As Republican and Democratic lawmakers debate whether to allow thousands of mostly Muslim Syrian refugees fleeing civil war into the United States, some people have begun to re-examine the origins of the Statue of Liberty, the country's landmark known for welcoming immigrants with open arms. It turns out the statue represents a Muslim immigrant, media reports claimed this week.
The construction of Lady Liberty was engineered by Frenchman Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel. She was given to the United States by France for its centennial to celebrate the close ties forged between the two countries during the French Revolution. The designer of the female figure, Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, also French, found inspiration in his travels to Egypt in 1855. He saw the statue representing a robe-clad woman at Port Said, the city at the northern terminus of the Suez Canal in Egypt. Early models of the statue were called “Egypt Carrying the Light to Asia.” Historian Michael B. Oren wrote in his book “Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present” that Bartholdi wanted to capture the likeness of an Egyptian peasant woman holding aloft a torch of freedom.
Egypt didn't want the statue, however. So Bartholdi eventually repurposed his concept into “Liberty Enlightening the World.” That's the official name of the statue in New York Harbor.
Oren described the dedication ceremony for the completed monument in October 1886 as a crowded affair: "The thousands of spectators who listened as President Grover Cleveland pledged ‘not [to] forget that liberty here made her home’ gazed up at a creation that bore little resemblance to the one Bartholdi had visualized for Egypt. The Muslim peasant had been replaced by an idealized Western woman and the name of the piece changed from 'Bringing Light to Asia' to 'Liberty Enlightening the World.' Only the torch remained, unextinguished."
Roughly 4 million people visit the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island each year, according to New York Harbor Parks. An inscription at the base quotes poet Emma Lazarus: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”