International Freedom Center

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Jeff Jarvis makes an impassioned case against building the proposed International Freedom Center at the site of the World Trade Center. (He’s not the only one.)

Jarvis picks up on the Freedom Center backers’ own description of what will go on there: “an array of evening lectures, symposia, discussions, and special events that will be designed to help people engage more thoroughly with the IFC’s exhibits. This programming is being crafted in response to the LMDC’s directive that all cultural institutions at Ground Zero ‘conduct forums drawing from cultural and academic resources in the region, building an identity for the World Trade Center site as a place of inquiry and discussion.’ ”

And he asks:

OK, so when Ward Churchill is invited by one of the universities to speak here, what do you do? Do you put him on a black list? How consistent with your principles is that? And that, ladies and gentlemen, is precisely the no-win position you are demanding to be in.

His conclusion is simple.

Once again, I’ll emphasize that I do not object to anyone building a freedom center to explain and explore the issues this center proposes. But not atop the memorial to the dead of September 11th. Not here. Not now.

There’s an unspoken element in this debate, I think. It’s the tacit acceptance that a celebration of freedom around the world and throughout history also could be, in places, negative about America. Our nation hasn’t always been on the right side in that historical struggle.

The German theologian Reinhold Niebuhr noted a paradox 50 years ago: America cannot at the same time project its world power and maintain the fiction that it is entirely an innocent, virtuous nation.

The vindictive left, of course, presents history as though America never is on the right side. But I hope the optimists and believers-in-America, among whom I number myself (and Jeff Jarvis) are mature enough to defend the real ideals and virtues of our nation without getting lost in a red, white and blue rhetoric of patriotic fantasy that the country always has been right.

And while there’s a place in this big land for an International Freedom Center that explores that sort of complexity and philosophy, the empty space at 23rd and Chambers in Lower Manhattan isn’t it.

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