To President Joe Daniels and Director Alice Greenwald, and those on the Board of Directors it may concern, including Chairperson Michael Bloomberg, Carl Weisbrod, Jon Stewart, Robert De Niro, and others:
The 9/11 Memorial’s intended mission includes the following wonderfully moving statement (emphasis added):
“May the lives remembered, the deeds recognized, and the spirit reawakened be eternal beacons, which reaffirm respect for life, strengthen our resolve to preserve freedom, and inspire an end to hatred, ignorance and intolerance."
Why is it, then, that someone who has consistently spouted hate speech, like calling on the U.S. to recognize "Islam [as] a transnational threat," is currently a member of the ten-person "Program Committee" that determines museum content?
“It wasn’t just the threat of terrorist attacks, it was the threat of losing our country from the threat of Global Islamism which is a supremacist ideology which is very much a threat to Western ideology.”
“The topic was confronting the Islamist threat in a post-Bin Laden world; the issue of the threat of Al-Qaeda… Islamism is on the rise all over the world, Bin Laden was the leader of a movement that started long before he was even born.”
““There’s a lot of people out there in the highest reaches of government who are trying to delude the American people into thinking if we are just nicer to ‘Jihadis’ they will just leave us alone.” ~ Debra Burlingame (Akin, 0:52-1:08, 1:24-1:54, and 3:25-3:37 respectively)
Ms. Burlingame’s blanket assertion that “Islam is a transnational threat” is nothing more than hate speech deployed in a political manner which marginalizes all Muslim Americans. Her condoning, and active use of hate speech toward Muslims and Arabs does nothing but perpetuate an imprecise definition of who our country’s real enemies actually are, which has affected the lives of Arab Americans like myself in very tangible ways. For years growing up in a post-9/11 world I couldn’t even mention my family’s Arabic heritage in public without fear of someone responding with hostility. But the damage doesn't stop there, such language potentially harms anybody who can conceivably be labeled as "brown" or "Muslim." Let's not forget Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh immigrant from India living in Mesa, Arizona who was murdered just four days after the tragedies of 9/11 by a man who claimed to be a patriot seeking vengeance for the terrorist attacks.
Worse still, Debra Burlingame shows no willingness to engage in dialogue. Here's a screen capture provided by the Boston Press Release and CAIR that corroborates this, and shows more evidence of her totalizing rhetoric.
Ms. Burlingame thinks all of her critics, such as CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, “are in fact terrorist sympathizers” (see: andybluecollar interview). It is concerning that someone with a position of power to decide what is portrayed as fact to millions of people is so unwilling to engage in dialogue and reframe her rhetoric to not be so totalizing and hateful of other Americans.
With the recent controversy over the six-minute video “The Rise of Al Qaeda,” which is to be featured at the 9/11 museum opening to the public on May 21st, it is especially important to be aware of the role board members play in shaping the content of the museum’s exhibits (Obeidallah). According to the Memorial Museum's FAQ, "The Program Committee of the 9/11 Memorial's Board of Directors ... has provided ongoing, critical oversight of the design and content of the Museum."
There are between 1.8 million and 3.7 million Arab-Americans in the United States, myself included. 0.8% of the population of the United States claim to be Muslim. Those of us falling into one or both categories lived the same experience as any other American on 9/11, and if the museum’s intent is to provide a memorial which reaffirms our society’s commitment to the “end [of] hatred, ignorance, and intolerance,” it is important that this museum and memorial accurately account for all Americans’ lived experiences on the fateful days of 9/11 and 9/12/2001.
Having a board member who has been openly criticized for her fundamental misunderstanding and essentialization of elements of the Muslim faith is inconsistent with this goal. The museum’s choice to refuse any suggestions to ameliorate concerns surrounding “The Rise of Al Qaeda” provided by its own interfaith advisory panel appointed to review museum content paints a disturbing picture for the potential role Debra Burlingame has played in the crafting of the video.
Further, Debra Burlingame has shown blatant insensitivity regarding both sexual violence in her trivializing comparison of trade competitiveness to rape, and disabled persons in her inflammatory remarks about senators McCain and Graham on Capitol Hill. Who could forget this?
If Americans can unite to oust a hateful, racist NBA owner like Donald Sterling, there’s no excuse for Americans to allow hate speech to continue among individuals integral to the development of one of our country’s most important national memorials.
We ask then that the 9/11 Museum promptly relieve Debra Burlingame of her position on the Board of Directors as part of a commitment to transparency and an accurate account of the parties responsible for the attacks on 9/11. Someone with such an open commitment to the use of hate speech and trivializations has no place deciding the way our society will collectively remember the tragedy and the triumph of human dignity on that day.
9/11 Memorial Mission Statements. Web. Accessed:5/4/14. <http://www.911memorial.org/>;
9/11 Memorial Museum FAQ. Web. Accessed: 5/4/14. <http://www.911memorial.org/>;
Akin, Rick. “Debra Burlingame Steamboat Institute Freedom Conference Interview 2013.” Video. YouTube, 3 September 2013. Web. Accessed: 5/4/14. <http://www.youtube.com/>;
andybluecollar. “911 Family Member Debra Burlingame Speaks to 911 Hard Hat Andy.” Video. Youtube, 5 May 2011. Web. Accessed: 5/4/14. <http://www.youtube.com>;
Obeidallah, Dean. “The 9/11 Museum’s Muslim Problem.” The Daily Beast. 24 April 2014. Web. Accessed: 5/3/14. <http://www.thedailybeast.com>;
Pew Research. “Arab-American Population Growth.” 28 November 2012. Web. Accessed: 5/4/14. <http://www.journalism.org/>;
Pew Research. “The Future of the Global Muslim Population.” January 2011. Web. Accessed: 5/4/14. <http://www.features.pewforum.org/>;
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