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Manic places, public emotions

Throughout her analysis of US memoryscapes, Erika Doss (2010) documents a recent memorial upsurge as part of a larger cultural shift to curtail historical amnesia. In her book Memorial Mania: Public Feeling in America, Doss defines memorial mania as “an obsession with issues of memory and history and an urgent desire to express and claim those issues in visibly public contexts” (2010, 2). Doss’s theorizations of memorialization as a compulsive cultural response are twofold. First, in highlighting the fragility of memory in relation to time, space, and place, Doss underscores what memory scholar Andreas Huyssen termed the “twilight of memory.” In Huyssen’s words:

As generational memory begins to fade ... [t]he twilight of memory ... is not just the result of a somehow natural generational forgetting that could be counteracted through some form of a more reliable representation. Rather, it is given in the very structures of representation itself. (Huyssen 1995, 2-3)

In other words, the farther removed we become from memory’s ‘ground zero,’ memory no longer functions as lived experience (e.g., collective memory), but rather as historical record (see Assmann and Czaplicka 1995; Merewether 2006; Enwezor 2008; Stoler 2009). Intergenerational, or cultural, memory is thereby secured for future consumption by its temporal and spatial proximity to an original source or site (also see Hirsch 1997, on post-memory). The second, and perhaps more compelling, trajectory of Doss’s analysis underscores the precarious emotional shelf life of memory prior to its emplacement in situ. In Doss’s words, memorials “are archives of public affect ... that are embodied in their material form and narrative content” (Doss 2010, 13). Memorial landscapes function throughout Doss’s text as repositories, or places, of collective emotion.

The study of the relationship between emotion, space, and place has given rise to a significant body of literature within the discipline of geography since the beginning of the twenty-first century (Anderson and Smith 2001; Davidson and Milligan 2004; Bondi 2005; Davidson, Bondi, and Smith 2005). According to Davidson, Bondi, and Smith in their now seminal collection Emotional Geographies (2005, 1), the masculinist discipline had formerly been reluctant to address questions of emotion despite the knowledge that emotions thoroughly affect our understandings of space and place—past, present, and future. Developing in relation to geographies of health and feminist theories of embodiment, geographies of emotion are attuned to the ways emotions are spatialized, “illuminating] where emotions are felt to reside, [most] notably in both bodies and places” (Davidson, Bondi, and Smith 2005, 3, emphasis in original).

After 9/11, broader private and popular efforts were made to document and understand emotional resonances circulating in the event’s aftermath. New York City video producer Michael Ragsdale collected posters and flyers from the streets of Manhattan to chronicle post-9/11 sentiments resonating within the city. Gathering press releases, event brochures, letters, and meeting and public service announcements from sit-ins, teach-ins, anti-war protests, memorial vigils, fundraisers, and interreligious gatherings, Ragsdale’s collection traces the shifting sentiments of city residents as New Yorkers sought to collectively process the attacks and redefine their relationship to the World Trade Center in the months following the attacks. Now an official archive held by the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, the Ragsdale Flyer Collection documents public responses to the attacks in this ephemeral archive of public sentiment and emotion. The collection thus importantly documents post-9/11 experiences and processes of place-(re)making as the World Trade Center site and its meaning change with the passing of time.

In another commemorative effort documenting the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks, the New York Times created an online portal: 9/11: The Reckoning. Focusing on collective remembrances of the events of September 11, 2001, as well as various themes and issues emerging throughout the first decade following that ill-fated day—from World Trade Center reconstruction to US-Middle East relations and ongoing security and civil rights concerns—the online archive offers an emotional ‘snapshot’ of the attacks and their emergent collective meaning. Of particular interest is an interactive map titled “Where were you?” under the heading “That Day” which prompted website visitors to remember “where they were” and to share “how they felt” about the events of the day. The resulting Google Earth map contains the responses of nearly 38,000 readers, pinpointing their exact geolocations, as well as their emotional sentiments (New York Times 2011).

