Friday, June 10, 2005

Richard Tofel Responds to Critics of International Freedom Center

Richard J. Tofel, president of the International Freedom Center, has responded to the criticism of what it's exhibits will contain with a piece that extols the ideal of freedom, on which most would agree, but that addresses none of the particular concerns of those who doubt the motivation of some of those who are financing and developing the content for the Center's exhibits. Perhaps he should have offered the names of a few of the other individuals (who seem less controversial) who are advising the project, such as:
Fareed Zakaria
Editor of Newsweek International and author of a column that appears in the national and international editions of Newsweek.
Trained as an academic, he is the author of "The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad", which is being translated into fifteen languages.
"Freedom is the most powerful idea in human history. It is the idea that human societies have been moving toward for hundreds of years, that more than any other concept has shaped the world we live in. And what better place for a museum dedicated to an exploration of that idea than New York City-the most open city in the most open society in the world."

Xu Wenli
Visiting senior fellow at Brown University's Watson Institute of International Studies, and exiled founder of the Chinese Democratic Party
"All mankind is searching for freedom. The freedom of 1.3 billion Chinese people is extremely important to the pursuit of freedom for the rest of the world. I believe the Freedom Center can definitely make great contributions to the Chinese people's struggle for freedom because the Freedom Center belongs to all mankind."

David Hackett Fischer
Professor at Brandeis University and author of "Liberty & Freedom"

Kenneth Jackson
President of the New-York Historical Society and the Jacques Barzun Professor of History and Social Sciences at Columbia University
"A museum at Ground Zero ought to deal with the issues that I think were attacked at the World Trade Center - tolerance and openness and aspiration. The challenge is can the Museum deal with issues honestly and allow for at least some of their complexity?"

Bob Kerrey
President of New School University in New York City and former Governor and Senator of Nebraska
"Freedom is an overused and even misused word that causes too many to turn up their cynical noses when they hear it used. The Freedom Museum will be a place where freedom's story is told and where no one can turn away from seeing how much we owe to those who risked and gave their lives to secure it."

Sara Bloomfield
Director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
I don't have the time right now to try to dig into the ideological predispositions of all of the advisors, but it appears to me, upon first glance, that at least some can be trusted to present a balanced exposition. However, the question still remains: Is it proper to piggyback a museum that will purportedly attempt a historically fair and balanced presentation of the steps and missteps of freedom onto a memorial that will be as emotional as that commemorating 9/11?

There is a difference between remembrance and history. There is also a difference between memorializing and history. When people attend a funeral, they expect the eulogy to be full of admiration and fondness and even humor, they don't expect to hear a personal history that includes every facet, including "the bad." The emotions of those seeking to memorialize the victims of 9/11 may be jarred if exposed to a historical exhibition--tinged with even a small amount of controversial or tough-to-hear content--within the same proximate experience. To me, it just doesn't seem appropriate.

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