Ground Zero Zeroes
The controversy over the "mosque" at "Ground Zero" is so intense that I find myself compelled to add a comment.
First, it's a "community center," which absolutely everyone insists on calling a mosque. Granted, among many other things that it is, it's technically a mosque, but the people building it call it a community center, so why keep correcting them?
But even if it were a mosque with neon-lit minarets a mile high, it is not in the least tactless or offensive to build it two blocks from the World Trade Center site. Tact is a non-issue here.
Everybody disagrees with me on this, and is likely to continue disagreeing with me, but some truths are so self-evident that a decent respect to the opinions of mankind demands that one tell mankind it is making a mistake.
We are being such big crybabies about September 11. We have been incredibly lucky, since the Civil War, in having almost no bombs dropped on us. Pearl Harbor is an exception, and the World Trade Center attack is an exception, but consider all the countries we have bombed, shelled, and occupied part or all of in the last 150 years.
My first reaction to September 11, when people said Nothing Would Ever Be the Same Again, was, Right; now we know how it feels to have death come out of the sky without warning and take some innocent fellow-citizens of ours. This will connect us to the victims of our bombings and make us deliberate carefully before bombing more people.
Boy was I wrong. We rushed headlong into a pointless war in Iraq, for no reason that can be made clear, except possibly to prove that George W. Bush was more macho than his father. We didn't take into account all the people that might die in order to accomplish this goal or others (such as attacking when our troops were ready, rather than risk having the WMD inspectors prove that Bush and Cheney's pretext for going to war was hollow, thereby wasting a perfectly good mobilization). Meanwhile, the September 11 attack itelf seemed to simply reinforce our feeling that for us to be victimized is so shocking — so undeserved — that everyone should feel sorry for us, and especially for the relatives of the Sacred Dead. We and they should be treated with kid gloves for … how long? Decades, apparently.
Compare us with the Germans, who were so tortured by guilt after World War II that they completely suppressed all their feelings about the hundreds of thousands of civilians killed by Allied bombing until about ten or twenty years ago, when it finally became acceptable for authors like W.G. Sebald to write about them.
Of course, the Germans should have been tortured by guilt. And we shouldn't? Not even a tiny bit? After Abu Ghraib? After Guantanamo? After Haditha? After imposing overly casual rules of engagement which allow airstrikes no matter how little our troops know about the people shooting back at us (who may just be enemies of our local warlord)? But we always find a way to quickly forget, find a scapegoat for, make excuses for, or just never notice these things, in order to preserve the idea that we are always victims, never victimizers.
One thing I was sure of after 9/11 was that we were seeing the start of a new era of terrorism, where it would become so easy to kill hundreds and sometimes hundreds of thousands of people, and so hard to stop the killers, that we would have to accept it as routine, a part of modern life, like auto crashes. I was right, I think. Bali, Spain, Britain, and other countries have suffered lethal attacks. (In the case of Britain, at least, top-level police work has foiled some terrorist plots, but unfortunately not all.) The United States has been ridiculously lucky. The plot to blow up the Los Angeles Airport in 2000 misfired only because the guy bringing the explosives across the Canadian border acted "hinky". People laugh at exploding underwear, but that scheme could just as easily have worked properly and killed everyone on Flight 253. Sooner or later our luck will run out.bad-luck There are going to be more Ground Zeroes, and we can't spend time building and guarding a memorial to every one.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not recommending that we change a thing about our foreign policy or our military tactics if we don't want to. But then we should toughen up. We are justly proud of the young men and women we train to fight and die for us. Shouldn't we show them something to be proud of on the home front? The soldiers are out there trying to beat out the coal-seam fire of terrorism before the fire spreads here. When a spark lands on us in spite of their best efforts, don't we owe it to them not to roll around on the ground in agony crying out, "Why us, Lord? We're not involved with any of that stuff." Can't we show a little stoicism, a little sensitivity to all the pain to people besides us that war causes in the world?
To return to the topic du jour, it's just embarrassing when we feel threatened and hurt by nothing but a building that might remind some people that Muslims killed their brother. The people building it are apparently true-blue Americans who have always condemned the September 11th attack in the strongest possible terms. They were apparently naive about the political furor their community center would raise across the entire country. Rational people just have trouble anticipating what the right will exploit.
When I heard that Barack Hussein Obama had publicly defended a Muslim community center near Ground Zero, I thought, That is the bravest, dumbest thing a politician has done in a long time. Now he's backing away somewhat. Breaking news: President Obama disappoints his admirers by attempting to placate the opposition. He never learns, in spite of repeated lessons, that the Republican disinformation machine is implacable. Given an opportunity to tell Americans that they are right to keep our wounds about September 11 fresh, they will monomaniacally repeat it until it becomes self-fulfilling.evil-tactics See how evil Muslims are? They deliberately rub salt into those wounds! You can't trust them! Boo-hoo-hoo! They are so beinng mean to us, who never hurt anyone!
This country embodies many ideals, not least the ideal of religious tolerance. Wouldn't it be great if we said, or if our President could say for us, "We are willing to fight — and even suffer the occasional terrorist attack — for those ideals"? But apparently all we are willing to do is send our army out to do our fighting for us, so long as the dying is kept far from our shores.
Note bad-luck Just think of all the nuclear weapons out there, many of which we summoned into existence with our crazy belief that a nuclear arms race could be a rational component of foreign policy.