Forsyth Co. managers concerned by ‘potentially inflammatory’ wording on 9/11 marker

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A 9/11 memorial unveiled at Carolina Field of Honor at Triad Park in Kernersville on Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014, includes this plaque, which has drawn criticism for its wording. (Bruce Chapman/Journal)
A 9/11 memorial unveiled at Carolina Field of Honor at Triad Park in Kernersville on Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014, includes this plaque, which has drawn criticism for its wording. (Bruce Chapman/Journal)

FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. — The War Memorial Foundation is standing behind its 9/11 marker at the Carolina Field of Honor in Triad Park, though Forsyth County staffers expressed concerns before its dedication that the marker’s language was potentially inflammatory, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

The foundation dedicated a 9/11 memorial at the Carolina Field of Honor on Thursday. The memorial includes a steel beam salvaged from the World Trade Center and a marker in the brickwork in front of the beam.

“This steel beam was salvaged from the South Tower of the World Trade Center by the D.H. Griffin Wrecking Co. Inc. following the dastardly militant Islamic terrorist attacks on September 11, 2011,” the first line of the marker reads.

The “dastardly militant Islamic terrorist attack” part is what concerned Forsyth County managers. It’s also raised concerns for a local Muslim leader.

Imam Khalid Griggs of Community Mosque of Winston-Salem called the wording of the sign “provocative” because it “feeds into the Islamophobic stereotypes so prevalent today.”

Forsyth County Manager Dudley Watts said county administrators expressed concerns after they saw the marker for the first time earlier this week.

“This is a permanent memorial and we just would not want anyone offended by anything on the monument,” Watts said.

Robert O’Hanlon, chairman of the War Memorial Foundation board, said his board was unanimously in favor of leaving the wording as is.

“That plaque is 100 percent historically accurate,” O’Hanlon said.

Describing the attacks

The memorial sits on park land owned by Forsyth and Guilford counties, but it was placed there by the War Memorial Foundation and paid for with donations.

County commissioners did have to give the foundation permission to add a 9/11 memorial to the Carolina Field of Honor, but marker wording was not included in the proposal.

Damon Sanders-Pratt, deputy county manager for Forsyth County, said he saw a picture of the marker on Tuesday and had the parks director tell the foundation that they might want to consider different wording.

Watts said administrators thought it would be more appropriate for the language to basically denounce the terrorist activities. He said they would not want to offend “a devout Muslim who does not want to be associated with Islamic extremism.”

O’Hanlon said a foundation wording committee thoroughly considered what to put on the marker.

“We used many sources to make sure we were accurately depicting history as it occurred.” O’Hanlon said.

He said the wording does not reflect on all Muslims. He said it describes the terrorists.

“I don’t think any race could possibly be insulted or stereotyped off what those 19 people did,” O’Hanlon said.

But Griggs said it feeds into stereotypes.

“It is very incorrect to project that a majority of Muslims in the U.S. or in the world are supportive of terrorist acts and those kinds of things,” Griggs said. “The majority of people who are killed by terrorists and especially Muslims are other Muslims.”

On the other hand, he said, if Muslims complain about the wording it might be wrongly seen “as an attack on the memorial itself.”

“I think the language is not one that promotes the healing of various faith communities … what various faith traditions say about peace and coming together,” he said.

Davis: ‘It’s factual’

The Carolina Field of Honor will be turned over to Forsyth and Guilford counties after completion of the various memorial components.

O’Hanlon said, “If they want to change it, they can.”

Watts said at this point the marker is what it is. Watts said money has not been budgeted to replace anything.

“If there are no complaints then perhaps we were overly sensitive,” Watts said. “If there are complaints, we’ll deal with them.”

The counties could make changes once the field is officially turned over.

Watts pointed out that Triad Park is also under the jurisdiction of Guilford County, so they would also weigh in.

Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing did not immediately return a call left with an office administrator on Thursday afternoon.

Bruce Davis, a Guilford County commissioner and War Memorial Foundation board member, said the marker wording speaks the truth of what happened and only describes those who were extremists.

“It’s factual,” Davis said. “It’s right off of every source you can find.”

Forsyth County Commissioner Dave Plyler, who also serves on the foundation board, said he did not vote one way or the other but told the foundation to “do it if you want to.”

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