News Analysis: Patriotism Clouds Choice for Memorial





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A flurry of decisions late last week over the color of ribbons to be distributed at the Sept. 11 memorial revealed a deeply divided campus. Moreover, it raised the controversial question of how to memorialize the tragedies of the past year.

Chancellor Robert Berdahl's announcement Thursday night, overriding student leaders' decision, came as a surprise to many-including some members of the organizing committee.

As of Thursday morning, organizers had expected to distribute the white ribbons they had already purchased. At a press conference that evening, Berdahl announced that additional red and blue ribbons would be distributed. Yet a joint meeting of organizers Friday established ribbons of various colors-in addition to the red, white and blue ribbons-would be distributed.

The impetus for Berdahl's impromptu decision may have been the rapid national attention the campus received Thursday, after a conservative campus publication, The California Patriot, released online a sensationalized article accusing the university of banning anything patriotic from the Sept. 11 memorial.

"(Berdahl) received e-mails from people who weren't happy with the information they learned from the Cal Patriot," said UC Berkeley spokesperson Janet Gilmore.

Though student leaders said the initial decision to distribute white ribbons was meant to be inclusive of all members of the campus community, Berdahl quickly dismissed that claim and attributed the initial choice of white ribbons to the student government's financial limitations.

Yet beyond the surface conflict over ribbon colors, the incident revealed larger issues:Should there be multiple ways of remembering the events of Sept. 11? Is patriotism necessarily the only way of commemorating last year's tragedy?

Some said the hostile reactions to the white ribbons showed there was little room for dissent on the campus.

"There are people in this country who think there's only one way to remember Sept. 11," said Graduate Assembly President Jessica Quindel, a member of the memorial organizing committee. "If you differ in any which way or form, you will be seen as wrong, and I don't think difference is wrong."

Memorial organizers said white ribbons could symbolize mourning, peace or hope. Supporters said white would promote unity among all students, regardless of background or belief.

But others said red, white and blue ribbons were necessary in any Sept. 11 memorial, and anything else was unpatriotic.

"I think (the white ribbons are) ridiculous," said Berkeley College Republicans President Bret Manley. "I want red, white and blue. I love America, and I don't think it's divisive to have red, white and blue ribbons."

This unilateral definition of patriotism spiraled into hostile threats against those who openly supported the white ribbons.

Many public UC Berkeley figures, including The Daily Californian, received numerous e-mails and phone calls denouncing UC Berkeley and the city of Berkeley as "devoid of patriotism." Many sent messages with racial slurs and demanded foreign students leave the country if they did not support the distribution of red, white and blue ribbons in the memorial.

At least two UC Berkeley students received death threats because they openly supported white ribbons over red, white and blue ribbons.

"I think it's really sick that there are people who will send hate mail just because they disagree with you," said ASUC President Jesse Gabriel, who received hate mail. "We have to create mechanisms so people can come together to talk about the issues that divide us most."

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