Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Things have been rather hectic around our house this past weekend. I had planned to write something on the anniversary of the 9/11 attack but J. cut her hands rather badly on Friday and I have been playing step n’ fetchit ever since. But I did see several good reflection pieces on the anniversary, not the least was a PBS piece on faith following 9/11—a rather pessimistic approach, I am afraid.
I was in California 10 years ago. I had just resigned my parish when it was clear that the Daddy Warbucks of the parish and the bishop were in cahoots to get me out of the parish. I had done what I was asked to do—start an Hispanic mission in the parish. And it had been so successful that it began to scare the wealthy Anglos in that parish. They felt that they were going to get swallowed up by the Mexicans that worked in their fields. I was angry. I was fed up with the politics in church.
My mother called me at 6am to wake me to the events on TV. By that time the first plane had struck the first tower and we watched in horror as the second one flew into the other tower. She was afraid we were being attacked by some military power at first. The remembrances of Pearl Harbor were dancing in her head. And I had heard those stories since my childhood.
I had also lived in NY and Washington, DC and was anxious about friends who I knew worked at the Pentagon or in the World Trade Buildings. I wanted to gather ‘my people’ for prayer, but I no longer had the keys to the parish. The local ministerium did gather for prayer in the largest Roman Catholic Church in town and it did get a standing room crowd. One of the prominent RC lay leaders had a son at the Pentagon that day. The son had been called to the other side of the building to advise the Chief of Staff when the third plane hit the building. His office and his co-workers were all wiped out but the son was able to call his father and tell him he was safe. We prayed in fear, in sorrow and in gratitude that day.
Later that week after the flight lockdown was lifted; I flew to TX to visit my family. I talked to flight attendants who had lost co-workers on the flights. J. had been a priest in Syracuse when the sabotage of the Pan-Am flight over Lockerbee, Scotland and there had been many Syracuse University students on that flight. I was beginning to understand deeply how precarious life is in a world that resorts to terrorism. I was being touched by events happening 3,000 miles away in ways that I had not experienced before.
And perhaps that IS what happened –Americans began to be touched by what had happened in other parts of the world. We could no longer be naïve about what happens in other parts of the globe. The poverty and the ubiquitous message of American idealism are explosive ingredients. And add to that religious piety and nationalistic jingoism, it is not surprising that we were targeted as the ‘evil empire.’
The kind of nihilism that Al-Qaida represented has been represented at other times in history. The assassination of Grand Duke Ferdinand that precipitated WWI did not have as many victims initially but certainly fanned a war that garnered many more. There was a whole series of bombings in 1848 which shook Europe. And I can’t help but be mindful of the fiery sermons of Bernard of Clairveaux that stirred the hearts of Europe to the folly of the Crusades.
I do not believe in ‘just wars’. I do not believe that there is justice in killing others to get what we want. I do however know that sometimes, despite our faith, we must fight to defend ourselves. It is something that no matter who is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong’, when we resort to violence, we fail in what it means to follow Christ. That said, there are times when we must participate in war –survival is more important. But afterward there must be a place/time where we find a way to be reconciled.
In February of 2001 I flew to NYC and was seated next to a man who was obviously Middle Eastern. We began to chat. I asked him if he had any problems getting through security. He said no. Even though he was Iranian, he had an Indian passport. His family was Zoroastrians not Muslim and had left Iran when he was young. I became aware of how little I knew of the Middle East—the diversity of cultures that are there. I am still ignorant of the history of the antipathy between Shia and Sunni; I cannot comprehend the fierceness of the partisanship there. But I can only be reminded of the idiocy of the Thirty Years’ War between Catholics and Protestants in the 17th century. History does help in moderating opinion.
But I do believe that the 2nd Iraqi war was wrong. It was an emotional response to an emotional event. There was too much vengeance on the part of the US and it reminded me of the bullyboy who is just out for a fight and can't figure out where to apply his wrath. And the entrance into Afghanistan has never made much sense to me.
But we have been touched by the world like we have never been. We cannot resort to isolationism anymore. We cannot close our boarders anymore than Europe can. We cannot say “it isn’t our fight” anymore. There must be some balance between the haves and have-nots to keep from having this kind of ‘touch’ be epidemic and we will find ourselves battling from caves again.