Guarding Against Symbols

September 28, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

A mosque at Ground Zero in New York is already a reality. Sunday’s “Sixty Minutes” report on the controversy showed dozens of Muslims praying in a room of the building that now stands on the contested tract of the proposed Islamic Cultural Center. “Sixty Minutes” did not report on the anguish these daily prayers were inflicting on the souls of the dead or even on their living relatives and friends.

The mosque, as many have noted, is not exactly “at” Ground Zero. It’s a couple of blocks away, and you can’t see it from Ground Zero. But that’s not the point. The point, for the opponents, seems to be pollution. Anything that is at all connected with The Terrorists must be kept far enough away (just how far is never specified) so as to prevent any kind of symbolic contact.

Something similar is going on with the proposed Flight 93 memorial in Pennsylvania. Back in 2005, a jury of family members, local leaders, and designers reviewed proposals and selected a winner. Now, there’s a big protest.

The problem, I think, was not in the design – a circle set in the naturally occurring bowl of land, one segment of the circle planted with trees, a tower with wind chimes.
It would have been built and unremarked if the authors had given it a different name, say “The Arc of Embrace.” But it was called “The Crescent of Embrace.”

Maybe you didn’t see it when you looked at the graphic. But, like priests trained in ferreting out all traces of sin, keen-eyed observers have discerned the unmistakable Muslim symbol, the crescent, lurking here. Look at this side-by-side that’s been circulating in the right blogosphere, with frequent suggestions that the similarity (I mean identical sameness) was intentional.

If you didn’t see it, that just shows how successful the terrorists have been in hiding their evil influence.

This emphasis on purity is part of the Us-vs.-Them mentality. They are out to destroy Us. We must constantly be on our guard. And any hint of Them, no matter how slight or symbolic, is a threat and must be rooted out.

Who is Them? In this clash of civilizations, Them is all of them. In America, you can’t come right out and say “Arabs” or even “Muslims.” So you have to be against “the Terrorists.” The vast majority of Muslims worldwide, and nearly 100% of American Muslims, are not terrorists. But that distinction is no more important today than it was when George W. Bush convinced most Americans that invading Iraq was a good way to fight Al Qaeda.

I just wonder why South Carolina decided to become a haven for terrorism.


Anonymous said...

Like the principal who banned rainbows to stop a gay pride movement at his school, I suppose we will now have to ban crescents. It's OK, there are plenty of other shapes and colors to use.

Josh said...

I stopped eating Lucky Charms because, if I didn't, the gay terrorists win.

Alec Rawls said...

"If you didn't see it"? How could anyone possibly not see it? Mr. Livingston himself describes the likeness in the side by side image as "identical sameness."

Is he under the misimpression that the left half of that side by side image was concocted by critics of the design? Sorry, it is the official Paul Murdoch Architects publicity photo of their 3-D mock-up of the Crescent of Embrace design.

And no, the Crescent does not follow any bowl-like land formation, as Mr. Livingston seems to think. As you can see from the 3-D mock-up, the crescent is laid a-tilt across a constantly sloping hillside. The upper tip sits a hundred vertical feet above the crash-site (which is positioned as the star on a crescent and star flag), while the lower arm of the crescent passes through a wetland 50 vertical feet below the crash site. Far from fitting the land form, they will actually fill in a raised causeway across the wetland in order to accommodate the giant Islamic-shaped crescent.

Readers might also like to know that the crescent points to Mecca, a very familiar construct in the Islamic world. I'll let you figure out what.

The real sociological phenomenon here is how Mr. Livingston and his absurd commenters will grasp at any excuse to turn a blind eye to clear evidence of Islamist intent (as if an architect, whose whole business is working with symbols, could plant the likeness--or "identical sameness"--of an Islamic crescent and star flag on the Flight 93 crash site, without knowing he was doing it).

"Oh pshaw," you are saying. "That is like banning rainbows! I mean, who could possibly want to hijack the Flight 93 memorial? That's as crazy as thinking that anyone would want to hijack Flight 93!"

Yup, that's just about it.

Flight 93 is supposed to be a symbol of our woken vigilance. We know know that we face a hidden Islamic-supremacist enemy that walks amongst us, pretending to be trustworthy friends while plotting acts of war. Armed with that knowledge we should be able to stop their plots, as Flight 93 did.

Livingston exemplifies a perverse anti-spirit of Fight 93, finding the most absurd and even dishonest excuses (a constantly sloping hillside becomes a "bowl") for turning a blind eye to clear evidence of Islamic intent, not that intent even matters in this ase. Just the Islamic symbol shapes are entirely inappropriate as a marker for the graves of heroes murdered by Islamic terrorists.

Is this really a right-left issue, as Livingston casts it? Does one have to be conservative to think it is wrong to build an Islamic tinged memorial at one of our 9/11 sites? Livingston needs to rethink.

