The leftist response to 9/11, expressed in articles, conferences and lectures in the very shadow of the event, beggars belief. It required only one day before a callow drumbeat of smug denunciations and a vociferous schadenfreude began to sound when Ward Churchill published an online essay, entitled “Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens,” praising the “gallant sacrifices” of the terrorist “combat teams” and referring to the victims of the attack as cell phone-toting “little Eichmanns” conducting America’s business in the “sterile sanctuary of the Twin Towers.”
From that first day after 9/11 to this very moment of writing, there have been numberless talks, interviews, articles, essays and books following in the same footsteps of ignominy and shame. To list them all would fill what that great Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges called “The Library of Babel.” Suffice it to say that this festival of supercilious disdain, ignorance and malice has by no means abated. Indeed, how is it possible that anyone with even a modest understanding of Islam, its history and literature, could defend the erection of a mosque within the perimeter of Ground Zero as something other than a desecration?
The range of responses to 9/11 runs between outright commiseration with the terrorists at the farther limit and a cloying complacency at the nearer, that is, between palpable madness and ineffable foolishness. But whatever the reaction, the larger consensus is that any terrorist atrocity visited upon America or its allies can be explained by Western corruption and consumerist exploitation and justified as legitimate payback.
One knows by now that the overwhelming majority of public intellectuals and tenured and untenured academics long ago sold out to the enemies of the democratic West—indeed, have themselves become the enemies of the democratic West, ideological termites tunneling away at the very structure and foundations of Western civilization. As far back as 1927, in his The Treason of the Intellectuals (La Trahison des Clercs) Julian Benda warned us about the subversive agenda of an intellectual consistory that could not be expected to think straight, to feel loyalty to their mentoring traditions or to hasten to the defense of the civilization which nurtured them. They came of age in a culture which gave them the freedom to think, speak and write as they wished and furnished them with the opportunity to chart their own freely chosen direction in life. Yet, instead of honoring these nearly unprecedented historical gifts, they sought the reduction and sometimes even the destruction of their alma mater.
We have observed this scandalous moral and intellectual betrayal in action since the publication of Benda’s book: the vigorous support of fascism, the prolonged and intimate love affair with Soviet communism, and today the sordid embrace of Islamic totalitarianism. As Richard Posner suggests in Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline, intellectuals and academics who abuse their privileges “by writing or speaking irresponsibly in the public arena, should be hauled before the bar of academic and public opinion.” But the chances of this happening are approximately nil. The fact that these pundits are wrong or disingenuous on almost every count does not have the slightest inhibitory effect on left-wing marathon thinking.
All this was brought home to me with renewed force on September 11, 2010 as I reflected on the meaning of the day, the ruckus over Pastor Terry Jones’ threat to burn two copies of the Koran and the ongoing controversy over the proposed construction of the Cordoba mosque in the vicinity of Ground Zero. I reread Billy Collin’s beautiful and moving poem, “The Names,” a tribute to the victims of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, originally delivered at a special session of Congress on September 6, 2002. But Collins is an exception to be applauded. The majority of poets, like their intellectual brethren, lean inexorably toward a state of moral and mental cretinism.
One thinks, for example, of Sam Hamill’s cabaret-light and melodrama-heavy Poets Against the War volume, perhaps the most embarrassingly weak and egomaniacal poetry anthology ever brought out by a reputable publisher—“war cries cries war war,” (stutters Phyllis Webb), “war cries CRIES WAR CRIES there are there/are still still still still” is a typical specimen of the mindless maunderings to be found in it. Like lambs being led to the slaughter, our liberal peacelings do everything in their power not to offend the butchers. Their epigones may one day find themselves living in a Press 2 for English world and writing Arabic qasidas, which would be only fitting.
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