Throwing 'em a curve

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Every now and again we must surrender territory to a cause larger than ourselves.

Paul Murdoch Architects
"Crescent of Embrace"
Click photo for larger image.

After 40 passengers and crew of United Flight 93 rose up against their hijackers, preferring to die as the first soldiers in the war on terror than as the last victims of 9/11, a discarded strip mine near my hometown became ground beyond politics.

Last week, Ron McRae, a self-ordained minister who makes a hobby of lording his holiness over gays, Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons, decided that the use of the term "Crescent of Embrace" to describe a single feature in a multi-faceted Flight 93 Memorial design was a tacit endorsement of Islam.

In due course, Michelle Malkin, a right-wing commentator less familiar with the topography of Somerset County than with the direction of political winds, added her thoughts. She said the inclusion of a semi-circle of trees is not only a hint of the infidel Musselmen, but a "surrender" to them.

U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., who ordinarily scores his publicity by stirring up fear about immigrants, demanded that the design be changed. Tancredo is a man deeply sensitive to religious sensibilities. For example, when speculating on whether Islamic terrorists might use a nuclear device, he suggested that, if it happens, we nuke Mecca.

Not as heard from have been the families of the people who died fighting to prevent the al-Qaida hijackers from crashing Flight 93 into the U.S. Capitol in which Tancredo works, or into some other building in the city where Michelle Malkin's conspiracy theories are ascendant. I heard this week from Alice Hoglan. Her son, Mark Bingham, was among the leaders of the uprising onboard Flight 93 and she sent along two letters -- one to Malkin, one to Tancredo -- that offer the viewpoint of a woman who spoke by cell phone with Bingham as the rebellion was born and who understands that, just as every Muslim is not a terrorist, every crescent is not a symbol of Islam. It's time to surrender some territory. Here are Hoglan's words:

To Malkin:

So the maples form a red crescent. Well, good. I only regret that the reference was inadvertent. If the design selection committee, and the designer, had intended to evoke the symbol of Islam (which they did not) should we criticize them? It is a serious mistake to daub all Muslims -- and the crescent symbol of Islam -- with the same broad "terrorist" brush.

Unrecoverable fragments of my son's body are embedded in the soil at that site, along with the bones of the other heroes who fought beside him. There too are the bones of the misdirected zealots whose twisted religious ideas caused all their deaths. The mothers and fathers of those terrorists -- and the terrorists themselves -- are all human beings who struggled for their version of the right. Those parents mourn their children's deaths, just as we mourn our children. I condemn their children's last violent acts. I condemn their children's twisted view of Islam. I do not condemn their faith. I do not condemn Islam, or the crescent symbol of Islam. Islam is not al Qaida. Al-Qaida is not Islam.

I support our troops, and urge all Americans to remember our strong fighting men and women in uniform, such as Mark's good friend and U.C. Berkeley Chi Psi brother, Spencer Kelly, recently returned from Afghanistan.

I also support peace and goodwill. I call upon all non-Muslim Americans to consider that if we refuse to extend a hand to our Muslim brothers and sisters, we will lose an important opportunity to deepen our understanding of them, and their understanding of us. Whether we like it or not, we all -- Muslims, Jews, Christians, and nonbelievers -- are in this struggle together. The human being who can transcend bitterness and extend a hand in friendship -- as Mark Bingham did every day of his short life -- does more to combat terrorism than any military force.

To Tancredo:

Paul Murdoch, designer of the Flight 93 Memorial, has provided for a graceful curving crescent of red maple trees which are native to the Western Pennsylvania soil in which they'll be planted. Shall we reject this design, carefully chosen after months of consideration and hard work, because of its crescent shape?

I hope the Flight 93 Memorial gives due credit to the small group of patriotic and brave men who did the fighting as well as to all the beautiful souls lost aboard Flight 93. I hope it expresses American resolve to fight terrorism on our soil and abroad. At the same time, I hope it expresses American love of justice, inclusiveness and peace.

The Flight 93 Memorial selection committee has admitted to misgivings about the term "crescent." I almost wish that instead, they could claim that they deliberately chose the crescent design as a gesture of peace and unity with the Islamic world. If they were to make that claim, I would not object. I would welcome such a compassionate gesture.

When he and his stand-up band of brothers stood and fought aboard that doomed aircraft, my son Mark was not fighting Muslims in general. He and his seatmates were battling the disciples of a corrupt version of a peaceful religion. The crescent moon does not represent al-Qaida and other terrorist groups. The crescent represents the religion of Islam. Islam is not al-Qaida.

Good Muslims everywhere speak and act continually against terrorism and terrorists.

Mr. Tancredo, I earnestly hope you agree that America should not condemn Islam and all Muslims for the murderous acts of splinter groups of Muslims who choose to distort certain passages of the Koran and aspects of Islamic belief to suit their ugly purposes. Let us remember that al-Qaida and other terrorist groups do not represent Islam, any more than America's homegrown groups of bigots represent the ideals of the United States.

Last week, architect Paul Murdoch, to whom the term "crescent" means an architectural shape, said he would make such changes to the Flight 93 Memorial as are needed to stop the controversy.

Murdoch knows a great deal about architecture, but little about the dynamics of political rhetoric. Malkin and Tancredo and Bishop Ron McRae desire controversy.

It is their very meat and wine and to them, nothing short of a design the shape of a bloody sword would likely suit them, if only because the subsequent uproar would give them yet another platform from which to stir people who have no idea of something very important:

The trees were laid out in a crescent because that was the shape of the ridge that looks over the place where Mark Bingham and his fellow passengers were fighting misguided zealots who wanted to use them as a means to an end. Their grievance is with geology, not Islam. And now it's with Mark Bingham's mom.


Dennis Roddy is a Post-Gazette columnist, droddy@post-gazette.com , 412-263-1965.


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