Today is Terrorist Day


In New York, the conversational phrase “You’re welcome” is almost invariably spelled “Sure” and pronounced as a variant of either a synonym of farrier or the verb for baking eggs. Although millions of people use the term, I have yet to find a single dictionary that lists that definition, so I don’t know its etymology. I suspect it might have something to do with a truncation of a longer phrase sometimes heard in screwball comedies of the 1930s, “You’re welcome, I’m sure.”

Someday, people all across America — and perhaps the world — could be saying “Sure” instead of “You’re welcome.” New York-coined terms sometimes spread like that. Look at “camcorder,” created by the late New Yorker David Lachenbruch.

Dave was known as “the dean of consumer-electronics reporters.” He also coined the term “consumer electronics.” His funeral was held, as a great jazz band played, at the 125-year-old New York Society for Ethical Culture, sort of a church for both believers and non-believers. Their founder’s motto was “deed above creed.” Amen!

The source from which many new words are coined in New York is our oft-invoked “melting pot.” We provincially cherish our tiny neighborhoods, but we are also cosmopolitan. For many years there was no official parade in New York on American Independence Day, but there were parades celebrating Greek Independence Day, Pakistan Independence Day, and Philippines Independence Day.

We also have parades for African-American Day, Armenian Martyrs Day, Columbus Day, Cuban Day, Dominican Day, Ecuador Day, Flag Day, Hispanic-American Day, India Day, Korean Day, Labor Day, Lesbian & Gay Pride Day, Memorial Day (a parade almost called off recently for lack of spectators), Norwegian Constitution Day, Puerto Rican Day, Pulaski Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Sikh Day, Steuben Day, Turkish-American Day, United Hispanic-American Day (separate from the un-united version, of course), and West Indian-American Day.

We have a Brazilian Summer Carnival Parade, a Bronx Week Parade, a Captive Nations Parade, a Children’s Parade for Peace, several Chinese New Year parades, an Easter Parade (our second oldest parade), an International Cultures Parade, an International Immigrants Parade, a Hare Krishna Procession, a Martin Luther King Jr. Parade, a Queens Purim Parade, a Salute to Israel Parade, a Shri Lakshmi Narayan Mandir Parade, a Three Kings Parade, and, lest anyone be left out, an American Ethnic Parade. Sometimes, we have several parades on a single day.

For the unaffiliated, there are also the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the Ragamuffin Day Parade (the first two rated R). For heroes we throw ticker-tape parades (not that many New Yorkers remember what ticker tape was). And that’s not even a complete list of what the “Encyclopedia of New York City” calls our “major” parades.

Today’s holiday, however, is not widely celebrated in New York. Yesterday was the New York City Marathon. Tomorrow will be Election Day. And today is Guy Fawkes Day, celebrated throughout Britain and from Newfoundland to New Zealand.

It’s hard to say exactly what’s being celebrated. We spent Guy Fawkes Day in Glasgow in 1982, standing in front of a bonfire larger than any I might previously even have imagined. Actors in “Star Wars” costumes battled in front of the woodpile as Darth Vader lit it to the soaring strains of John Williams music. Then came fireworks.

We had made our way down to Glasgow from the Shetland Islands, the Orkney Islands, the Hebrides, and the Scottish highlands. Wherever we were, no matter how small the village, a bonfire was being built. In Stromness, on the Orkney island called Mainland, we saw kids pulling Halloween-style pranks and dragging effigies around in wagons, begging for a “Penny for the Guy.”

The New York-shot children’s show “The Electric Company” began each episode with a loud “Hey you guys!” That last word was derived from the first name of Guy Fawkes (although his given name was reportedly actually Guido). The British meaning of the term “guy” (as a person) was originally meant to describe someone who looked as bad as one of those effigies being dragged around.

Eric Partridge’s “Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English” says the sense of the word as “fellow” was unquestionably created in America and returned to Britain in 1903. With his speculation that it might have had something to do with a similarity to the Yiddish word “goy” (gentile), there’s a good possibility it came from New York.

So, who was Guy Fawkes? He was a terrorist, a freedom fighter, and/or the original fall guy. Here’s one version of a British nursery rhyme:

“Please to remember The 5th of November: Gunpowder, treason, and plot. We know of no reason Why gunpowder treason Should ever to be forgot.”

Fawkes was captured on the evening of November 4, 1605 as he headed into a cellar beneath the House of Lords. In the cellar were 36 barrels of gunpowder, covered with iron bars and firewood for maximum terrorist effect. They were intended to go off the next day, when King James was going to open Parliament. The conspirators hoped the explosion would start a revolution by their fellow Catholics in England, who were then suffering religious oppression.

Commemorative bonfires were first lit the following day, celebrating the king’s safety. The king, however, had been in no danger. The plot was well known long before the 4th, which is how Fawkes was captured. As for what was being celebrated on November 5, 1982 in Glasgow with the “Star Wars” motif, I leave that for you to interpret.

Anwar al-Sadat was not as lucky as King James. The Egyptian president was assassinated on October 6, 1981, three years after he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Menachem Begin, prime minister of Israel.

A couple of weeks ago, Turner Classic Movies carried the long Otto Preminger epic “Exodus,” about the founding of the State of Israel. The movie was first released in 1960, closer to the events it depicts than to today.

One of those events was the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. In real life, it took place on July 22, 1946, killing 91 and injuring another 45. There might have been warning calls but, if so, they were ignored. In the movie, the character who placed the bombs, Dov Landau, is one of the heroes. Sal Mineo was even nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal.

In the movie, the character who ordered the bombing is called Akiva Ben Canaan (played by David Opatoshu). In one scene, he debates his nephew Ari (Paul Newman), a member of a non-terrorist defense organization, about whether Akiva’s bombings are helping the cause. Ari says the system will eventually lead to the establishment of Israel; Akiva says bombing is necessary to drive the British out. Ari says the Jews have a just right to Palestine; Akiva points out that the Arabs do, too.

Some people accept a loss of innocent civilian life as a necessary evil in the furtherance of what they see as a just cause. To those who agree with their tactics, they are freedom fighters, lovers of liberty, saviors of security, and/or eradicators of evil. To those who don’t agree, they are terrorists.

Terrorists, we are told, don’t just commit evil acts; they ARE evil. But we considered Osama bin Laden a freedom fighter when we armed, trained, and paid him to battle the Soviet Union. Was he evil then?

Yesterday’s freedom fighter is today’s evil terrorist. And yesterday’s evil terrorist?

In real life, the person who ordered the 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem (and other terrorist-seeming acts) was Menachem Begin, co-winner of the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize.

TTFN, Mark