A sigh of relief as the sun finally sets on this anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York.
Nine years ago as the smoldering images of the twin towers played over and over, we watched the world come together in grief and horror — from the streets of Tehran and Cairo to the white picket fenced middle class neighborhoods of American suburbia; men, women and children stood as one, lighting candles, holding vigils and mourning the victims. Some of us wondered if after decades of global conflicts, this could be the moment of transformation, the one catalyst that would make everyone stop and reflect what part they each played to make it possible.
Nine years later, as the steady crescendo of nonsensical rhetoric built up against the construction of a “Victory Mosque” and culminated in the organizing of the first “International Burn the Koran Day” by a Pastor of the DOVE World Outreach Center of all people, this year’s events were more reminiscent of a Carnival of the absurd featuring the likes of John Bolton, Sara Palin, Glenn Beck and other right wing crazies one of whom parachuted in from Holland at the last minute ostensibly to extol the virtues of Dutch tolerance by evoking the medieval language of the crusades pitting Good versus Evil, East versus West, Islam versus Christianity and Patriots versus … Liberals?
“No Mosque Here…” He chanted, still jetlagged from his trans-Atlantic flight.
“No Mosque Here…” The crowd repeated like sheep.
“We are opposed to the establishment of the Sharia law … replacing our constitution,” a matter of fact protestor earnestly explained as an Israeli flag flapped in the background.
“If they want a mosque here we should have a catholic church in Saudi Arabia,” was the logical conclusion of one who obviously knew nothing of the history of colonialism and the role that missionaries and churches played as the pioneers of western occupation all over the developing world.
“Go back to Mecca!”… “Kill them all!”
The entertainment value was simply superb – reality TV at its best. But I think we can safely conclude the catalytic moment of nine years ago has been squandered on a very different sort of transformation.
As protests turned violent in Afghanistan and Islamic centers were attacked in California, Texas and Tennessee, it became abundantly clear that no single group in fact had a monopoly on stupidity – each side one-upping the other, even as they invoked the name of God –- who, if he exists — must at this point be truly disheartened at how lowly he is regarded by his flock, who see him so powerless as to think he needs morons like them to protect his honor.
To be fair, masses will be masses; whether they rage in Persian, Pashtun or English, they can be deftly maneuvered against their best interests by leaders who — for reasons of political gain, misguided national interests, or more likely due to the prime time nexus of politics and media — create the context which creates divisions to make violence possible.
And so, for all the reasons above which collectively spell OIL and ELECTIONS, our elite — opportunists and politicians masquerading as journalists and patriots — found it more expedient not to take the 9/11 event as a soul searching exercise. Instead, they opted for a path of denial, fear mongering and self-aggrandizement; discounting any scrutiny, branding and packaging an existential war waged on a phantom empire that translated into a $75 billion a year massive intelligence counterterrorism escalation. With a name like the Patriot Act, dissent was conveniently institutionalized as un-patriotic. Bush and entourage could not have been clearer when they said, “You are either with us or against us.” How is that for fostering global understanding and cultural bridge building?
“Go back to Mecca!!”… “No Mosque on Ground Zero!!”… “New York will never become a new Mecca!” shouted the would-be mourners and protestors — an ironic stance, in light of the heavy U.S. military presence in Moslem lands and elsewhere. There are now over 1,000 military bases across 130 countries with a defense budget of $700 billion, placing the U.S. as the number one intrusive presence that would try the patriotic sentiments of any self-respecting sovereign citizen.
“This is not gonna be a religious Mosque. It’s gonna be for terrorists to learn how to do wrong to this country,” said an aging veteran with a visible look of pain, wearing a cap that said “Forever Proud”.
The question is: if a simple community center can be construed as a den of insurgency, what then are the hundreds of full blown U.S. military bases with thousands of troops behind surveillance cameras in barbed wire compounds in Pakistan, Iraq or Afghanistan; as seen through the eyes of their citizens.
Mr. Obama and his predecessor have been reaffirming that “America is not at war with Islam”. Maybe. But perceptions are everything — the causes for resentment many.
The following morning as the fallout from Koran-gate continued around the world, the news broke that three Palestinian farmers were shot dead by an Israeli tank in Gaza. Among the three were an old man of 91 and his teenage son. The Israeli forces said they were responding to “terrorist” threats. “Terrorist” — that post 9/11 “Communist” under whose cover scores are settled, land is usurped, rights are abused and injustices perpetuated, a process by which is created — real terrorists.
As I listened to the news, I wished for the same “unequivocal condemnation of a disgraceful act” that Hillary Clinton voiced for the Pastor’s actions, without that quick follow up that reasserts Israel’s inalienable rights to security and pledges unconditional support for the enduring “special relationship” of the US and Israel. Who knows. Maybe that would prove more effective than our multi billion dollar anti-terror campaigns. Maybe there is still time to make next year’s tenth anniversary a very different one.
And as far as the mosque goes — build it I say. And make sure to call it a Mosque. Don’t build it two blocks away, build it at the top of the World Trade Center once it is complete. Considering the crazy reaction to the burning of a few Korans, this could be the best insurance policy yet to protect against any further attacks.