Saturday, September 11, 2010

Dispatches from the 9/11 Memorial Circus

NEW YORK - The road to lunacy is paved with good intentions.

Before today's 9/11 ceremonies, several 9/11 family groups had requested people not to protest, either in favor of or against the proposed "Ground Zero mosque," out of respect to the sacredness of the day. Good intention, right? Well, the end result was that all the reasonable people stayed home and the crazies came out of the woodwork like a horde of termites. Today was the political equivalent of World's Deadliest Swarms. A complete three-ring circus.

Qurans? We got 'em. You want to stomp on them? There was a guy doing that on Chambers street. You want free ones? A Muslim group was handing them out on Broadway outside the Duane Reade. I almost took one, but let's face it, I'm a bit behind in my summer reading list, and I already read the most inflammatory bits in Sam Harris.

Costumed heroes? Yeah, we got those. A guy dressed in a homemade Captain America costume, complete with USA flag cape. Affiliation? Unknown. Some guy showed up with a gorgeous blue and yellow parrot on his arm. "Does it talk?" we asked. "When it wants to," he said. We got clowns, too. Loony Lenny showed up in full costume. I know his name because it was on his hat. Not sure which side he was on either. Not everybody had one. One guy was just holding up a peace sign at the midpoint between the two protests. All he wanted to know from me was whether I'd seen any violence. Not here and not today, I said. Not in 9 years, actually.

Completed unrelated causes turned out, because, hell, it's a protest, right? Anti abortion groups arrived in matching t-shirts and a decked-out minivan. 9/11 family groups were literally screaming at 9/11 Truthers. Nothing like wearing a "9/11 Was An Inside Job" t-shirt to rile up a crowd of flag-waving patriots. An ironic bunch of college kids trolled about with signs that read "Bigots are Americans too!" and "Bigotry is a right!" So there!

Religiously, the full gamut was on display. Between Broadway (site of the pro-mosque protest) and West Broadway (anti-mosque) was the ironically named Church Street, and that's where the crazier elements of each protest gathered to shout at each other. One Christian group came to decry the sins of abortion and homosexuality. Atheists came out to support the First Amendment. Jews came out to support Israel. Or protest Israel. Or whatever. One man wanted to burn all religious books. He got into a shouting match with a Muslim cleric who said, "Hitler burned all religious books! It was called Kristallnacht." Since the old debate adage says that the first side to mention Hitler loses, I'm afraid the book-burning guy took that argument.

The anti-mosque protesters were certainly better organized. They had a giant TV screen. They had far more people. That didn't, of course, make their speakers make any more sense. At least the aldermen and activists had enough media experience to avoid saying anything incredibly awful. But cue the groans when some speaker gets up there and begins "I'm just an ordinary American citizen and I want to have my say..." That's really what this day was about. But it's kind of like Terry Jones in Florida. The guy can have his say if he wants to. It's a free country. But I'm free to ignore him.

Moving east to City Hall, Broadway was blanketed in a pu pu platter of leftist causes from the past 40 years. Free Palestine! Free Lynne Stewart! Works of the world unite! Islamophobia is Racism... So Join The Socialist Workers Party! USA Exports Ground Zeroes In Iraq and Afghanistan! Viva Chavez and Ahmadinejad! These were actual signs, by the way. It was all so caricatured, I began to suspect this was actually a right-wing crowd pretending to be a left-wing crowd. I'm still not convinced it wasn't. I mean, viva Ahmadinejad? Really?

One speaker lamented that "the revolution" was being undermined "because we can't get organized!" Which was painfully obvious from the disparate causes jockeying for elbow room. Right after him, an activist lawyer attempted to get the crowd riled up about the rights of Guantanamo Bay inmates — what does this have to do with Park51 exactly? — but was drowned out when the protest was buzzed by a giant motorcade of anti-mosque biker guys in leather revving their engines at north of 100 dB. Since when did the Hell's Angels join the Tea Party?

As the anti-mosque protest dispersed, along came a 4th-of-July-parade-style float that can only be described as an anti-Islammobile. "America Repent!" its placards screamed. "Islam is a false religion." And at the top, larger than anything else: "STOP THE INSANITY!"

My thoughts exactly.

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