Memorial Misgivings

More than 70 million people living in the United States today were born after 9/11. That includes the 13,238 children born on September 11, 2001, who will celebrate their 20th birthdays as the nation marks the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center.

They’ll hear about it, of course, from their parents and grandparents. They’ll learn about it in school and read about it in books. And if they haven’t already, they may one day journey to what was once called Ground Zero and visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

The memorial is solemn and captivating, and the museum full of artifacts, images, and remembrances of those lost. In other words, it’s precisely what anyone of sound mind would expect the 9/11 Memorial to be—which makes it all the more shocking that its creators wanted something radically different.

That’s the main takeaway of The Outsider, a new documentary about the creation of the 9/11 Memorial. Directed by husband and wife team Steven Rosenbaum and Pamela Yoder, the film largely focuses on the museum’s creative director, Michael Shulan. The titular outsider was a struggling novelist who garnered attention after assembling a makeshift remembrance gallery in a SoHo storefront.

Steven Rosenbaum and Pamela Yoder, directors of “The Outsider.”

Rosenbaum and Yoder had access to the creative team from the beginning and shot 670 hours of footage through the memorial’s opening in March 2014. Aside from the occasional voice-over, The Outsider consists mostly of the footage and interviews they shot. The sparse production lets Shulan and others speak for themselves—which explains why the museum is suing Rosenbaum and Yoder for damaging its reputation.

Throughout the documentary, we watch Shulan clash with museum director Alice Greenberg over the direction their project should take. Greenberg envisioned a memorial to commemorate the events of 9/11. Shulan, meanwhile, envisioned a museum that would “create a story with open questions.” Shulan believed that “the actual history of 9/11 is a work in progress,” and a museum should reflect that.

Shulan never comes out and says exactly what he means. But it’s easy to piece it together. He and his allies didn’t want a patriotic memorial. They didn’t want visitors to feel hurt or angry at what happened. As others interviewed in the film suggest, this contingent would have been happier with exhibits that criticized President Bush or explored how American foreign policy had “caused” the attacks.

The Outsider hardly paints Shulan in a sympathetic light. But it frequently prompts the viewer to consider the difference between museums and memorials—the former a place for uncritical reflection, the latter a place to be challenged with facts. Everyone interviewed in the documentary seems to agree that this is an important difference that injects inherent tension in the idea of a “Memorial & Museum.”

That may be true, and perhaps the people behind the 9/11 museum should have come down on one side or the other. But dwelling on this point elides the simple truth of the matter. Memorials can be informative, and museums—specifically museums dedicated to specific tragedies—don’t need to be coldly skeptical. You don’t visit a cemetery to dwell on the faults of the dead. It’s just that simple.

Shulan claims he’s being democratic. Citizens of democracies are allowed, perhaps even obligated, to interrogate their country. And he’s right. Which is why Americans can debate the causes and meaning of 9/11 in books, in college classrooms, and on television. There are plenty of venues to consider whether America bears partial responsibility for the rise of radical Islamic terrorism. Ground Zero is not one of them.

Perhaps Shulan and his ilk really thought their idea for a critical memorial was the best way to honor what we lost on 9/11. But it’s doubtful. A more likely explanation is that they wanted to make themselves the story. That’s why they tried to make the memorial controversial. It’s why they let a documentary crew film them for over a decade and why they sued when they weren’t presented as visionary heroes.

Artists, writers, and intellectuals have a tendency to over think simple things. And, indeed, some things deserve to be over thought. But what happened on 9/11 is ultimately very simple. A group of men who hate America thought of a way to kill thousands of Americans, quickly and publicly. As the Wall Street Journal‘s Matthew Hennessy recently put it, “Islamism’s butcher’s bill is long and bloody. They were trying to kill us before 9/11; they won’t give up now.”

It’s been 20 years since 9/11, and Afghanistan has once again fallen to the Taliban. Twenty percent of the country has no firsthand memory of the day the towers fell. Those people, and the countless Americans who will come after them, will need to be taught what happened that morning in September. They’ll need to learn to remember. And at the 9/11 Memorial they can, because Michael Shulan failed.

The development of the World Trade Center underwent more than a hundred architectural drafts and years of construction before its completion in 1975. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, destroyed those buildings within hours and took the lives of 2,977 Americans. Democrats remember things differently.

