Can 9/11 Be Free of Politics?
Last year was the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, with numerous tributes, memorials, films, articles and much, much more. The eleventh anniversary of the attacks is today and media coverage has been far less extensive. A $1 billion museum at Ground Zero, the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum, was supposed to open today, September 11, 2012.
But, due to a dispute between Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Andrew Cuomo, New York’s governor — over which government agencies will fund operating costs — the museum’s doors remain locked and are likely to stay that way for the twelfth anniversary in next year and for many years after the attacks that took the lives of over 3,000 people at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.
This dispute over a site regarded as “hallowed” by New Yorkers and many throughout the US shows how politically sensitive the topic of 9/11 remains. Can’t there be a “politics-free 9/11?” asks Jennifer Peltz in an Associated Press article that appears in the Bergen Record, a daily serving a New Jersey county that lost scores of residents in the attacks on the World Trade Center.
The impasse between Bloomberg and Cuomo — which has also drawn in Chris Christie who, as New Jersey governor, controls the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey which owns the WTC site –”represents a return to the political squabbling, delays and inaction that characterized the rebuilding of the 16-acre trade center site before 2008,” comments the New York Times. As a result, 1 World Trade Center, the 104-story Freedom Tower (it’s the tallest building in the Manhattan skyline in the photo above) could well be finished in early 2014 before the museum opens.
In an attempt to de-politicize 9/11, no elected officials will be speaking at the September 11 anniversary ceremony at ground zero today. Traditionally, the governors of New York and New Jersey — Cuomo and Christie, presently — have been asked to speak.
Debra Burlingame, whose brother Charles was the pilot of the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, is on the board of the organization that announced the change in plans. She says that the anniversary day should be the “one day, out of 365 days a year, where, when we invoke the term ’9/11,’ we mean the people who died and the events that happened.” But retired Deputy Fire Chief Jim Riches, whose son (who was named after him) was a firefighter who died at the WTC, says that “banning the governors of New York and New Jersey from speaking is the ultimate political decision” as it amounts to the “the 9/11 families .. having to turn their backs on the people who helped us so much,” by pushing for laws to help families and the health issues of survivors and first responders.
I work at a small university in Jersey City which is directly across the Hudson River from lower Manhattan. On the morning of 9/11, under a beautiful blue sky lit by sunshine, the twin towers, and the ruins of the towers, burned across from my school, sending smoke and ashes and bits of paper all over New York City and across to New Jersey. Life changed forever for many people at my school who lost sons, spouses, daughters, dear friends. It changed for the school’s many Muslim students who found themselves identified with evil they had nothing to do with; for our Egyptian landlord, who found himself pulled aside and questioned for hours on trying to reenter the US after going to Canada on business. It changed for all of us, in the form of far more stringent TSA regulations and a shattered sense security and safety.
9/11 has been an event in which the personal and political collided for many of us.
As Peltz writes, “The change [in the Sept. 11 anniversary ceremony] was made in the name of sidelining politics, but some have rapped it as a political move in itself.” Can “the Sept. 11 that is about personal loss” ever be separated “from the 9/11 that reverberates through public life?”
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Photo by debmcalister