The New York Times map contained emotional filters allowing respondents to select the emotion that best characterized their feelings of the attacks, and, if they so desired, add a short expository comment. Of the five color-coded emotional filters provided for selection—Angry, Fearful, Unmoved, Secure, and Hopeful—readers selected fear, anger, and hope most frequently. One person remembers, “It was my first week at Newfield. We sat in our classes, not knowing what was happening. Anxiously waiting to find out if my dad was safe.” As another person describes, “1 was in 6th grade, trying to figure out why half of the cafeteria was dismissed early. Students and teachers crying in the hallways.” This ‘emotional map’ highlights how memories of the event are deeply connected to both physical and psychological senses of place, prompting online users to recall where they were, spatially, and how they felt, emotionally.

Although the cultural impetus to emplace 9/11 memory at the World Trade Center is partially concerned with mediating the direct experience of traumatic memory—of‘working through’ the past in hopes of achieving closure—securing memory within place ensures the past’s continued relevance with the passage of time. As one 9/11 Memorial & Museum staff member concurs: “It’s not really about what we do here [at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum]. It’s really about how the memory, and the collective sense of the event, evolves over time” (Personal Communication, August 2010). Consequently, establishing a place of memory at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum encapsulates living memory itself within a growing archive of public sentiment (feelings about the events and lives lost) to be accessed by future generations. The following is but a snapshot of such sentiment.


The absence of bodies at the World Trade Center complicates the healing process for many afflicted families, disrupting the temporal and spatial unfolding and acceptance of grief. Grief is, according to Kubler-Ross and Kessler (2005, 115 and 227), “the intense emotional response to the pain of loss”—the individual emotions we carry surrounding loss and how we feel about it. As one 9/11 Memorial & Museum staff member describes his own experience of 9/11-related grief,

I have always felt, and I’m not alone, but I’ll use myself as an example, that we were never really able to do enough for the families during the recovery effort. We felt that we were failures because we couldn’t find all of the remains, and all of their loved ones could not be brought home. And I believe that the healing has not begun, that ... the grief will reinvent itself once the names are touched [on the memorial walls]. Once the families see that the names panel is finished and read it, and it is readied for presentation to the world, then they can begin to grieve properly. (Personal Communication, January 2011, emphasis added)

Projecting failure to prevent and circumvent death, or, in this case, to recover it, is, according to Kübler-Ross and Kessler (2005), a natural stage in processing a loss. The acceptance of death typically begins, however, with the witnessing of the body postmortem. Without the ability to properly grieve their loved one—to lay their memory and body to rest—many 9/11 families were stuck ‘acting out’ the trauma of their losses on repeat. As a result, processes of emplacing memory at the World Trade Center were saturated with sensitivities to unresolved familial (and collective) grief and a desire to redefine the site as a mass grave for those with no hope of returning home posthumously. Consequently, both institutional and private efforts to expedite the construction of a memorial space intensified.

Anxieties over the passing of time resonated throughout my conversations with 9/11 Memorial & Museum staff members as they worked tirelessly to fulfill the institution’s mandate: to provide the public with a place to remember, reflect, and record history, and the affected families with a place to mourn. One 9/11 Memorial & Museum informant commented on the urgency of the memorial’s completion:

The proximity of time is really about the constituents who need a place to mourn. Those who need a place to mourn need a very specific kind of place; those who are left behind, they need something now; they needed something sooner. And those who want to learn about the events need another kind of place. All those sorts of losses that people have lumped together are very different kinds of losses. And the latter need a very different kind of place than those who need a place to mourn their loved ones ... it’s about mourning the loss of their loved ones, or those mourning the more metaphoric loss of the United States and its supremacy in the world. Or the loss of the sense of safety... So it’s their needs [victims’ families] versus the needs of the people who are at a slight distance. (Personal Communication, September 2010)

The impetus to establish a physical memorial at the World Trade Center is, according to this staff member, mediated by multiple constituencies and their divergent needs for closure—for a place to mourn life and reflect upon loss, a space to maintain the historical record in place for future consumption, and a place for understanding and education.