The Jews can never seem to live up to Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D., Minn.) exacting standards. The Minnesota congresswoman’s latest broadside came when she told CNN’s Jake Tapper that her Jewish Democratic colleagues “haven’t been partners in justice” and have yet to apologize for their allegedly Islamophobic comments.

Omar’s statement came after Tapper asked whether she regrets her comments last month comparing the United States and Israel with terrorist organizations like Hamas and the Taliban. Her answer was unequivocal: “I don’t.”

That’s funny, because Omar at the time “clarified” that statement, which elicited a rebuke from Democratic leaders and a dozen Jewish Democrats, saying that she did not say what in fact she said: “I was in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries.” To be clear, she also believes Israel is a “terrorist” nation.

Omar, as the kids say, is owning her truth. Her tap dance follows a pattern that is by now well established, in which the justice-seeking congresswoman makes nakedly prejudicial remarks, pretends to walk them back in the face of muted criticism from her colleagues, characterizes the criticism itself as Islamophobic, and proceeds to re-offend.

That pattern gives the lie to the apology Omar issued after arguing that American support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins, baby”: Her offenses were born of ignorance rather than prejudice, she said, and thanked her colleagues for “educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes.”

Omar could give a master class on anti-Semitism, and the pattern of her offenses makes clear she is using that knowledge to perpetuate it. That’s probably why a Punch-bowl News report earlier this month indicated that “a number of Omar’s fellow Democrats believe Omar is an anti-Semite, even if they don’t say so publicly.”

It is, of course, the only prejudice about which Democrats are tight-lipped and the only one tolerated in the party’s ranks.

It is also the latest indication that the party is following in the footsteps of the British left, led until recently by Squad ally Jeremy Corbyn. A report from the United Kingdom’s Equality and Human Rights Commission implicated not just Corbyn, whose offenses are legion, but the Labor Party itself, which “at best, did not do enough to prevent anti-Semitism and, at worst, could be seen to accept it.”

To the extent there is resistance in the Democratic Party to Omar’s relentless attacks on Jews and her condemnations of American power and influence, surely it is driven at least in part by the shellacking the British left took in the last national election there.

Should the Democrats continue down this path, we have faith that the outcome for the left will be the same here as in Britain, and that the more they see of Omar and her allies, the dimmer their prospects become.

House Democrats who support boycotts of Israel are mum on whether they back similar economic pressure campaigns against Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

The Washington Free Beacon reached out to Reps. Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), and Cori Bush (Mo.) to see if they favor a global boycott campaign against Afghanistan or if they support cutting off financial aid to the country in light of its takeover by a terrorist group. The lawmakers did not respond to requests for comment.

The silence is noteworthy considering that the three congresswomen have all advocated for the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a global campaign to economically isolate the Jewish state. They have also backed efforts to cut foreign aid to Israel, citing concerns about the Israeli government’s human rights record and treatment of Palestinians.

While Omar declined to comment on whether she supports a boycott of the Taliban, she has publicly opposed U.S. economic sanctions against the Iranian government.

Omar, Tlaib, and Bush have repeatedly praised the BDS movement. Omar tweeted in January that “BDS opposes Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights & dignity” and argued that Americans “should support this nonviolent movement.”

Tlaib said that the boycott campaign against Israel is “a form of freedom of speech,” adding that “people want to dismiss it because they’re trying to say it’s anti-Semitism.”

Tlaib also said she would be eager to join boycott campaigns against any Arab country that violates human rights, saying, “If there was an economic boycott movement around Saudi Arabia, I would be the first to sign up for it.”

While running for Congress last year, Bush defended the BDS movement and economic pressure campaigns as more effective than free speech. She later deleted the defense from her campaign website but has not commented on whether she changed her opinion.

“In these times, it is important to be specific with our language and direct in the actions we take. In our current geopolitical economy, money talks far louder than speech alone,” she wrote. “This is why nonviolent actions like the BDS movement are so important—and why the effort to mischaracterize and demonize the BDS movement by its opponents is so urgent.”

The lawmakers may not be able to stay silent about Taliban financing for long. Congress is scheduled to return next month to work on the 2022 budget, which will include foreign assistance to Afghanistan, the top foreign recipient of U.S. aid.

A Visit to New York City’s 9/11 Museum

House Democrats Pushing To Boycott Israel Go Silent on Taliban Boycott

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: