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By Stefan Kanfer

The Voodoo That They Did So Well: The Wizards Who Invented the New York Stage.

Soundings

Stefan Kanfer
Poshlost at Ground Zero
Governor Pataki was right to kill the PC International Freedom Center.
Autumn 2005

After four years of feckless quiescence, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation suddenly mewled with one voice. Its board members expressed displeasure with their leader, George Pataki. The governor, to his credit, had canceled the proposed International Freedom Center at Ground Zero. In its place, he announced, there would be a new museum. Its principal aim: to “tell the story of September 11.”

The Center would have addressed slavery and other human rights issues not directly related to the craven attacks on the World Trade Center. Novelist Vladimir Nabokov had a word for the kind of political correctness behind the center: poshlost, a Russian term meaning fashionable, Philistine, clichéd, bogus nonsense. The instance he gave in the late 1940s, in which Philistinism tumbled over the edge into evil, was: “We all share in Germany’s guilt.” The subtext at the Center was: “We all share in radical Islam’s guilt. They killed many Americans, but we had slaves; there was genocide in Western Europe; whose hands are that clean, anyway?”

However, a lot of people refused to buy the new poshlost. One was Debra Burlingame, sister of Charles Burlingame, the pilot of the plane that the terrorists crashed into the Pentagon on September 11. In an influential Wall Street Journal op-ed, she predicted that if plans for the Center went through, visitors who had come to see a true memorial to the fallen and learn the character of the evil men who killed some 3,000 defenseless victims would instead receive a “high-tech, multimedia tutorial about man’s inhumanity to man.” The public would “be confused at first, and then feel hoodwinked and betrayed.”

Others joined her cause, among them New York City’s Uniformed Firefighters Association, which lost 343 members in the worst-ever attack on American soil. And the police union, which lost 23 men and women. By summer’s end, the Center was in such bad odor that even the often PC Senator Hillary Clinton refused to support it. Her brief statement to the New York Post: “I am troubled by the serious concerns family members and first responders have expressed to me. I do not believe we can move forward until it . . . addresses their concerns.”

The Center’s prime movers had no such intentions. They could not make themselves acknowledge what almost all Americans know in their bones. Roman Catholics did not perpetrate the attacks; neither did Hindus, Klan members, Greek Orthodox Christians, Jews, Seventh-day Adventists, evangelicals, animists, Shintoists, Buddhists, or secular humanists. Radical Muslims did. The Center is no more. It was rotten all the way through. All Pataki did was give a slight push: the implosion followed.

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