As the foregoing remarks establish, social anxieties to memorialize the events of September 11, 2001 are twofold. First, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum provides families with a place to mourn in lieu of remains to bury (also see McGinty 2011; Feiden 2012). Second, it also establishes historical accuracy as the events of 9/11 become further removed from everyday, or lived, memory. As a 9/11 Memorial & Museum staff member reflects:

It’s definitely a challenge creating an exhibition experience—an educational experience that can speak both to people who have their own memories of this event... But for a lot of people, they don’t have that direct memory. Our job [at 9/11 Memorial Museum is] ... to teach people both when the museum opens, but also twenty years, fifty years into the future. (Personal Communication, January 2011)

The establishment of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum thus aims to ensure individual and collective healing while preserving cultural memory in place and time.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, spontaneous and makeshift memorials sprung up all over the city, region, and country in an effort to pay tribute to those who perished (see E. A. Kaplan 2005). As these informal public memorials continued to crop up, federal and state authorities mobilized to establish an ‘official’ mnemonic landscape at the World Trade Center, giving the government a primary hand in matters of collective memory. After nearly two years of consulting with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, a federal agency dedicated to the preservation of resources of historical and national significance, the World Trade Center was awarded Section 106 status in 2004. Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act stipulates whether a site is eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a designation that secures federal grants (see Advisory Council on Historic Preservation 2004). In relation to the events of 9/11, the Section 106 process guaranteed the successful transformation and cultivation of the World Trade Center—and its relics—into a government-sanctioned place of cultural memory and national history.

Efforts to preserve relics and other authentic remains from the decimated 16-acre site overlapped with the initial rescue and recovery efforts that lasted from September 2001 to May 2002. Yet, visions of a cultural institution at the World Trade Center remained precarious over the next three years as funding continued to be a source of frustration. Without the availability of a nationally sanctioned entity promoting a unified, cultural narrative of the events of “September 11,” accounts of recent history were left open for public interpretation and alternative narratives became more available for public consumption. The establishment of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation in 2003, renamed the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in 2005, aimed, in part, to curtail the growing popularity of conspiracy theories, particularly those highlighting governmental complacency and undermining US victimization.

One such conspiracy group was “The 9/11 Truth Movement,” or “Truthers,” as 9/11 Memorial & Museum staffers often dubbed them. This group alleges that the US government had insider knowledge of the 9/11 terror plot and has subsequently worked toward ‘covering up’ its involvement. Anxieties to hush alternative narratives posited by groups like the Truthers, however far flung, are also evident in the formation of a 9/11 Commission (2002)—a joint civil society and governmental venture that sought to address US failure in preventing the attacks and to establish a locus for collective blame beyond Washington. As such, voices critical of US foreign policy have been all but silenced in the face of tightly monitored memorial images.

Efforts to monitor the formation of cultural memory at the World Trade Center quickly shifted to include the adjoining eight acres of commercial space reserved for the site’s broader economic recovery. Four cultural institutions were proposed to inhabit the redesigned 16-acre World Trade complex: the International Freedom Center (discussed below), the Joyce, an internationally-reputable dance theater company, the Signature Theatre Company featuring off-Broadway productions, and the Drawing Center, a fine arts institution with a focus on contemporary and historical drawing (Hirschkorn 2005). By 2007, all of the cultural organizations, with the exception of the Joyce, had either been pushed out of their leasing agreements, or self-selected to relocate in order to evade further public scrutiny over cultural programming (see Edwards 2006; Pogrebin 2007).8 Development plans for an International Freedom Center (IFC), for example, were defeated when opponents claimed that its programming would tarnish the sacredness of the site (see Burlingame 2005). The proposed IFC would have been a major cultural institution dedicated to exploring intolerance, hatred, and ignorance across various social histories, from Native Genocide, to Slavery and Jim Crow, Japanese Internment, Nazism, and the Cold War. The cultural institution’s sweeping mandate to cover a wide range of difficult topics in American cultural memory could have easily included the social ills plaguing US culture after 9/11, such as anti-Arab racism, Islamophobia, torture, detention, and xenophobia. As a result, opponents to the IFC argued that its on-site presence could indirectly criticize US foreign policy, perhaps even implying some level of governmental responsibility for the attacks.

