WASHINGTON – A congressman is asking the U.S. government to reconsider the crescent-shaped design of the memorial to those aboard a plane hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001, because some may think it honors the terrorists.
Rep. Tom Tancredo (search), a Republican, says the design, called "Crescent of Embrace," could invite "controversy and criticism." In a letter sent Tuesday to National Park Service Director Fran Mainella, Tancredo said many hain southwestern Pennsylvania near Shanksville as its passengers tried to take control of the plane. Forty passengers and crew died in the struggle.
The memorial design was approved last week at a meeting of the Flight 93 Advisory Commission. It still must gain the approval of the director of the National Park Service and the secretary of the Interior Department.
The park service and family members of crash victims said that the memorial's shape -- a circle broken by the flight pattern of the plane -- simply follows the topography of the crash site.
The memorial consists of a chapel with 40 metallic wind chimes, one for each of the victims. It is designed to spread across 2,000 acres and would include pedestrian trails and a roadway to a visitor center and the actual crash site. At the site would be a crescent-shaped cluster of maple trees and a white marble wall inscribed with the victims' names.
Regardless of whether "the invocation of a Muslim symbol" was intentional, "it seems that such a symbol is unsuitable for paying appropriate tribute to the heroes of Flight 93 or the ensuing American struggle against radical Islam," Tancredo wrote.
Joanne Hanley, superintendent of the Flight 93 National Memorial, said the design team led by Paul Murdoch Architects followed what the memorial mission statement requested: It honors the plane's passengers and crew and touches very lightly on the land.
"Crescent of Embrace" is the name of the design, not the memorial, and can be changed, she said.
"The name is irrelevant, really," she said. "There's a lot of misinformation out there and conjecture and hidden meaning that just isn't there."
Architect Paul Murdoch was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations called Tancredo's comments "a cynical political ploy designed to gain national attention," and urged President Bush and other Republican leaders to repudiate them. The Muslim civil liberties group said the crescent has no religious significance in Islam, but is commonly associated with the faith.
Tancredo "apparently believes he can only gain attention on the national political stage by fabricating a false controversy based on bizarre Internet conspiracy theories," said executive director Nihad Awad.
White House spokesman Allen Abney declined to comment.
Gordon Felt, whose brother, Edward Felt, died in the crash, invited Tancredo to contact the family members and learn more about the design.
"We feel the jury that selected the final design did a good job," he said. "It was in no way designed to memorialize the hijackers. I cannot even fathom a family member on the jury thinking that they were trying to memorialize the people who murdered our family members."