Plans for a memorial to those who died when United Flight 93 crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pa., on Sept. 11, 2001, have stirred up a bitter controversy with critics charging the design includes Muslim symbolism.
While most of the relatives of the victims approve of the plans some, like Tom Burnett Sr., the father of a Flight 93 victim, are angered by the alleged symbolism.
The shape of the memorial — which The New York Times reported was designed by Paul Murdoch, a Los Angeles architect — is in the shape of an Islamic crescent, critics say, and it has a wind-chime tower which mimics an Islamic minaret. Furthermore, it would point east toward the Islamic holy city of Mecca.
“It’s really revolting to me, this whole thing,” Burnett told the Times, “It’s an insult to my son and all the others.”
Five of those objecting told members of the Flight 93 Memorial Task Force and the Flight 93 Advisory Committee that the design should be scrapped because its apparent Islamic symbolism. Among them, the Times wrote, was Harry Beam, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who presented petitions with 5,300 signatures opposing the design to members of the Flight 93 boards.
Beam joined Burnett and others who hope to persuade members of Congress to investigate or to try to generate enough public support to stop the project, according to the Times. “They all believe there’s no place for Islamic symbolism or anything that would elevate the status of the terrorists,” Beam told the Times.
Memorial officials told the Times that Burnett, and his wife, Beverly, are the only family members of victims who have spoken out against the design.
Murdoch explained that the memorial would follow the topography of the bowl-shaped land, creating a circular pathway ringed by trees, all focused on the “sacred ground” of the crash site near the bottom of the circle. He told the Times there was no open or hidden Islamic symbolism in his design, which the paper reported has widespread support among many relatives of the Flight 93 victims.
“The forms that the design uses come out of the forms of the land,” Murdoch said. “The framing of that space is like a large-scale embrace, on a scale commensurate of the heroic acts of the people who died there.”
The majority of the relatives of the victims support the design, the Times noted. Sandra Felt, widow of Edward Felt who died on Flight 93, told the Times she couldn't understand why people continued to see Islamic symbolism in the design.
“The land speaks for itself,” she said. “It’s in the shape of an embrace.”
After initial complaints, the original design title, “Crescent of Embrace,” the Times reported, was changed to “Circle of Embrace,” adding that trees were also added to the plans to encircle the site and not leave a gap that created a crescent.
She told board members on Saturday that she strongly disagreed with the sentiment of the design critics. “Wow. Such hate. I’m shocked,” she said, her voice choked with emotion. “When you insult the place and inflame events, I want you to know you hurt us, too.”
Despite the sentiments of Burnett and others, memorial officials said that they would move ahead with their plans, and that they still intended to have the $58 million first phase of the design completed by the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11.
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