9/11 Memorial & Museum board member and family member Debra Burlingame spearheaded the opposition to the International Freedom Center. As co-founder of 9U1 Families for a Safe & Strong America, Burlingame had this to say of the IFC:

Rather than a respectful tribute to our individual and collective loss, they [the visiting public] will get a slanted history lesson, a didactic lecture on the meaning of liberty in a post-9/11 world. [T]hey will be served up a heaping foreign policy discussion over the greater meaning of Abu Ghraib and what it portends for the country and the rest of the world. (Burlingame 2005)

In waging “take back the memorial,” an online campaign in public protest of the IFC, Burlingame and her supporters claimed not to oppose the cultural institution, but rather its potential to disrupt post-9/11 narratives of American exceptionalism and its correlating cultural values.9 In his address to the nation on September 11,2001, for example, President George W. Bush (2001a) declared the United States a global “beacon for freedom” and depicted the terrorist attacks as acts of aggression against American, that is, Western values. According to the World Trade Center memorial competition guidelines, the selected memorial at Ground Zero would “preserve freedom, and inspire an end to hatred, ignorance and intolerance” (Lower Manhattan Development Corporation 2003b, 18). Here, memorialization itself is viewed as an act of political resistance, symbolizing terrorism’s ideological defeat and the restoration of ‘democratic values’, such as personal freedom, tolerance, and human rights, at the site. The proposal to locate the International Freedom Center at the World Trade Center site was, as a result, characterized as anti-American and unpatriotic by Burlingame and her supporters. Such views not only reaffirmed American nationalism but also exacerbated social anxiety to squander public criticism of US militarism, impeding critical debate over American foreign policy and the attacks’ broader geopolitical significance.


The memorial landscapes in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Somerset, Pennsylvania, actively establish a national “9/11 story.” As extensions of the state, these memorials assist in reestablishing social order and confidence in the state following the attacks. As symbols of national unity and defiance in the face of terrorism, 9/11 heritage sites assist in reestablishing political order and military confidence; they also both stoke and ease public fears of subsequent attack (see Linenthal 2001; Doss 2010). During a visit to the Pentagon in 2010, for instance, a National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial staff member informed me that the Pentagon’s rebuilding was completed in just 13 months following the attacks. As this memorial staff member went on to describe the rebuilding efforts, or the “Phoenix Project” as it was called: “We wanted to get rid of any lasting sign of the attacks... The mentality was: We’re strong; you can hit us but you can’t knock us down” (Personal Communication, National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, April 2010). In a 2001 memorial service to the 189 victims killed at the Pentagon, President George W. Bush expressed similar sentiments toward rebuilding the US military headquarters. As Mr. Bush expressed, “The wound to this building will not be forgotten, but it will be repaired. Brick by brick, we will quickly rebuild the Pentagon” (Bush quoted in Garamone 2001, emphasis added). Comparing the rebuilding efforts to mending a national wound, the President’s remarks express the ideological significance attributed to restoring the afflicted landscape: a display of both military confidence and national resilience.

The Pentagon’s metaphorical ‘rise from the ashes’ symbolically functions first and foremost to counter the terrorist attack’s weakening of US military power. The above presidential remarks were given at the Pentagon on October 11, 2001, just four days after US military operations in Afghanistan commenced, marking the official start to what has since become known as the “war on terror.” Second, in stressing the great speed with which the Pentagon was to be restored, both remarks communicate a message of national strength and resilience, as well as resecuritization, to the public—both at home and abroad. The Pentagon’s accelerated rebuilding reestablishes military prowess in the aftermath of the attacks, symbolically preventing the “hallowed grounds” of the nation from further destruction. Such narratives of redemption vis-à-vis rebuilding not only reinforce hegemonic histories of US nationalism but also confront post-9/11 fears of subsequent victimization.

The above characterization of the Pentagon’s restoration process as a reparation of wounds foretells the conundrum of cultural forgetting that occurred once the building’s facade was put ‘back to together.’ Without a visual reminder on the Pentagon’s exterior, memories associated with the attacks were omitted not only from the landscape but also from people’s minds. Put otherwise, lived memory declines as the recent past is forgotten by re-pre-senting the landscape anew. The impetus to dedicate a 9/11 memorial at the Pentagon—to represent that memory visually in the landscape—was fueled, in part, by social anxieties to remember that which was no longer tangible in the built environment, as well as to maintain social vigilance against further attack. Serving to both quell and incite public angst, the Pentagon’s 9/11 Memorial ultimately aims to bolster public confidence in the national security state by reestablishing US military dominance.

