Mark Steyn

Un-American activities

Mark Steyn says that the plans for Ground Zero are a wimp-out and a betrayal of Western values

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New Hampshire

In the summer of 2002 I wrote in this space that the President had failed to seize the moment: ‘George W. Bush had a rare opportunity after September 11. He could have attempted to reverse the most poisonous tide in the Western world: the gloopy multiculturalism that insists all cultures are equally valid, even as they’re trying to kill us. He could have argued that Western self-loathing is a psychosis we can no longer afford.’

Oh, well. Three years on, it seems even clearer that this was Bush’s biggest immediate lapse in an otherwise clear-sighted understanding of what was at stake. The post-9/11 world is not primarily a war between civilisations — the West vs Islam — but a war within one civilisation: ours. It’s a long existential struggle between those who believe that Western values — or, to be more precise, the values of the English-speaking world — are one of the great blessings of this world and those ‘counter-tribalists’ (in John O’Sullivan’s phrase) who believe those values are the source of most of the world’s ills. The latter are a relatively small group but their numbers are bolstered by legions so immersed in the sappy therapeutic culture of the age that they’ve been persuaded that the best way to ‘celebrate diversity’ is to abase oneself before moral relativism and non-judgmentalism. The Islamists are merely the lucky beneficiaries of this syndrome. It’s hard to fight a war in a culture that recoils from the very concept of an opposing side: there are no enemies, just friends whose grievances we haven’t yet accommodated.

For a few brief weeks after 9/11, back when Americans were celebrating the heroism of the brave passengers who rose up against their hijackers on Flight 93, it seemed as if the last words of Tod Beamer — ‘Let’s roll!’ — might indeed roll back the enervated multiculti squishiness of the age. In those days Michael Moore was an irrelevant fringe figure, a ‘well-known crank, regarded with considerable distaste even on the Left’, as Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate, assured us. Three years later, garlanded with Oscars and Palmes d’Or, Michael Moore was sitting alongside Jimmy Carter in the presidential box at the Democratic Convention.

The mainstreaming of ‘well-known cranks’ like Moore is one reason the Dems have become such reliable losers every other November. Reacting to Karl Rove’s recent assault on American liberals as unreliable on national security and war, big-time Democrats huffed indignantly that this was an outrage given their support over the Afghan campaign. OK, but even taking that at face value it was three and a half years ago: what have you done since? Bitched about Abu Ghraib and Gitmo and whined that Jacques Chirac doesn’t want to be friends any more. These days, heavyweight Dems lumber on to the Senate floor to do Noam Chomsky impressions: the other day it was Dick Durbin of Illinois comparing the US military at Guantanamo with Nazis and the Khmer Rouge.

But the co-option of Durbin, and Ted Kennedy and Howard Dean et al. (as in Gore) is small potatoes compared with the counter-tribalist Left’s most audacious appropriation yet. While the Bush administration and most of the rest of the country were focused on Afghanistan and Iraq, Ground Zero in New York got snaffled up for something called the ‘World Trade Center Memorial’. An unexceptional name that would lead you to expect ...what? The names of the dead? A tribute to the courageous firemen who died in their hundreds heading up the stairwells and into the flames? A recreation of the iconic image of the three rescue workers raising the flag and evoking Iwo Jima?

But somehow the World Trade Center Memorial Cultural Complex has wound up mostly in the hands of something called the ‘International Freedom Center’, on whom millions of taxpayers’ dollars have been lavished in return for a display that will place the events that took place on that ground in the ‘broader context’ of Native American genocide, black lynchings, Pinochet, the Holocaust, not to mention Gitmo and Abu Ghraib. Most Americans were unaware of this amazing heist until Debra Burlingame, a member of the board of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation and sister of the pilot of one of the hijacked planes, revealed the extent of the subversion. The leading figures in the International Freedom Center are:

— Tom Bernstein, a Hollywood financier whose organisation Human Rights First recently filed a lawsuit against Don Rumsfeld on behalf of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan.

— Michael Posner, who heads the ‘Stop Torture Now’ campaign directed exclusively at the US military.

— Eric Foner, the Columbia University professor who shortly after 9/11 wrote, ‘I’m not sure which is more frightening: the horror that engulfed New York City or the apocalyptic rhetoric emanating daily from the White House.’

— and, of course, George Soros, the billionaire sterling-destabiliser who was one of the first to compare Bush to the Nazis.

According to the International Freedom Center, the cultural centre will ‘nurture a global conversation on freedom in our world today’. In other words, Ground Zero is going to be turned into what the columnist Michelle Malkin calls the Ultimate Guilt Complex. Thus, early plans for a mural showing an Iraqi going to the polls were ditched in favour of a picture of Martin Luther King. Nothing wrong with folks learning about civil rights and Pinochet’s victims, but not at the site of the bloodiest attack on the American mainland.

I never cared for the Twin Towers, which were never anything more than a couple of oversized slabs of Seventies tat. But once the Islamonutters had taken them down and the various ‘internationally acclaimed architects’ began submitting designs of ever more limpid tastefulness, I decided Donald Trump had it right: rebuild the ugly muthas but make ’em taller, and stick a giant extended middle finger on the top of each one, or maybe pose that Saddam statue hanging sideways off the roof so he’s being toppled in perpetuity. The latest hastily revised design for the new Freedom Tower eliminates the ‘life-affirming vertical gardens’ and other milquetoast features proposed by the architect Daniel Libeskind but it’s still a feeble un-American wimp-out.

Nonetheless, even though I was resigned to architectural disappointment, it never occurred to me that the internal display would be so easily hijacked. Inevitably, once Miss Burlingame went public with her concerns, the New York Times and co. decided the controversy was all about the right of brave artists to challenge preconceptions: it would be a terrible thing, declared the Times, if ‘the vital impulses represented by the arts are handcuffed in the name of freedom...’. Do they have a software programme that generates that kind of portentous boilerplate or does some poor editorialist have to try to stay awake while typing it in by hand?

Who cares about the ‘vital impulses’ of the ‘arts’? When did Ground Zero become just another outpost for lame provocations by publicly funded ‘artists’? If that’s your bag, there’s a zillion places in town. Needless to say, that’s not how the alleged artists feel, their general line boiling down to: but enough about the 3,000 dead — let’s talk about me.

In some perverse way, I half hope the Soros crowd and the ‘Stop Rumsfeld Now’ set get away with it. It would in a sense be a very fitting monument to the indestructibility of the banal tropes of the Left. And it would remind outraged visitors to Ground Zero that, while thi s kind of thinking doesn’t command much support among the American people, it has a hammerlock on the heights of our culture. Given its grip on the academy, the media, the Congregational and Episcopal Churches, the ‘arts’ and Hollywood, why wouldn’t it also effortlessly consume the 9/11 site and transform a straightforward patriotic memorial into just another lesson in how flawed we are? A ‘warts and all’ representation that’s all warts. The only surprise is that they didn’t invite the Wahabis to build a memorial madrasa on the site, in the interests of multicultural outreach.

It feels like summer. Summer 2001, that is. Then, as now, Africa was in the news. There was a big UN conference on ‘racism’ in Durban the week before 11 September. Remember that? They demanded America pay reparations — for the Rwandan genocide. And Robert Mugabe was cheered to the rafters when he called on the United States and the United Kingdom to ‘apologise unreservedly for their crimes against humanity’.

Four years later, plus