Arizona's Sept. 11 Memorial Called Offensive In Phoenix, a memorial to the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has kicked up a political dust storm. The cement and steel monument on the state's capital mall was meant to be a somber and respectful tribute to victims of the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Instead, the memorial became something that is considered by many to be offensive.

Arizona's Sept. 11 Memorial Called Offensive

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Twenty-five-hundred miles from Ground Zero, Arizona already has a memorial to the victims of 9/11. And like its counterpart in the East, it has generated quite a bit of controversy. There are claims that the memorial is not only unpatriotic, but offensive.

From member station KJZZ, Rene Gutel reports.

RENE GUTEL: Wesley Bolin Plaza is the grassy lawn stretching east of Arizona's state capitol. It's a quiet spot in otherwise busy Phoenix and home to the state's monuments. The newest edition is a 42-foot steel ring, tilting skyward. It looks like a giant halo, and as you walk under it you can read several dozen inscriptions visible in the shadows of the cement base.

Mr. GREG PATTERSON: It's a very stark memorial. And then, when I started to read it, I realize that what it is a criticism of the United States.

GUTEL: That's Greg Patterson, a Republican, former state lawmaker. He's offended by many of the inscriptions, which he says have nothing to do with remembering the victims of 9/11. Phrases such as Congress questions why CIA and FBI didn't prevent attacks, or Middle East violence motivates attacks in the U.S. One of the worst, he says, is you don't win battles of terrorism with more battles.

Mr. PATTERSON: I'm not saying that these things can't be spoken, but this is the official 9/11 memorial at the Arizona state capitol grounds. And this is not how I want my family to remember 9/11. And I don't think it's how many Arizonans want to remember 9/11.

GUTEL: Members of the bipartisan commission that designed the monument say they were trying to be sensitive to the range of reactions to September 11. But the criticisms haven't gone away in the state's conservative political climate. This past Friday, officials held an emotional four and a half hour public hearing. Arizonan Mike Bakavoy(ph)lost a brother when the towers collapsed. He testified that many of the inscriptions don't belong on the memorial.

Mr. MIKE BAKAVOY:I think we need a fitting memorial that honest people without controversy, without political sentiment.

GUTEL: But at the hearing, opinions appeared evenly split. There was a lot of passionate, sometimes angry talk on both sides. Others quietly read from prepared statements, like Lois Canciero(ph).

Ms. LOIS CANCIERO: The hurt that some have expressed in regard to the memorial inscriptions makes me sad. I think the inscriptions are broad and encompassing and that we can learn from them.

GUTEL: The chairman of the bipartisan commission is Phoenix fire fighter Billy Shields. He defends the memorial's most controversial phrase - you don't wind battles of terrorism with more battles - by pointing out that right next to it, it also says, must bomb back.

Mr. BILLY SHIELDS: Those two are there together, and that again expresses the range of views that people had. And there are people to still today, they were then, that feel both ways.

GUTEL: Shield says commission members never meant to offend anyone, but they did make the conscious decision not to use the monument to list victims' names.

Mr. SHIELDS: And that was input directly from the family members we had on the commission that lost loved ones. They said to me and they said to the commission we do not want or need another headstone.

GUTEL: Still, Shields says in light of the public response to the memorial, the commission may consider removing some of the phrases. The board reconvenes in January to make that call.

For NPR News, I'm Rene Gutel in Phoenix.

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