The completion of One World Trade Center in May 2012 marked another symbolic victory for the nation. One World Trade Center, or Freedom Tower, as it was formerly called, is the tallest of four new buildings occupying the New World Trade Center. Standing at a symbolic 1,776 feet—the birth year of the US nation-state—and with the title of being the tallest building in the western hemisphere (Spielberg 2011), the proposed “Freedom Tower” is overwrought with ideological sentiment. In the master planner’s words:

1776 is not just a clever number, it’s a date that is the most important to me—the [writing of the] Declaration of Independence. That is the date that declared that all people have full human rights, not just Americans. Everybody in the world deserves rights, justice. It [the symbolic height of the building] says something about our country; says something about what it really means, democracy. (Libeskind in Spielberg 2011)

The construction of One World Trade Center was intentionally symbolic. It not only aimed to reestablish American values on the site, but it also sought to restore the city’s broken skyline and mend its wounded spirit. Designed to evoke the façade of the original World Trade Towers, the newly erected One World Trade Center has an allegorical “relationship to the memory of the original buildings” (David Childs, building co-designer and chief architect for One World Trade Center, in Spielberg 2011, emphasis added). As One World Trade Center triumphantly emerged to replace the void where the Twin Towers once stood, its construction ultimately aimed to heal this traumatic wound in collective consciousness:

Our skyline was affected tremendously on 9/11. I believe Tower 1 [aka Freedom Tower], when it is complete, will fill a void. We’ll have our skyline intact. (Michael Pinelli, Vice President and General Superintendent of Field Operations for One World Trade Center, in Spielberg 2011, emphasis added)

The emotional weight of building One World Trade Center is a clear evocation of American resilience and an act of symbolic retaliation. News coverage of the Freedom Tower in the spring of 2012 boasted that the building’s height surpassed that of the Empire State Building, thus re-claiming the World Trade Center’s symbolic role as the visual centerpiece of the city’s skyline (see Higgs 2012). According to Mike Mennella, who oversaw construction of One World Trade Center just as he did for the original Twin Towers, “Seeing this building from all over the region ... it’s just a statement for the region that we’ve reached a real milestone” (Simon 2012). To achieve the greatest possible symbolic gesture, One World Trade Center was planned to surpass the height of the Empire State Building and reclaim its place as the tallest building in New York City during its construction on the exact day that marked the ten-year anniversary of the attacks that brought down the original World Trade Center: September 11, 2011 (Spielberg 2011). However, when the previous winter’s high snowfall levels thwarted that goal, achieving this symbolic height fell within days of the one-year anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s assassination by US military: May 2, 2012. The redemptive and rhetorical presence of One World Trade Center in the skyline cannot, therefore, be reduced to that of geographic orientation. It does not simply reorient and restore the collective ‘sense of place’ lost when the original towers collapsed. Rather, the symbolic gesture of rebuilding in the aftermath of such violence is deeply connected to national sentiments of grief, anger, and retaliation.


Fears of a subsequent terrorist attack contributed to a post-9/11 culture of hypervigilance and paranoia, racialized surveillance, and lust for vengeance. Islamophobia raged across the country following the attacks, resulting in an unprecedented increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes and racial violence targeting Arab and South Asian communities, regardless of faith (see Cainkar 2002; Kwan 2008; Hassan 2012). According to FBI statistics, anti-Muslim bias incidents rose by 1600 percent after 9/11 (see Muslim Public Affairs Council, n.d.). As fears of Islam reached an alarming new high, Orientalist images long associated with Western portrayals of “the Middle East” (see Said 1979; Lockman 2004; Shaheen 2009) served as a hyperreal backdrop for the burgeoning war on terror, incriminating Southwest Asian, North African, and South Asian communities, near and far.10 Ironically, a reaffirmed sense of multiculturalism also proliferated in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks (see Grewal 2005). As one National September 11 Memorial & Museum staff member recalled,

You know, they say that after 9/11 a lot of the racial tension in New York [City] disappeared. After 9/11, there was this feeling that people were going to be more gentle with each other and appreciate what they had. (Personal Communication, November 2010)

Yet this emergent multicultural nationalism, displayed in slogans such as “United We Stand,” vehemently excluded many Arab, South Asian, and Muslims communities. And as cultural tensions and public anger flared across the country, a rather divided emotional landscape persisted as a localized multiculturalism emerged (temporarily) in tandem with nation-wide reports of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hate crimes.

