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Talking Points Memo

Pro-Mosque Mom Who Lost Pregnant Daughter In Trade Center: 9/11 Families 'Not Monolithic'

Christina Bellantoni

As plans to build an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero in New
York City become political fodder for the fall elections on a national
scale, it's become shorthand to imply that all 9/11 families oppose the
erection of the mosque two blocks from the site where terrorists downed
the World Trade Center nearly nine years ago.

But in fact, no cohesive position has emerged from the thousands of
9/11 families who have been politically influential on many issues in
the past. One group which has opposed war has come out strongly in favor
of the mosque project, known as Cordoba House. Others have avoided even
addressing the issue.

"There is no simple, singular 9/11 group who really should or could
speak for all 9/11 family members," said Donna Marsh O'Connor of
September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, a coalition of more
than 250 families which recently endorsed the mosque. Since the endorsement, the membership numbers have grown, she said.

O'Connor told TPM in an interview that it's unfair for groups like Debra Burlingame's 9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America
to act as if they are representing everyone who lost loved ones in the
attacks. O'Connor's 29-year-old daughter Vanessa, pregnant at the time,
was killed working on the 93rd floor of one of the twin towers.

"This is not a small issue, this is what America has always been -- a place where people come to escape religious persecution," O'Connor
(pictured at left) said. "I can understand people saying that this is a
slap. This does hurt. But we don't change fundamentally what our nation
is about because it will hurt people."

"We're a family who is forever changed, certainly forever scarred,
but we're not the victims of 9/11. Our daughter was the victim of 9/11
and we don't want to see our nation fold," she said.

There are multiple groups of families of the victims of the attacks
with varying prominence on the national scene. TPMDC has put out
interview requests to several and spent time scanning their Web sites.


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As Josh noted last night,
Burlingame has gotten the lion's share of the attention, in part
because she's affiliated with Liz Cheney. Peter Gadiel's organization
9/11 Families for a Secure America also opposes the Islamic center. But, former TPMer Justin Elliott noted over at Salon that few of the people who originated the fight were actually affiliated with the 9/11 families.

Despite there being no unified voice, a meme has emerged that the
families of the victims of 9/11 are unified in being hurt by the plans.
In this piece, a rabbi speaks broadly about 9/11 families:

First, a pastoral voice. To some of those who lost loved
ones in the 9/11 attacks, Cordoba House is a slap in the face that
generates anger and disgust. In their mind, Muslims perpetrated 9/11,
and now Muslims are building a shrine at Ground Zero.

These 9/11 families understand intellectually that the progressive
American Muslims advocating for Cordoba House have no connection,
theologically or personally, to the terror-thirsty, militant strand of
Islam associated with the 9/11 attackers. Yet, for them, these two
diametrically opposed groups are still connected in some way. In an
honest moment, most Americans would admit that we share this feeling
that all Muslims are connected.

Of note in delving into the 9/11 families reaction to the Islamic center is the lack of press attention to the failure last month
of a measure that would have provided for $7.4 billion in health care
funding for emergency responders and others who were sickened by the
World Trade Center dust. Just 12 Republicans joined Democrats in voting
for the measure, which needed a two-thirds majority to pass.

Rep. Anthony Weiner threw a fit on the House floor last month over this very issue, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) noted
the lack of Republican support noted the same in his statement today
that developers should just move the project. But for all the political
griping over the mosque, you'd think there would be more fuss made over
sick firefighters who need medical attention.

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