As plans to build an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero in New York City become political fodder for the fall elections on a national scale, it’s become shorthand to imply that all 9/11 families oppose the erection of the mosque two blocks from the site where terrorists downed the World Trade Center nearly nine years ago.
But in fact, no cohesive position has emerged from the thousands of 9/11 families who have been politically influential on many issues in the past. One group which has opposed war has come out strongly in favor of the mosque project, known as Cordoba House. Others have avoided even addressing the issue.
“There is no simple, singular 9/11 group who really should or could speak for all 9/11 family members,” said Donna Marsh O’Connor of September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, a coalition of more than 250 families which recently endorsed the mosque. Since the endorsement, the membership numbers have grown, she said.
O’Connor told TPM in an interview that it’s unfair for groups like Debra Burlingame’s 9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America to act as if they are representing everyone who lost loved ones in the attacks. O’Connor’s 29-year-old daughter Vanessa, pregnant at the time, was killed working on the 93rd floor of one of the twin towers.
“This is not a small issue, this is what America has always been — a place where people come to escape religious persecution,” O’Connor (pictured at left) said. “I can understand people saying that this is a slap. This does hurt. But we don’t change fundamentally what our nation is about because it will hurt people.”
“We’re a family who is forever changed, certainly forever scarred, but we’re not the victims of 9/11. Our daughter was the victim of 9/11 and we don’t want to see our nation fold,” she said.
There are multiple groups of families of the victims of the attacks with varying prominence on the national scene. TPMDC has put out interview requests to several and spent time scanning their Web sites.
As Josh noted last night, Burlingame has gotten the lion’s share of the attention, in part because she’s affiliated with Liz Cheney. Peter Gadiel’s organization 9/11 Families for a Secure America also opposes the Islamic center. But, former TPMer Justin Elliott noted over at Salon that few of the people who originated the fight were actually affiliated with the 9/11 families.
Despite there being no unified voice, a meme has emerged that the families of the victims of 9/11 are unified in being hurt by the plans. In this piece, a rabbi speaks broadly about 9/11 families:
First, a pastoral voice. To some of those who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks, Cordoba House is a slap in the face that generates anger and disgust. In their mind, Muslims perpetrated 9/11, and now Muslims are building a shrine at Ground Zero.
These 9/11 families understand intellectually that the progressive American Muslims advocating for Cordoba House have no connection, theologically or personally, to the terror-thirsty, militant strand of Islam associated with the 9/11 attackers. Yet, for them, these two diametrically opposed groups are still connected in some way. In an honest moment, most Americans would admit that we share this feeling that all Muslims are connected.
Of note in delving into the 9/11 families reaction to the Islamic center is the lack of press attention to the failure last month of a measure that would have provided for $7.4 billion in health care funding for emergency responders and others who were sickened by the World Trade Center dust. Just 12 Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the measure, which needed a two-thirds majority to pass.
Rep. Anthony Weiner threw a fit on the House floor last month over this very issue, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) noted the lack of Republican support noted the same in his statement today that developers should just move the project. But for all the political griping over the mosque, you’d think there would be more fuss made over sick firefighters who need medical attention.