Conflicting sentiments also preoccupied design decisions at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. In the 9/11 Memorial Museum’s 2009-2010 exhibition-planning Conversation Series, institutional debate persisted over the “planned identification” of the 19 al-Qaeda hijackers within the museum’s primary historical exhibition. Located below-grade in the North Tower footprint, the historical exhibition (HE) is thematically comprised of three main components—HE1: the events of September 11,2001; HE2: events before 9/11; and HE3: events after 9/11. The section of the exhibition under scrutiny in the 2009-2010 Museum Planning Conversation Series Report was HE2, a section of the 9/11 Memorial Museum that covers the symbolism of the Twin Towers in popular culture, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the rise of al-Qaeda, and the 9/11 terror plot (National September 11 Memorial Museum 2009-2010, 5).11 As one National September 11 Memorial & Museum staff member elucidates on this particular set of exhibition-planning conversations:

We [at the 9/11 Memorial Museum] are pretty clear on what we want to say and how we want to say it. What is still a little open-ended is how that [information] is actually delivered in a design sense within the museum; how you lay that out. For example, we have always been very firm in the fact that this event was not a natural disaster; it wasn’t a tsunami, it wasn’t a hurricane. These were nineteen hijackers who made a decision and they weren’t alone. So there is human agency involved and to whitewash history, to not have it included as part of the story, just did not make sense to us, did not ring true... So it’s really much more of a design challenge than a content challenge at this point. (Personal Communication, January 2011)

As the telling of the story of the 9/11 plot was institutionally designated a “design challenge” and not a content dispute, as this remark indicates, FBI reproductions of the 19 hijackers were ultimately included in HE2 for historical accuracy. Yet, the “content and design development” of HE2 remained a source of tension (see National September 11 Memorial Museum 2009 -2010).

Situating the story of the hijackers within the larger historiography of HE2, the museum’s inclusion of the perpetrators’ images has caused some of its visiting public to question whether this inclusion incites anti-Arab and Islamophobic sentiment. With the opening of the 9/11 Memorial Museum in May 2014, for example, public response to the HE2 section of the historical exhibition has been strained by the usage of politically colored language— terms such as “Islamist” and “jihadist”—to characterize the ideological motivations of the hijackers (see Otterman 2014a, 2014b). Although scholars, civil rights advocates, and interfaith clergy have since expressed concern over usage of the contested language within the museum’s multi-media displays and expository texts (Otterman 2014a), the museum’s preliminary Conversation Series did not foreclose the exhibition’s propensity to incite public anger and trigger additional racial violence as a result of entrenched Islamophobia. Rather, Conversation Series participants merely rejected displaying the perpetrators’ images within the same institutional space that also memorializes their victims (National September 11 Memorial Museum 2009 2010, 5).12

As museological spaces dedicated to remembering the victims of mass atrocity, as well as historicizing the events that produced them, memorial museums “suggest ... an increasing desire to add ... a moral framework to the narration of terrible historical events” (Williams 2007, 8). In order to uphold a “view [of] the world in simple terms of good and evil” (Arnold-de Simine 2013, 18), additional steps are therefore required to differentiate perpetrators of crimes from their victims. The institutional space dedicated specifically to the 2,983 victims, or the Memorial Exhibition—In Memo-riarn, as it is known—is located in the 9/11 Memorial Museum’s South Tower footprint. The South Tower footprint is physically removed from the historical exhibition and its more controversial content. Here, victims and perpetrators are spatially separated in order for visitors to emotionally differentiate between the two groups and properly assign blame. The aforementioned concerns over HE2 thus reveal the geopolitical doctrine of such morally charged distinctions within memorial museum spaces: separating “us” from “them.” Central to the politics of victimhood, the memorial museum’s duality of “reverent remembrance” and historical accuracy forecloses the possibility of “critical interpretation” where “honest evaluation of the dead is normally seen as disrespectful” (Williams 2007, 8), especially when located on the authentic sites of mass murder. As one 9/11 Memorial & Museum staff member critically ponders:

