Peace and Justness, not Revenge
All of us, I'm sure, have been busy mourning the terrible events of Tuesday, September 11. There is nothing that can justify such indiscriminate attacks whose victims are, as always, ordinary working people going about their ordinary lives as waitresses, janitors, secretaries, clerical workers, etc. Socialists of all stripes have always, and wisely, had nothing but condemnation for such acts of terror, primarily on moral and ethical grounds, but also because they do nothing but strengthen the forces of reaction and play into the hands of the principalities and powers of this present age. This, it is abundantly clear, is the present situation. Whoever may have perpetrated the act -- and the evidence has not yet been laid on the table before a court of international law -- the only ones who have anything at all to gain from it are those forces within global capitalism whose agenda has long been to clamp down on civil liberties at home and to wage full-scale war against anyone and everyone who stands in their way -- civilian populations be damned. And, of course, the Sharon government of Israel and the folks who manufacture and sell American flags.
But it is not to justify these acts to ask what seems to be the forbidden question, to ask why? And if this requires a little self-examination, so be it. It is not to demean the horrors of September 11 and the very real sufferings of all who were affected by them to note, for instance, that it has been estimated that these acts would have to be repeated every month for fifteen years to equal the number of innocent victims -- mainly children -- of the U.S. government-sponsored bombings and sanctions against Iraq. We are, none of us, as good as we innocently think we are.
Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun Magazine has written an excellent piece entitled "A world out of touch with itself; where the violence comes from."
He asks, "What is it in the way that we are living, organizing our societies, and treating each other that makes violence seem plausible to so many people?"
The article concludes: "We should pray for the victims and the families of those who have been hurt or murdered in these crazy acts. We should also pray that America does not return to "business as usual," but rather turns to a period of reflection, coming back into touch with our common humanity, asking ourselves how our institutions can best embody our highest values. We may need a global day of atonement and repentance dedicated to finding a way to turn the direction of our society at every level, a return to the notion that every human life is sacred, that "the bottom line" should be the creation of a world of love and caring, and that the best way to prevent these kinds of acts is not to turn ourselves into a police state, but turn ourselves into a society in which social justice, love, and compassion are so prevalent that violence becomes only a distant memory."
I have a number of friends in the New York City area, and have heard from all but one. All who have written have been deeply traumatized by the events, and most have lost someone they knew and loved. They are wrestling with feelings of deep grief, as well as the feelings of anger and rage that go along with it. And yet they are struggling to keep that anger from taking over their lives. What I am hearing again and again is, "We would never want anybody else to go through what we are going through -- anyone, anywhere, ever again. Pray that our leaders may not respond in kind". Pray for them, and for all who are in danger everywhere as the war drums beat, the calls for vengeance fill the air waves, and the rhetoric of hate intensifies.
One of the most moving messages I have received came the afternoon of the attack from a priest friend in New Jersey, across the river from Manhattan. Commenting on the terms being used in the media, he noted:
In 1993, when the World Trade Center was first bombed, the Western Media kept harping about "Islamic Fundamentalists" and "Islamic Terrorists." Whenever, the word Islamic was used the word fundamentalist or terrorist was also used. About that same time a man was arrested in Florida for killing a doctor at a women's health clinic. The killer was a Presbyterian clergyman. I did not see one report calling him a "Christian Fundamentalist" or a "Christian Terrorist." For some reason (perhaps racism?) many in the culture of the American west feel quite comfortable using derogatory descriptors for followers of Islam but not for Christians. I have a deep fear that today's violence, just a few miles from me (I can see the smoke from here) will increase the rhetoric of hate.Sing "God Bless America" if you must, but also sing "Where charity and love prevail, God himself is there." Pray for Justice, not revenge, and stand side by side with our beleagured Muslim sisters and brothers. Islam is not the enemy.
I happen to know several individuals who are followers of Islam. They are my neighbors and they are quiet, peaceful folk. I deeply admire and respect this family. Back in 1993 I put my collar on and visited their Mosque in Teaneck, New Jersey. The Imam there broke down in tears as I embraced him. He said you are the only Christian Priest to call or visit with me. "We are not all terrorists!" he cried. At that time, I invited him to St. Paul's, Englewood so that he could share with us the holy and legitimate customs of his faith tradition. We ate together and he poured his heart out to us. I will be visiting that Mosque again soon!
We must be careful in our use of language. Followers of Islam have much to teach us. We must not single this group out for revenge. The truth is -- our own hands are not clean as Christians.
Rage and hated will destroy our souls. The guttural cry for revenge will lead us all to destruction. It is time for prayer and building relationships of peace and friendship. This is the only way to true justice.
I have heard from most of my friends who work in the World Trade Centre area. However, one friend I have not heard from yet. Her name is Karolyn. I imagine that in a few days we at St. Paul's, Englewood will be conducting the Burial Office for someone's loved one.
I send all of you much affection and love.
It is hard to pray, sometimes, when our hearts are full of grief and not a little justifiable anger. One of the great gifts of liturgical prayer is that it allows us to pray for things which, perhaps, deep-down we do not yet really want. It helps us to pray as the kind of people we know we ought to be but are, all of us, only in the process of becoming. I hope you will want to join me in the following prayer, which comes from the Orthodox Peace Fellowship:
With love and deep peace,
A Prayer for Peace
We pray, O Lord our God, for all those who suffer from acts of war [in .............]. We pray for Your peace and Your mercy in the midst of the great suffering that people are inflicting on each other. Accept the prayers of Your Church, so that by Your goodness peace may return to all peoples.
Hear us and have mercy on us.
O Lord our God, remember and have mercy on our brothers and sisters who are involved in civil conflict. Remove from their midst all hostility, confusion and hatred. Lead everyone along the path of reconciliation and peace, we pray you.
Hear us and have mercy on us.
Let all believers turn aside from violence and do what makes for peace. By the strength of Your mighty arm save Your people and Your Holy Church from all evil oppression; hear the supplications of all who call to You in sorrow and affliction, day and night. O merciful God, let their lives not be lost, we pray You.
Hear us and have mercy on us.
But grant, O Lord, peace, love and speedy reconciliation to your people whom you have redeemed with you precious blood. Make your presence known to those who have turned away from you and do not seek you, so that none of them may be lost, but all may be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, so that everyone, in true love and harmony, O long-suffering Lord, may praise your all holy Name. Amen.
September 15, 2001