Saturday, September 11, 2010

harvest of anger

NYTimes | A cover of The Economist right after 9/11 declared: “The Day the World Changed.” It has, and not just at airports where several billion shoes have been removed. Nine years later a harvest of anger is in.

Burning books is a lousy idea. Heinrich Heine, the German poet, foresaw the worst early in the 19Justify Fullth century: “Where they burn books, in the end they will also burn people.” Less than a decade separated the Nazi book burning of 1933 from the crematoria of the Final Solution.

Terry Jones, the pastor of a small church in Florida, did well to heed history’s warnings — as well as the warnings of America’s top military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus — and cancel his planned Koran burning to mark the ninth anniversary Saturday of Al Qaeda’s attack.

Images of Islam’s Holy Book in flames in northwest Gainesville would have enraged Muslims and become a powerful recruitment tool for the very jihadists who attempt to sanctify indiscriminate violence through selective references to the Koran.

Why, almost a decade from Mohammad Atta, with his parting call to “read the Holy Koran” and “remember all of the things God has promised for the martyrs,” has there been scant healing? Why is America now bitterly divided over plans to build a mosque and Islamic center in the immediate vicinity of ground zero, and Europeans almost equally split over the growing Muslim presence in their societies?

This is a sullen time. Only a spark, it seems, separates resentment from uprising.

Since returning to Europe recently, I’ve been struck by the venom in the air: a German Bundesbank board member lamenting the Muslim dilution of his nation in a best-selling book called “Germany Does Away with Itself;” the growing political clout of the Dutch rightist Geert Wilders who is expected in Manhattan Saturday to address an anti-mosque rally; a political climate that sees Turkey’s entry into the European Union receding, a Swiss ban on minarets and French and Belgian acrimony over the veil.

All this is happening as the American right seizes on the lower-Manhattan mosque plan to galvanize anti-Islamic sentiment — lurking despite the better social integration of U.S. Muslims — and cast the Democrats as soft on Shariah.

The Sept. 11 attacks, seen now with a little perspective, shattered America’s self-image. A continent-sized sanctuary, flanked by the shining waters of two oceans, was no longer. A hideous neologism, the “homeland,” was coined to describe a country that now needed vigilant protection from within and without. Two wars, one longer than any in the nation’s history, deepened the trauma.

While one America fought, another shopped until the debt-driven spree ended in mayhem; and, to their horror, Americans discovered they could no longer cushion their declining incomes by borrowing against the once rising — now crashing — assets of their homes. Their last coping mechanism had collapsed.