I think what is being struggled with in the [historical] exhibition is... the reconciliation in the people who decided, “I don’t want this place to be about teaching hatred.” The people who channeled their anger, their sadness, their fear, their grief into something where they reached out. The story in the Times, two weeks ago, about the two women who were widowed and then realized that there are so many widows in Afghanistan whose lives have been disrupted by the war [on terrorism] and who didn’t get settlements to help them live a comfortable life and help their children survive. That kind of story, the stories that are really more complicated, and more complex for the museum to be dealing with. It’s not that they won’t deal with them, but it’s just the harder thing. (Personal Communication, September 2010)

This desire to maintain historical accuracy alongside moral purity, ultimately limits the probability of narratives that include the suffering of others and expanded definitions of victimization beyond American interests. The debate over HE2 ultimately reveals the soft power of the 9/11 Memorial Museum to curate stories that both uphold and shape identities and world views in the post-9/11 world.

Drawn to places of trauma to process “the reality of the impossible” (Doss 2010, 94), visitors to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum seek memorable interactions with the site’s “authentic milieu” of death and destruction. As one research respondent appropriately acknowledges: “The site itself is not only the physical place that you’re in... it is our primary artifact” (Personal Communication, 9/11 Memorial & Museum staff member, January 2011). The 9/11 Memorial Museum Conversation Series debate thus brings into question the effectiveness of affective heritage to emotionally navigate visitors through their encounters with World Trade Center remains, and, subsequently, the question of how to manage those emotions ethically. As one 9/11 Memorial & Museum staff member problematizes,

Once we’ve got more of the exhibition pieces finalized, we are actually going to do some focus groups with people. We’ll be able to do focus groups with people looking at five or six different aspects of the museum itself, and ask them when they look at these pieces all together, is it too much? Or, no, they can handle this—this is fine? (Personal Communication, March 2011)

As the need to evaluate visitor emotions suggests, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum is both an “archive of feeling” and a conduit for new emotions with the potential to incite unwanted feelings, or even violent responses (see Cvetkovich 2003).


In the summer of 2010, tensions flared once again at “Ground Zero” as news of a proposal to establish an Islamic Community Center two blocks north of the World Trade Center broke. The Cordoba House—or Park51, as it was later called in accordance with its address—was envisioned as a cultural center with programmatic offerings similar to the YMCA and Jewish Community Center. Public spotlight and criticism focused largely on the center’s mosque, which right-wing media outlets and politicians (e.g., Fox News, Lou Dobbs, Newt Gingrich, Michelle Bachmann, and Sarah Palin) quickly dubbed the “Ground Zero Mosque” to rouse conservative voters amidst midterm elections. Meanwhile, supporters of the proposed interreligious cultural center publicly protested to counter growing national outrage for the mosque and dispel emerging conspiracy theories alleging the Center’s connections to “jihadist” governments (see Green 2010; Montopoli 2010).

Co-founded by Daisy Khan and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Cordoba House was envisioned as a multi-faith organization that would propel healing within and amongst the afflicted communities of Lower Manhattan by giving a voice to American Muslims amidst local redevelopment efforts (see Peyser 2010). According to Rauf,

We’ve approached the community [of Lower Manhattan] because we want this to be an example of how we are cooperating with the members of the community, not only to provide services but also to build a new

a-b “Ground Zero Mosque” Counter-Protests, Zuccotti Park, NYC. Images courtesy of the author (taken September 2010)

Figure 1.4 a-b “Ground Zero Mosque” Counter-Protests, Zuccotti Park, NYC. Images courtesy of the author (taken September 2010).

discourse on how Muslims and non-Muslims can cooperate together to push back against the voices of extremism. (Rauf quoted in Green 2010)

Despite Rauf’s intentions for the Cordoba House, whose name pays homage to an interfaith community of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim residents that peacefully coexisted in medieval Spain (Stanton 2010), Park51 was viewed as anything but conciliatory by its opponents. They regarded the presence of Park51 as an affront to grieving families, equivalent to reopening wounds that had only just begun to heal (see Peyser 2010).

