More reflections on September 11th 2001As we all continue to work through the emotional impact of recent
from Lynn Green.
events, I hear a few questions repeated again and again. How could this
happen? Why would anyone want to do this? It must be demonic!
Without a doubt the forces of darkness celebrated the 11th September
2001 but we would be foolish to accept that explanation as a complete
answer. In fact there is a rationale behind those attacks but it cannot be
reduced to a sound-bite. It cannot even be reduced to two or three
factors. It is complex but the gravity of our circumstances demand that
we make an effort to understand it.
Some commentators pin most of the blame on evil leaders - and there is
truth in that. Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden and others have spent
the past decades painting an evil caricature of America and the West.
That caricature has not been drawn from scratch. Some of the policies
and behaviour of our nations painted an ugly picture before the
Some months ago, my wife and I enjoyed a dinner with a very successful
and wealthy Palestinian couple. They have lived and worked most of their
adult lives with Americans and Brits. Even though his family had been
forced from their home in 1948, and he had grown up in the deprivation
of a refugee camp in Lebanon, he bore the Jews, Americans and British
no malice. "In fact", he said, "I owe Americans a huge debt".
"Americans who worked in the Middle East treated me with great
kindness, and it is due to their assistance that I am where I am". But he
went on to say the American presence and attitude in the Middle East
seemed to undergo a major and unfortunate shift in the 1960's and 70's.
To paraphrase him, he observed a transition from unselfish to selfish
It is no coincidence that during that same period America adopted a
foreign policy approach based on "the best interests of the USA". Prior to
that most Americans had believed that truth and the common good
existed, could be found and constituted the only acceptable foundation for
America's behaviour abroad.
Once that transition was made, we repeatedly supported regimes that
oppressed their people but were "friends" of the West. As a result,
respect for America was displaced by resentment. For decades that
resentment has deepened and broadened. So it has not been difficult
for the likes of Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden to amplify that
resentment until it has reached the pitch of a suicidal scream for revenge.
It is somewhat frightening to see how many Americans and other
Western people believe that we can identify those leaders, kill them, and
thus resolve the problem. There is no doubt that justice, law and order
require the perpetrators of this outrage be punished - but that will not
be the end of it. Many other potential leaders with equally resentful
hearts are queued up waiting to take their place.
It is therefore of the utmost importance that we do not further inflame the
resentment as we seek to bring the guilty to justice. In a recent
conversation, a Christian woman said, "I want the government to go in
and take these people out and to hell with the "collateral damage" !"
"Collateral damage" is of course a euphemism for the death of
unintended and presumably innocent parties. If we are not worried about
"collateral damage" I believe that we are guilty of a fundamental departure
from Christian attitudes. It has helped me to empathize with the
unintended victims of violence if I imagine myself in some vaguely similar
Let's say for a moment I am living in peace in a very prosperous
neighbourhood of a southern American city. Because my
neighbourhood is not too far from a border or seafront which has
become useful to drug runners, I find that some of my neighbours seem
to be drug barons. My once peaceful neighbourhood is deeply disrupted.
Their parties and lifestyle disrupt my life and family. My tranquil
neighbourhood becomes a place of unbearable stress. I see heavily
armed men coming and going from neighbouring houses and I fear to
speak up for what may happen to me or my family. These people have
turned my life into a sort of living hell. Finally, government authorities
identify the criminals in my neighbourhood and decide to take action but
they send in helicoptor gun-ships and in the fire war that follows my
home and family are obliterated. Am I still thinking "to hell with the
Of course many other commentators are not just blaming the leaders; they
lay the blame squarely in the court of Islam. Over recent years in the
course of the Reconciliation Walk I have had many conversation with
Muslims and their leadership. One very thoughtful Shi'ite told me not long
ago, "evil and power hungry people often use religion as a tool to
manipulate the masses". There followed a active discussion about the
violent history of both Islam and Christianity. It was hard to make a case
that Christianity has been more peaceable than Islam. That aside, I do
not believe that anything other than the cross of Jesus Christ adequately
deals with the violent tendancies in the hearts of men. But if we take a
good look at history it is hard to make an airtight case for Islam being
any more violent than the fundamental movements of other religions, or
more violent than some of the political movements which have arisen even
in the last century, and we must admit that some of the worst of those
sprung out of Christian nations.
So does all this careful thinking lead simply paralysed inactivity? No not
at all. I believe that we must carefully search out and punish those who are
guilty of acts of terror. However, that alone will not stop the cycle of
vengeance. We must find within our hearts the humility to be able to
listen, to ask the hard questions about how we as people and nations
have offended others, and to listen with an open and teachable attitude.
If we are to see any end of the cycle of violence we must not only pursue
justice but also reconciliation with those who have reasonable cause to
resent Western civilisation. Let us also try to bear in mind that, even
in those regions where that resentment is the greatest, few people would
condone the acts of September 11th.
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