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Published: Tuesday, 9/20/2005

A crescent? So what?

HAS American life been irrevocably dumbed down, or do certain people just have too much time on their hands? Unfortunately, those questions are suggested by the minor furor that came about after the unveiling of the winning design of the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pa.

A great deal of time and effort has been spent on finding the right design to mark the spot where that hijacked United Airlines plane crashed on Sept. 11, 2001, after passengers mounted a heroic effort to seize it back.

The winning plan is just about perfect for this hallowed ground, not just fitting the landscape but bringing an emotional grandeur to the site.

One architectural critic said the design by the Los Angeles-based Paul Murdock Architects had a "timeless quality and accent on healing and spirituality." It features a 93-foot tower containing 40 wind chimes - one for each passenger and crew member aboard - and stands of maple trees making what the architects called a "Crescent of Embrace."

But like those who look at innocent kids trick-or-treating at Halloween and see only the devil's work, a few small and suspicious minds couldn't look past the crescent to see a remarkably sensitive design. According to a marginal minister of religion, as well as some bloggers and letter writers, the crescent is a symbol of Islam and therefore its presence memorializes the hijackers. It would be like putting a swastika on a Holocaust memorial, they say.

No, it wouldn't. The swastikas that flew over concentration camps were the all-encompassing symbol of a regime that persecuted the Jews and started a world war. By contrast, the hijackers who struck on 9/11 also hijacked Islam; there are tens of millions of Muslims who lead decent lives and abide in U.S.-allied countries with crescents on their flags.

The United States is not at war with Islam - despite Osama bin Laden trying to depict Americans as "crusaders," an effort that can only be helped by unthinking critics making a big deal about crescents.

As it is, the maple trees making up the Pennsylvania crescent could just as well be called an arc - the word crescent came from the vocabulary of architecture. By the logic of the memorial's critics, people shouldn't give money for the repair of New Orleans, the "Crescent City," enjoy crescent rolls, or even rejoice in looking up at a crescent moon.

Fortunately, such nonsense does not seem to bother the relatives of those killed on Flight 93. Those interviewed recognized good intentions and a good design. As the only consolation to the critics, let's call it the Arc of Embrace and let it work its magic.



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