Memorials dedicated to traumatic events often facilitate what Doss describes as a form of grief management (2010). As she explains, memorial practices “help mediate the psychic crisis of sudden and often inexplicable loss” (2010, 68). The Park51 debates outlined above underscore the intensification of oppositional attachments to places of 9/11 memory and their opposing interpretation of this recent, traumatic past. In Doss’s view, such acrimonious viewpoints ultimately prevent historical closure as the past, left unresolved, continues to haunt the present. Proponents of the Islamic Community Center argued that its proximity to Ground Zero was essential to intergroup dialogue and reconciliation. Meanwhile, the Center’s adversaries stressed just the opposite, citing the placement of the Islamic Community Center, near this “sacred ground”, as a deterrent to familial and national healing. Despite the historic presence of Arab and Muslim-American communities in Lower Manhattan (see Mohibullah 2017), conservative media outlets delineated 9/11 victims, perpetrators, and survivors along ethno-religious lines, weaponizing familial and cultural grief in the service of jingoistic political gain. As a result, the Park51 debates raise important questions regarding the ownership and provenance of places of memory, as well as the effectiveness of memorials in mediating grief when the healing of some is prioritized over that of others.

A case in point is the heart-wrenching story of Mohammad Salman Hamdani, whose memory is tenderly safeguarded by his friends, community, and family in laborious ways that painfully reveal the racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia underscoring the scrutiny of his death by the broader public. Hamdani’s mother Talat believes that her eldest son, whom everyone knew as “Sal,” was on his way to work on the morning of September 11, 2001, when he saw the World Trade Center in flames and rushed to the site to help (Personal Communication, Talat Hamdani, January 2011). At the time of the attacks, Hamdani was a New York Police Department Cadet, a Medical school hopeful, and a part-time Emergency Medical Technician, or EMT. He was also Pakistani-American and a Muslim. Reported as “missing” after the events of the day unfolded, Hamdani’s parents continued to search for their son over the next six months, believing that he, like many other Muslims, was possibly being detained, or even renditioned to a secret, offshore prison by the US government. In October of 2001, Hamdani’s body was recovered from the rubble of the North Tower, but his parents were not notified until March 2002, nearly six months after the attacks. During this time, authorities completed a federal investigation into Hamdani, including his affiliation with the N YPD and previous training in biochemistry as an undergraduate at Queens College. Although it was determined that he was in no way connected to the attackers, the damage to his memory and his surviving family had been done.

During the federal investigation, local news outlets began publishing inflammatory headlines into Hamdani’s “disappearance,” as it was then called, painting a conspiratorial picture of the former high school football player as complicit in the terrorist attacks (Otterman 2012). Hamdani’s heroism was eventually recognized by federal and local authorities—he received a full police burial, a mention by name in the US Patriot Act as an example of Muslim-American valor, and, more recently, the street where he lived was renamed to Salman Hamdani Drive. Yet despite this public recognition, Hamdani’s name is not included amongst the other first responders on the 9/11 Memorial (Personal Communication, Talat Hamdani, January 2011).

While Hamdani’s name appears on the 9/11 Memorial, his name resides on a panel of the South Tower memorial footprint reserved for victims without an official “memorial grouping” or affiliation (e.g.. First Responders, Flight 93, Pentagon, Flight 175, North Tower). Excluded through a series of categorical rubrics and algorithms universally implemented by the 9/11 Memorial & Museum to establish meaningful placement of victims’ names along the walls of the memorial pools based on where someone died, or, in the case of first responders, how, Hamdani’s omission from the list of first responders leaves his death unresolved: it procures disbelief in Hamdani’s innocence and enables the ongoing erasure of Muslim victims in the post-9/11 imaginary. As Hamdani’s mother voiced amidst the “Ground Zero Mosque” protests: “American Muslims did not do this. We died, too... Why does your pain merit more attention than my pain? Than my grief?” (Personal Communication, Talat Hamdani, January 2011). Hamdani’s story thus demonstrates that struggles for and about places of memory are not only concerns over how to remember the past, but also who can remember and he remembered.

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