August 7, 2010
The Monument at Ground Zero
In Columbus, Ohio stands a statue dedicated to that city's namesake: the discoverer of America, Christopher Columbus.
Let's not quibble about whether a band of Vikings or an errant Chinese vessel reached the New World centuries earlier. Other than to quote the famous line "Yes, but when Columbus discovered America, it stayed discovered," that's beside the point.
In the late 1980s, I was photographing campaign commercials for Democratic candidates. One bright day, I was riding in a van with that day's candidate, his media advisor, a director, camera assistant, sound man, gaffer, and whoever else squeezed in. We were discussing particulars of our project when we turned a corner. There, in a grassy park, was the statue of Columbus. As we rolled past, gazing at it from the windows, one of our number offered a comment: "Christopher Columbus: a symbol of racism, sexism, genocide and oppression."
No one seemed to need clarification. He might as well have been talking about the weather. If you have spent any time at all around Leftist Democrats, you know that this remark was nothing out of the ordinary. Inside their comfort zone, or after they've had a couple glasses of wine, they are capable of making the most astonishing pronouncements and judgments, delivering them in the most unequivocal terms.
The Christopher Columbus remark lingered in the air for a moment, a couple heads nodded in agreement, and then talk returned to details of the job at hand.
That statement made an impression on me, however, and on occasion over the years, I have remembered it and considered it from various angles. It is certain that readers of this essay will find much to comment on regarding the peculiar mindset this anecdote exposes and the low opinion Democrats frequently express of the nation they seek to lead. It may even prompt readers to wonder whether some Democrats identify with America as a nation at all, wishing instead that the country had been settled by a better class of people. Again, this is not the point.
My point, rather, is this: Those who erected that statue intended the image of Columbus to reflect and honor the noble characteristics of Vision, Courage, and Resolve. They intended it to be viewed as symbol of the power of right idea and inspired enlightenment as a direct challenge to ignorance and superstition. And for quite a while, the statue of Columbus stood as a representation of those very things. But then we arrived at the era of postmodern Liberalism, and out of the classrooms and intellectual enclaves came political correctness, revisionist history, and the image of The Ugly American. Things changed, or were made to change. Immediately following World War II, there seemed to be a deep need in some to take a little of the shine off the U.S. The United States was no longer depicted as a beacon to mankind but as a plundering bully that needed to be cut down to size. To some in this country -- and every year, hordes of them come out of the woodwork around October 12 -- the image of Christopher Columbus was made to represent the exact opposite of Freedom, Enterprise, and the power of Mind.
Interesting, isn't it, how a monument erected to noble ideals can be remade instead into a symbol of "genocide and oppression"?
Let us now consider another monument, recently approved by state and local leaders to be built in lower Manhattan, a block from the hole in the ground known as "Ground Zero."
Less than nine years after the 9/11 attack -- the "Day America Will Never Forget" -- state and city officials in New York have cleared the way for a proposed fifteen-story mosque, or Islamic "culture center," just paces away from the hole. While nothing has yet been built on the actual site of Ground Zero, the mosque zipped through zoning and landmark hearings untouched by city and state bureaucrats and unscathed by citizen protests. New York Mayor Richard Bloomberg and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo were both early supporters of the project. Much of official media sees nothing wrong or disrespectful about it. Words like "insensitive", "tacky," and "in poor taste" have had no place in the conversation, nor have words like "vile" and "obscene." In the minds of our current officialdom, the issue is one of America's lack of religious freedom and tolerance -- and officialdom is all about tolerance of religion, don't you know.
So, here it is: To the American Left, this mosque represents a gooey dose of feel-good inclusiveness. It provides a platform for them to lecture and talk down to the public on the subject of America's perceived moral shortcomings while at the same time allowing them to act as enablers for a religion including many members who wish for the destruction of America. It's a win/win.
Well, here's what that mosque will truly represent: To Islamist fanatics, it will represent a victory over what they perceive as a corrupt and complacent America. To them, America is a "weak horse"; we can be had, and official approval of this mosque just nine years after the slaughter at this particular location serves as living proof.
But to us regular citizens, living in the burroughs, across the Hudson, or out here in flyover country, driving our seven-year-old cars and happy to have our families together, that mosque represents the dangerous fecklessness of the Left. It is another symptom of timidity when common sense is called for. It is the disease of the Arizona border issue spread to New York City. That mosque will stand as a testament for every modern liberal who never missed a chance to call Ronald Reagan a "warmonger" but finds Islam a "religion of peace." Additionally, if actually built, it will be a testament to shortsighted Islamic overreach. Erected as a chip-on-the-shoulder challenge to the United States, it will sooner or later be knocked flat.
No one contemplating this building as they pass on their way to pay respects at Ground Zero will have to have lost loved ones that day to understand the meaning of that building. We all know that not just New York was attacked, but all of America. And we all will see this building as an insult to the three thousand people who were crushed or burned alive that September 11. This mosque, at fifteen stories tall, will memorialize two hundred souls per floor. And every brick, every stone will represent Progressive Liberalism's astonishing preference to defend everyone else's position, but not ours.
While we marveled at the implications of one Democrat's words on seeing a statue of Christopher Columbus, consider that same reinterpretative phenomenon magnified ten thousand times over as Americans contemplate this proposed monument at Ground Zero.
Jed Skillman photographed hundreds of political television commercials, first for one party and then for the other, over a twenty-year span. He blogs his essays at plumwoodroad.blogspot.com.