My Ceramics III Statement on 911

During the fall semester of the year 2001, I took an intermediate course in ceramics offered by the Fine and Performing Arts Department of Raritan Valley Community College, which is located in North Branch, NJ. I had finally begun to learn how to use a potter's wheel, and the main purpose of this course was to perfect the skills needed to make cylinders taller than 8 inches up to 12 inches. When the class met on September 13, our instructor, Ann Tsubota (also Chair of the Arts Department), suggested that we make a sculptural response to the 911 attack using our first batch of cylinders. My first thought was that, if it turned out that Islamic extremists were responsible, it would be fitting to look for an appropriate response in the Koran.

Koran on Punishment

It wasn't difficult to find sufficient material on punishment in the Koran [1]. One relevant statement that I found was a quote from the Old Testament about an eye for an eye, etc. By that time, it was becoming clear that the rulers of Afganistan were involved, so I began to look for an architectural symbol of that country. Oddly enough, the Taliban themselves had recently destroyed two monumental sculptures from the pre-Islamic era [2]. The most symbolic architecture remaining may be the 65-meter Minaret of Jam [3]. My piece tries to suggest that there is a connection between the cultures of Afganistan and the United States, and when one of them is attacked, the other is undermined. Of course, the theocratic Taliban regime in Afganistan was overthrown just a few months later.

Hatred Considered

About a week after the attack, a picture appeared of some people in Pakistan holding a large banner that read "America think! why you are hated all over the world." The original cause of this hatred is evidently American support for Israel. But this support is strengthened, if possible, by the thought that Israel's enemies seem to be intent on committing another holocaust. It is ironic that America is also often blamed for political and social problems in Islamic nations. Undoubtedly, we have given numerous occasions for resentment out of ignorance or indifference. However, radical Islamists who spend their energy hating America are neglecting their own urgent best interests.

By the way, I recently viewed the highly-rated anime "Princess Mononoke," which is about hatred and whether or not it can be overcome [4]. I was especially struck by a line about a fanatical group of warriors whose "hatred makes them act stupidly." I think it would be a very good thing if children everywhere were to view this film several times while growing up.

A Fitting Memorial?

It is almost a year since the World Trade Center was attacked and its landmark towers abruptly fell. The site has now been cleared, and it should be time to start rebuilding this part of lower Manhattan. However, the American people have apparently not reached a consensus on the meaning of the attacks. This is the reason, in my opinion, for the difficulty in planning redevelopment with a fitting memorial. Responding to this lack of clarity, Lou Dobbs recently discontinued using the euphemistic phrase "war on terror" and started calling it a war on radical Islamists who seek to kill unbelievers [5].

Others have pointed out that radical Islamists can read justification for their acts into the Koran without too much difficulty. For example, Verse 16.26 of Chapter 16 (The Bee [1] ) says:

Allah demolished their building from the foundations, so the roof fell down on them from above them, and the punishment came to them from whence they did not perceive.

This is exactly what was done in the name of Allah in the first attack on the World Trade Center [6]. Perhaps the radical Islamists also had this verse in mind on September 11, 2001 as they approached the towers in Boeing 767s they had hijacked enroute from Boston to Los Angeles. They certainly made their mark, and this thought gives rise to my idea for a memorial.

I propose that a model Tower be built showing the gashes made by the two planes, which can be done with one building because the attacks came from opposite directions and at different levels. Visitors to these levels would see exhibits explaining what happened during the attacks and also look out through the gashes.

The lower levels of the Tower should house a "Museum of Religious Extremes" comprising exhibits of evil acts committed through the ages by madmen who thought they were justified by religious beliefs. It will be difficult to explain such acts fully without appearing to find fault with the religious beliefs themselves. However, the line between beliefs and actions was clearly drawn by Thomas Jefferson [7]:

"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God; that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship; that the legislative powers of the government reach actions only, and not opinions ..."

America's ability to walk this fine line is being tested again, and we probably have a lot of work to do before it can be said the test was successful.

I also think new buildings on the site should be limited in height out of consideration for uniformed personnel who may have to respond to future emergencies.


1. The Koran, (Provided by the Online Book Initiative as translated by M.H. Shakir and published by Tahrike Tarsile Qur'an, Inc., in 1983.)

2. W.L. Rathje, "Why the Taliban are destroying Buddhas,"

3. Afghanistan Rescue Effort, Inc. "The Minaret of Jam,"

4. Steve Fritz, "Miyazake God of Anime," webdate 9/29/199,

5. Lou Dobbs Moneyline, June 5, 2002

6. Dave Williams, "The Bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City," International Criminal Police Review - No 469-471 (1998) and

7. Thomas Jefferson, letter to the Danbury Baptist Association of January 1, 1802 (see )

Last updated September 14, 2002.

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Copyright 2003, Terence J. Nelson