Flight 93, Crescent, Symbols, and Marshall McLuhan

Flight 93, Crescent, Symbols, and Marshall McLuhan

There’s a flap heating up the newspapers and blogosphere about the winning design for the Flight 93 Memorial to be built near  Shanksville, Pa. The skinny is that architect Paul Murdoch submitted a design, the “Crescent of Embrace,” which bears an uncanny resemblance to the Islamic red crescent as seen on the flag of Tunisia.

The designer says the crescent shape was mere coincidence. He, apparently, wanted a soft symbol of openness to symbolize acceptance and embrace. I contend he was wildly successful. What better way to signify openness toward Islamic ideas and faith than by using a common Islamic symbol?

Others have blogged pretty thoroughly on this. For more info, check out:

Nice try. If my four-year-old told me he didn’t know that a Crescent is an important shape for the Muslim world, I might believe him, also. But anyone older than four? No way. What non-comatose architect alive today doesn’t know that the crescent is an unofficial symbol used worldwide for the Islamic faith and for Islamic countries? (Also, see here.) Indeed, when Islamic countries were offended by the symbol of the cross, the Red Cross societies in the Ottoman Empire and its Muslim nations switched to use a crescent instead. (Further, it seems that if you bisect the crescent design directly through the middle of the end points, the line follows a Great Circle around the Earth and bisects … Mecca.)

C’mon. A RED CRESCENT!? On a flight 93 memorial!? Hellooooo? Who’s asleep at the wheel at the US National Parks service?

What’s next? “The Swastika of Hard Times” for a new Holocaust memorial center. “The Rising Sun of Sadness” for a new Pearl Harbor memorial? Does anybody think Japan will ever memorialize Hiroshima with a Stars and Stripes design?

Marshall McLuhan gave us the “McLuhan Equation,” saying:

[I]t is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium — that is, of any extension of ourselves — result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.” (Emphasis mine.)

Let this be a warning to all of us who design and who communicate, whether it’s on the Web, in print, behind a pulpit, or in brick and mortar: in this Postmodern era, sometimes the only message that will be heard is the one contained in our medium. We must think carefully about how we are saying our message, where we are saying it, and what it looks like. Like it or not, our medium reveals something about what we’re saying, whether intentional or otherwise, whether the message is accurate or not. The medium says something and has consequences.

[tags]BlogRodent, Flight-93, flight93, terrorists, terrorism, violence, design, communication, Marshall-McLuhan, Islam, Christianity, crescent, controversy, memorial, 911, September-11[/tags]

4 thoughts on “Flight 93, Crescent, Symbols, and Marshall McLuhan

  1. Spud

    How about a broken crescent? How about a crescent in the talons of a bald eagle, as the eagle tears it up with his beak? I suppose that’s not as bad as a flushed Koran.

  2. Jennifer Post author

    What about your opening information which clearly says it’s the “Winning design” ??? So, there was a contest? And judges? It’s not only the designer at fault, but also those who voted for it and thus made it the winning design.

    If it were indeed the “Swastika of Hard Times for Holocost memorial”, you’d be railing against those who chose it more than the one who created it.


  3. Rich Post author

    True, I did write “Who’s asleep at the wheel at the US National Parks service?” But, unfortunately, the committee who approved the design were surviving family members of the downed flight. I am more willing to be charitable towards them in their ignorance of the symbology. I’m willing to grant that the the crescent is a less powerful symbol than the swastika, and it hasn’t been fully corrrupted by the fundamentalist Islamic terrorists.

    Through the ages, the swastika, itself, was a more benign symbol. That is, until it was adopted by the National Socialist German Workers Party in its reign of terror. See the for a more thorough history. I was surprised to learn that the swastika was featured in highway design in America: “Arizona state highway markers up until 1940 featured a right-facing swastika superimposed on an arrowhead.”

    So, at this time, for the majority of Americans, I can grant that this symbol bears no heavy weight. However, for a designer, my standards would be much higher.

    Thanks for the comment, Bride!


  4. Sonny Moon

    The semicircular shape echoes an already-present feature of the field where Flight 93 crashed. The reason why it’s red in the illustrations is because it’s bordered by maple trees, which have red leaves in the fall.


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