Alec Rawls said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

alec rawls
"Flight 93 is supposed to be a symbol of our woken vigilance" People should be able to take it as a symbol for whatever they want especially considering the personal nature of the events.
“We know that we face a hidden Islamic-supremacist enemy that walks amongst us, pretending to be trustworthy friends while plotting acts of war."
You’re basically accusing everyone Islamic of being a supremacist and a terrorist, it’s beyond racist and the only reason that this is a left right issue is because the republicans make it one by turning the terrorism debate into a religious one.
“Livingston exemplifies a perverse anti-spirit of Fight 93” even if he is who cares, it’s just another example of how republicans force patriotism on people and then accuse them of being anti this or anti that at the slightest comment of dissent as opposed to genuine disloyalty.

brandsinger said...

Hi Jay -
Well, I certainly could have predicted your POV on this issue. But your true (and shaky) views are revealed in your mockery: "This emphasis on purity is part of the Us-vs.-Them mentality. They are out to destroy Us. We must constantly be on our guard. And any hint of Them, no matter how slight or symbolic, is a threat and must be rooted out."

Well, dude, someone is out to destroy us, in case you missed 9/11 and Spain and London and Mumbai. Can you really mock fellow citizens for being on guard against military, moral and even symbolic victories? Better get serious on this one. It's important and above mere mockery.

I bet if we were dealing in Swastikas here you'd be a bit more circumspect and respectful. Symbols matter.


Arnie said...

Thought this would be of interest to readers.

Since September 2001 I have maintained the "9/11 list-serv" which distributes daily e-mails containing newspaper articles and other relevant information re: 9/11 issues of interest to 9/11 families, 9/11 organizations and interested individuals.

The 9/11 List-serv archives can be accessed at

If you would like to 'subscribe' to this free news service - send an e-mail to with the word "subscribe" in the subject box.


Jay Livingston said...

Well, Claude, you’ve certainly convinced me. As soon as I finish typing this, I’m going to go out and sign up with the NCEC (National Committee to Eliminate Crescents). We’re going to find the terroist-sympathizer that snuck that crescent symbol smack dab into the middle of the South Carolina license plate. Then we’re going after Whoever it is that puts that same shape up in the sky for a few days every month. Shapes are symbols, and symbols matter.

That’s why we’re insisting that bakeries stop making croissants, which, comme vous le savez bien, mon ami, is the French word for crescent. Those damn French again. We’re going to insist that these pastries be made in the shape all Christians can eat without fear of sliding into pro-Islamism – cross-ants.

We’re also pushing Congress – notably the members of the HUJCAC (House Un-Judeo-Christian Activities Committee) – to enact a law that will send all Muslims and anyone who looks suspiciously Arabic to internment camps. It worked so well 70 years ago – we would have lost the war but for that – so why not try it again?

Here’s the problem: You say, “Someone is out to destroy us.” But who? The designer of the Flight 93 Memorial? The people who want to build the Islamic Cultural Center? The people who are already praying there five times a day? The guy with the halal food cart at 76th and Broadway? I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that searching for hidden crescents under the bed is a very effective strategy against the threat. In fact, some forms of that strategy probably serve to increase the chances that we will have to worry about terrorist sympathizers in our midst.

Thanks for remaining a loyal reader of the blog.

brandsinger said...

Jay -
This is a lively (and provocative) blog. Rightly defined, your "socioblog" covers a wide range of fascinating and pressing issues.

Your reply to my comment continues to make light of legitimate human concerns in a society/nation that has been attacked in the name of a specific religion. To make fun, exaggerate, and make reference to historical events with minimal relevance is to miss one key element of sociology -- the power and legitimacy of human emotion.

I am not arguing for panic (as you continue to conjure images of going overboard in persecuting people of a certain religion). I am just joining the majority of New Yorkers who question the purpose and rationale of certain symbolism during a time of war that has brought violent death to thousands of fellow New Yorkers. To dismiss the issue so flippantly as you continue to do is to miss the significance of symbolism in the emotional makeup of citizens in a democracy during wartime -- and the legitimacy of their reasonable concerns. Perhaps you deny there is a war on. More likely you misconstrue what the war is about, who is involved, and what is at stake.

Keep up the rich dialogue!


Jay Livingston said...

Suppose you learned that Al Qaeda was changing the keys on all its computers and calculators to replace the plus sign with some other symbol (a crescent perhaps) because some imams started preaching that the plus sign resembles the cross and therefore has no place on a Muslim keyboard. Shapes are symbols, and symbols are important. The imams were insisting that all machines in the Muslim world extirpate the evil plus sign.

Would you think that this was for them a necessary and logical step that would strengthen their resolve, make them more effective fighters, help them resist the allure of Christianity, etc.? After all, the US and the West generally are out to destroy them, and under those circumstances, the imams wouldn’t want anyone to miss the significance of the symbolism.

Or would you think this was a pretty silly thing to do?