September 11, 2010 .. is it really that important?

Sep 10th, 2010 | By | Category: In Brief

Actor Martin Sheen pickets with striking hotel workers at one-day walkout outside the Fairmont Royal York Hotel, during Toronto International Film Festival, September 10, 2010. That’s something worth talking about. As Mr. Sheen put it: “I’m here to remind you that lost causes are the only causes worth fighting for.” JASMEET SIDHU/TORONTO STAR.

Why is the ninth anniversary of the September 11 disaster in the USA suddenly such a poignant occasion? The 10th anniversary next year would seem a reasonable time for retrospective hand-wringing. But the ninth? Why make a fuss about that?

The obvious answer is that 2010 is an election year. Only “mid-terms”: President Obama does not have to run for office again so soon. But all members of the House of Representatives do, along with one-third of the Senate. The results of even just mid-term elections can have a big impact on just what does and does not get done in Washington.

Against this you can set yesterday’s New York Times report that a “renegade pastor and his tiny flock” in Topeka, Kansas actually did “set fire to a Koran on a street corner” in the election year of 2008 — and was properly ignored by almost everyone else. But that was before the actual experience of living under the first African-American president, in a mysteriously restructuring global village, had unleashed another bout of what the historian  Richard Hofstadter long ago christened “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.”

Richard Hofstadter, 1916–1970, DeWitt Clinton Professor of American History at Columbia University, New York City.

In the midst of the fall 2010 revival of this style, the good news would seem to be that Terry Jones, the renegade pastor of another tiny flock, in Gainesville, Florida, is probably not going to proceed with his maniacal “International Burn a Koran Day,” to help commemorate “the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.”

Meanwhile, back in Afghanistan, “11 injured in protests against Qur’an burning.” And, on the other side of whatever line it is, in  New York state a late August poll has shown that 71% of those surveyed feel plans for a mosque near the “Ground Zero” site of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City should not go ahead — even though 54%  agree “that because of American freedom of religion, Muslims have the right to build the mosque near Ground Zero.”

As best anyone can make out at the moment, the paranoid Rev. Jones from Gainesville has finally indicated that he “won’t follow through with” his International Burn a Koran Day “if he’s able to meet Saturday [September 11] with the organizers behind a mosque planned near ground zero in New York.” Who really knows what that means? Optimists watching US TV might nonetheless take heart from what seems like a broad consensus among both responsible Democrats and Republicans that the Rev. Jones’s original pyromaniac plot must be aggressively condemned. Some may have thought they could make mid-term electoral hay at the start. But the US military’s unambiguous condemnation (on the grounds that the Rev. Jones’s bonfire could bring harm to US citizens in Afghanistan and Iraq) has apparently now put an end to all that.

Mohamed Ali, an American Muslim, and friend.

You may not have to be too much of an optimist, either, to feel encouraged by the latest Associated Press story on the subject in the Houston Chronicle (and many other papers too, no doubt, in the Lone Star State and beyond): “Outside London’s Central Mosque across from Regent’s Park,” those “interviewed about the threatened Quran burning seemed more upset by the media coverage of it than the threat itself … Medhat Singab, a 47-year-old Egyptian-born Briton, said the media was making a circus of ‘a church with 30 followers and an idiot.’” Meanwhile: “Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said the intent to burn copies of the Quran is Jones’ ‘expression of hatred of Islam’ but called on Muslims to restrain their reactions and not offend Christians in any way … ‘This disgraceful act contradicts the very duties of religious and spiritual leadership to enhance the value of peaceful coexistence and safeguard the rights and mutual respect among religions,’ al-Sistani said in a statement posted on his website Friday.”

On a completely different if not entirely unrelated front, those in Toronto, Canada for the annual International Film Festival might find the actions of an actor who has only impersonated a fictional US president on TV especially refreshing. Martin Sheen is staying at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto — which is currently the site of a one-day work stoppage, by a polyglot group of hard-pressed hotel workers, desperate for a few extra dollars with which to combat the current vestiges of the allegedly fading great recession. This morning Mr. Sheen joined the picket lines outside the hotel: “We will not cross your line and if you want us to leave the hotel we will,” he  told the cheering picketers “on behalf of himself and his son, actor and director Emilio Estevez.” He then put on a union sign and told a reporter for the Toronto Star: “I’ve been a union member all my adult life. I’ve been involved in labour struggles all my adult life and I support it.” Then he told the strikers themselves: “I know it can get very difficult with labour struggles … I’m here to remind you that lost causes are the only causes worth fighting for.”

Joe E. Brown (l) and Jack Lemon at the end of Some Like it Hot: “Nobody’s perfect.”

So … the paranoid style in American politics lives on — and who can confidently predict just when its current sad and sorry incarnation will end. (“The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.”)

But so do many other much better things about the USA today. As an undeflatable Joe E. Brown told Jack Lemon at the end of the Billy Wilder 1959 masterpiece, Some Like It Hot: “Nobody’s perfect.”

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