The original Crescent of Embrace design for the Flight 93 memorial (left) was laid out in the configuration of an Islamic crescent and star flag (right). The crash site sits between the tips of the giant crescent, in the position of the star on an Islamic flag.
When this apparent symbol of Islamic triumph caused a national uproar seven years ago the Memorial Project (a public-private entity overseen by the Park Service) promised to change the design, but as demonstrated by the images below, they never did make any significant changes:
Above: original Crescent of Embrace design. Below: a frame from the Park Service's new virtual fly-by of the Circle of Embrace "re-design" as it is being built. (Comparison image thanks to MaxK.)
The most significant change is the few extra trees that are being planted outside the mouth of the original crescent (starting at the crescent tip on the right, where the flight path symbolically "breaks the circle," and continuing down behind the Sacred Ground Plaza that marks the crash site). These few trees supposedly turn the crescent into a circle, but as you can see, they do no such thing, but only apply the most minor window dressing to what is still a bare naked Islamic-shaped crescent.
The circle-breaking, crescent-creating theme of the design also remains completely intact
The Park Service web site explicitly describes the Circle of Embrace as a broken circle, proving that the terrorist-memorializing theme of the design is also unchanged. Way back in 2005 architect Paul Murdoch described his original Crescent of Embrace as a broken circle. The 9/11 attacks broke our circle of peace and the unbroken part of the circle, what symbolically remains standing in the wake of 9/11, is a giant Islamic-shaped crescent. The terrorist memorializing intent is obvious, or in the words of Tom Burnett Senior (father of flight 93 hero Tom Burnett Junior), "blatantly obvious."
The actions depicted in the memorial design are those of the terrorists. They break the circle of peace and the result is their flag planted atop the graves of our murdered heroes. Calling the design a broken circle instead of a crescent does not change this symbolism one whit. The unbroken part of the circle is still a giant Islamic-shaped crescent, still pointing to Mecca.
Instead of pointing 2° north of Mecca, the half-mile wide crescent now points 3° south of Mecca
A crescent that points the direction to Mecca is a very familiar construct in the Islamic world. Because Muslims face Mecca for prayer, every mosque is built around a Mecca direction indicator called a mihrab, and the classic mihrab is crescent shaped. Here are the two most famous mihrabs in the world:
Left: the Mihrab of the Prophet, at the Prophet's mosque in Medina.
Right: the mihrab of the Great Mosque in Cordoba Spain. Face into these crescents to face Mecca, just as with the Flight 93 memorial.
As the Crescent of Embrace was originally designed, a person standing between the tips of the giant Crescent and facing into the center of the Crescent would be facing a little less than 2° north of Mecca (proof here). This almost-exact Mecca orientation was confirmed to the Park Service in 2006 by Daniel Griffith, a professor of "geospatial information" at the University of Texas who was brought in as a consultant by the Park Service.
Griffith's report examined the analysis of Politicalities blogger jonathan Haas, who had calculated that the crescent pointed.62° off of Mecca. Allowing some margin of error for the exact coordinates used for the crash site and for Mecca, Griffith confirmed Haas' calculation of the direction to Mecca ("the arctangent value is correct"), and he accepted Haas' calculation that the bisector of the giant crescent pointed a mere .62° off of this Mecca-line. The actual divergence is slightly larger—a bit less than 2°—but this is what the Park Service was told by Griffith: that the crescent pointed less than 1° from Mecca.
Even the Park Service realized this was bad but their response was pathetic, as Murdoch was only forced to make a slight change in the orientation of his giant mihrab. The conversation is easy to imagine: "How about if I change the orientation by five degrees?" Murdoch presumably asked. "Would that be enough?" So now instead of pointing 2° north of Mecca, it now points 3° south of Mecca, both of which are highly accurate by Islamic standards.
For most of Islam's 1400 year history far-flung Muslims had no accurate way to determine the direction to Mecca. (Many of the most famous mihrabs point 10, 20, 30 or more degrees off Mecca.) Thus it developed as a matter of religious doctrine that what matters is intent to face Mecca, which architect Paul Murdoch proves by elaborately repeating his Mecca orientations throughout the design.
They misled the public into thinking that the crescent was being removed
Images of the Circle of Embrace "redesign" that the Park Service released in late November 2005 were calculated to fool the public into thinking that real changes were being made. Here is a comparison between the original Crescent of Embrace (top) and the phony redesign (bottom). At first glance the Circle of Embrace actually does look more like a circle than a crescent, but if you examine closely you'll see that this is almost entirely due to re-coloring of the image. The only actual change is the addition of the extra arc of trees that extends from the circle-breaking crescent tip down the hill towards the crash site:
Because this extra arc of trees explicitly represents a broken off part of the circle it in no way alters the circle-breaking, crescent-creating theme of the design. Neither does it affect the Mecca-orientation of the giant crescent (the unbroken part of the circle) that is left standing in the wake of 9/11. It only looks like a real change, but the Memorial Project apparently decided that even this purely cosmetic alteration conceded too much to critics.
Look again at that screen-grab from the Park Service's new animated fly-by of the design as it is actually being built. The bold extra arc of trees that was the only actual change in the Circle of Embrace redesign has been taken out and replaced with a wispy wave trees:
These few trees, planted to the rear of a person facing into the giant crescent, do not diminish in any way the crescent's functionality as a mihrab/Mecca-direction indicator. You can plant as many trees behind a mosque as you want. It is still a mosque, or in this case, a terrorist-memorial mosque.
Feel like complaining? Give Flight 93 Memorial Superintendent Keith Newlin a piece of your mind (and please pass along any response that you receive). There is also a petition you can sign, if you haven't done so already.