Getting Some Facts On The Table

August 15, 2010 7:43 p.m.

Over the weekend, in the numerous articles written in response to President Obama’s comments on the mosque furor, you’ll notice that a frequent refrain is to the purported opposition to the Cordoba House project (aka the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’) from families of 9/11 victims. And as evidence of this opposition you’ll frequently see quotes from a woman named Debra Burlingame, whose brother was the pilot aboard the plane flown into the Pentagon on 9/11.

Always in such cases it’s important to recognize that unlike most of us who experienced 9/11 as a national or communal tragedy, she suffered it as a personal one. That’s real. I respect that grief. And I believe in giving people stricken by overwhelming loss a wide berth in assessing the lessons they draw from the tragedies that affected them.

That is not the same, however, as turning a blind eye when lazy journalists present her as representing or even being representative of the families of victims of the 9/11 attacks. The most cursory googling shows that she’s been advocating a string of right-wing positions going back over the last decade. Indeed, she’s the cofounder with Liz Cheney of Keeping America Safe.

Also very worth noting is that none of the 9/11 Families groups who actually seem to be membership organizations made up of families of the victims seem to have taken positions on the mosque issue at all. I looked at the websites of several such organizations. And they each contain ‘about’ pages with some information about the organization, its membership and in most cases boards of directors. The website of Burlingame’s group, 9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America, contains no such information. But it’s statement of purpose does give some sense of viewpoint: “The war against sharia is a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.”

Since almost three thousand people died as a result of the attacks, many thousands count as family members of the dead. And given that the public at large is at best divided over mosque question and likely on balance against it, it stands to figure that there’s a similar spectrum of opinion among these families. Yet I have not seen any clear evidence that as a group these people are against the Cordoba House project.

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