The news and talk shows are all abuzz with the upcoming anniversary of the Terrorist Attacks on 9/11, as well they should be.
Ten years ago on the eleventh of September we were living in Chicago and I was getting ready for a seminary class (Old Testament, perhaps?) that morning. I remember flipping on the television and seeing the aftermath of the first plane crass into the World Trade Center. I didn't think too much of it, other than the loss of lives. I knew that plane crashes into the large buildings of the New York skyline weren't unheard of. Usually they were small passenger planes lost in fog or experiencing a malfunction. Then the second plane hit the building, and everything changed.
I don't remember much about the rest of the day. I had class. We prayed. People were discussing the events. There was a lot of fear. Down town Chicago was evacuated as it was thought Chicago, being the center of agrarian trade and commodities, could be a possible target (the symbols of capitalism and the military had already been hit and the political symbols were targeted). The next day or so I was giving a talk to a Sunday School team at a nearby church. Beforehand everyone who was there for various events gathered for a candlelight vigil on the church's lawn. I remember praying for safety, for those who lost loved ones and others affected by those events. I remember very little talk anywhere about Muslims or "our enemies." It was probably there, and we may have even prayed for them, but I don't remember much.
9/11 was a tragedy. Innocent lives were taken. Our country was violated. Fear was sown.
It was also a tragedy because we responded in hate without taking much look at why we were targeted, without any look at our own faults. We too quickly, in my opinion, rushed for vengeance. Muslimphobia was proliferated. We went to war, not with a country, but with a religion (even though our target was one ultra-radical sect, the majority of the nation saw the attacks as being against Islam as a whole).
Five years later, a man walked into an Amish school house in Pennsylvania and shot ten young girls, killing five of them. He then killed himself.
The nation watched in awe-filled wonder as the Amish community reached out to the man's widow and children. In stead of vengeance, they had shown forgiveness and love. Our country didn't know what to do with such a radical response.
Recently, I was given the book, Peace Be with You: Monastic Wisdom for a Terror-filled World, to review. In it author David Carlson visits various monasteries around the country, interviewing monks and nuns about their response to what happened on 9/11. None were detached from the world's events (as we often picture monastics as being). But many felt our country missed an opportunity to ask ourselves why. And in asking why, asking if those reasons were valid. Almost all felt we missed out on an opportunity to be witness to forgiveness.
The terrorist attacks on our nation were wrong. Taking innocent lives is never a right way to express your disgust at someone else's values. But was our response any different? Entering a foreign nation, seeking to eliminate those who we felt were responsible, killing many innocents in the process? It's just a question; one that I think is worth asking.
Right now police officers and federal agents are bracing for another possible attack on New York City. We live in a state of fear. Returning evil for evil will do this. I fear for my Muslim neighbors on our block, hoping nothing happens that would put them in harm's way, either.
Maybe we could try a different approach: honoring the lives of those innocents (including police officers, fire fighters and other civil servants) by seeking to bring about some peace rather than proliferate war, fear and hate. That's what I long for at least.