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Worldview: Our own worst enemy comes to downtown

Americans focus on a trumped-up, hateful debate, while the important things go unmentioned.

Demonstrator on motorcycle
Demonstrators arrive on motorcycles to attend a rally with the Coalition to Honor Ground Zero, Aug. 22 in New York. The rally was held to oppose the construction of an Islamic Center and mosque near Ground Zero. (Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW YORK — The anniversary, again, is upon us — this time supercharged by the dispute over a planned Islamic cultural center a few blocks from Ground Zero.

Each year since 2001, I’ve made a pilgrimage to the site, in part to pay tribute to people I know who died there, in part to gauge how raw the wounds opened that day remain — both personally and nationally.

One of the remarkable constants through the years has been the self-awareness of those taking part in these commemorations. Aside from the nuts who, practicing the free speech I believe in, hold signs blaming the Mossad or the CIA or Martians for the attack, there is surprisingly little “hatred” on display.

No one burned an Arab in effigy, to my knowledge. No one beat up a Pakistani grocer or an Afghan cab driver. Anger, an emotion more suited for directing at individuals rather than entire ethnic or religious groups, is present in abundance, as it should be. I’m still angry. But the anger always seemed in past years channeled toward coping, with life going on in spite of it all.

How ironic, then, that the memory of a hateful atrocity perpetrated by fanatical religious hijackers will itself be hijacked this year by purveyors of half-truths and ignorance.

Whatever true commemoration of those who died that takes place today will struggle to break through the noise generated by a trumped-up debate over a plan to establish a Muslim center in the general vicinity of the old World Trade Center site.

In the interest of cutting through the fog, here are 10 facts about Sept. 11 from my perspective, each of which warrants more attention than the phony politicized war over Cordoba House:

1.   WAR WITHOUT END: The U.S. reaction to Sept. 11 has damaged U.S. long-term interests and its reputation beyond the wildest dreams of the terrorists who conceived the attack. The attacks were preventable and telegraphed (as I warned in 1999). Discuss — seriously.

2.   ‘THAT’S NOT REALLY AMERICA': New York City’s brief re-admittance into the union by other Americans, who generally regard it as the equivalent of Sodom and Gomorrah, begins each year on Sept. 10 and ends on Sept. 12. This year will be no different. On any other day, a good number of Americans would be happy to see the whole city tumble into the sea — as long it looked like the act of a Christian God rather than a Muslim terrorist.  

3.   AIR HEADS: No one, to this day, has explained how — following the attacks on the two largest buildings in New York City by terrorists — a third airliner could hit the Pentagon, of all places, some 34 minutes later. The U.S. Air Force has never owned up to this failure, or explained why it couldn’t happen again if airport security were breached.