effectiveness of retail politics, despite the idealism on display this week.

  4. James McGuire  •  Aug 15, 2010 @9:56 am

    Religion is the source of most of the evil in this world. I wish that NYC had the balls to ban ANY new religion-based construction.

  5. uncledad  •  Aug 15, 2010 @10:06 am

    9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America, Families of September 11, September 11 Families’ Association, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, I think I’d like to start a new 9-11 families group, I think I’ll call it 9-11 families of perpetual victimization! I don’t intend to be rude but the sheer number of 9-11 family associations just shows that they are not unified in policy or motive, so isn’t it pointless for one 9-11 group or another to weigh in on every issue that remotely relates to 9-11?

  6. Amanda  •  Aug 15, 2010 @10:37 am

    [Note: I hadn't noticed this was a "truther" comment until another truther pointed it out. Sorry, no trutherism here; it's the rules. -- maha]

  7. edwords  •  Aug 15, 2010 @11:05 am

    When are some of the 9/11 families going to hold a news conference and

    support the Muslim Center? That would be great.

  8. Felicity  •  Aug 15, 2010 @11:23 am

    I assume that the plat in question is owned by a private party. When did it happen that another private party had the legal right to determine what another private party could build, or not build, on his own property. Even under eminent domain only the state may acquire private property, with just compensation of course, for public use.

    Burlingame and her ilk should be reminded that she has absolutely no legal standing on which to base her right to determine what is built on the property in question.

  9. Swami  •  Aug 15, 2010 @11:35 am

    9-11 families of perpetual victimization!

    Wallowed ground?

  10. LongHairedWeirdo  •  Aug 15, 2010 @12:00 pm

    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.

    Oh, it’s more than that. Who the hell would have known or cared about Cordoba House without the righties manufacturing outrage over it?

    Who would have had a chance to be hurt without the pain being manufactured?

    And for all those righties who swear that it’s not anti-Muslim and all about caring for the victims, which one of those people have done a property search and promised to go to the wall over proper zoning, and started a fund to make up the difference in costs, because this is all about protecting hallowed ground? Oh, wait – it’s not so hallowed that it’s worth defending with actual work or funding, is it?

    I mean, hell. I remember The Godfather – Vito Corleone always made an offer (fair or unfair) before “making an offer you can’t refuse”. You do me a favor, I do you a favor. These guys aren’t even as classy as a fictional mafia don.

  11. erinyes  •  Aug 15, 2010 @3:40 pm

    The irony is that as we argue about a Muslim cultural center near the WTC, 20 million people in Pakistan are in dire straits due to flooding on a “Biblical” scale.

  12. kagerato  •  Aug 15, 2010 @9:22 pm

    Religion is the source of most of the evil in this world. I wish that NYC had the balls to ban ANY new religion-based construction.

    Religion is a tool of social control, James. Whether it is good or evil depends on the wielder. When MLK argued for civil rights and liberation in a religious context, he showed one means by which religion is not necessarily a source of evil.

    Nonetheless, it is critical that we do not confuse religious faith with objective fact, nor authority with reason and evidence.

  13. Steve M.  •  Aug 16, 2010 @8:05 am

    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.

    Well, I can tell you who belongs to Burlingame’s other prominent organization, Keep America Safe:

    Burlingame, Liz Cheney, and Bill Kristol. That’s the group’s entire board.

  14. Amir Goy  •  Aug 16, 2010 @10:17 am

    [Note: Per the site commenting policy, all "truther" nonsense will be deleted. Repeated attempts to post such comments will get the commenter banned. -- maha]

  15. Conservative  •  Aug 17, 2010 @4:05 pm

    I seem to remember the point of Cindy Sheehan representing all the parents who lost children in the war on terror being driven home every night on the national news. Funny how when the shoe is on the other foot liberals seem offended. BTW, New Yorkers are opposed to the mosque being built where intended. How many of them would you describe as being right-wing extremists?

  16. maha  •  Aug 17, 2010 @9:08 pm

    I seem to remember the point of Cindy Sheehan representing all the parents who lost children in the war on terror being driven home every night on the national news. Funny how when the shoe is on the other foot liberals seem offended.

    You didn’t read the post, did you? So far, I can document more September 11 families IN FAVOR of the Islamic center than I can against. At least one legitimate 9/11 family organization has endorsed the Islamic center. Based on her website, it appears Burlingame doesn’t speak for anyone but Burlingame.

    New Yorkers are opposed to the mosque being built where intended. How many of them would you describe as being right-wing extremists?

    A majority of Manhattanites support the Islamic Center. Support drops away the further one goes from Ground Zero itself. That something I’ve written about (see “A September 11 Family Association Supports the Islamic Center“). See also Nate Silver.

    And I think a lot of people who say they are against it are misinformed. If they could see the neighborhood, if they could see the Islamic Center won’t be visible from “ground zero” (no way, no how), if they understood more about Islam and that the imam behind the project is a Sufi (which makes it impossible for him to be associated with jihadists; jihadists hate Sufis), I think they’d understand that a lot of hysteria is being stirred up about a non-issue.

  17. Swami  •  Aug 17, 2010 @10:56 pm

    I seem to remember the point of Cindy Sheehan representing all the parents who lost children in the war on terror being driven home every night on the national news.

    Conservative.. First off it wasn’t the war on terror. It was that disgraceful invasion of Iraq that Bush and Cheney lied our nation into that Cindy Sheehan was speaking out against. She represented only the truth that Bushed betrayed the sacrifice of all of America’s brave men and women who answered their nation’s call to duty by his lies. And over 4000 have died in vain.. for nothing..because Bush had some fantasy of grandeur that he thought could be made possible with his lies.

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