Terrorism

The New Final Solution

No one individual has contributed more to the English language than William Shakespeare. Words, expressions and turns of phrase abound in the lexicon, all owing to him. So all-encompassing was his facility with vocabulary that he has enriched the speech of even the modestly educated. And yet for all his brilliant writing skills, his sense of drama and passion, his grasp of good and evil, and his insights into the human heart, there is one area in which he glaringly failed. William Shakespeare had no idea how to end the human violence he so easily penned in his writings. He came close once.

In “Henry VI” we read, “The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.’’ In context it is a declaration of the need for law and order, for the words are spoken not by a protagonist, but by Dick the Butcher, a follower of the rebel Jack Cade. Dick the Butcher knew that if things were to change someone, some “lot” of someones, had to die. In that regard not much has changed over the last 500 years. If we want things to change, some “lot” of someones has to die. We just have to make sure we target the right collective.

With the new surge in terrorism, many groups want to kill each other. But there is no order in mere desire. I say, “Kill them all.” But we need a carefully crafted process. And we can gleam one from the last 100 years.

In 1948 India was emerging as a country freed from the oppression of the British empire. Mahatma Gandhi, the father of this new nation, was killed by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu extremist. He was only one man and clearly a fanatic. That, however, does not alter the fact that we cannot trust any Hindus. Many of them have been complicit in killing Muslims and Christians for decades. So, first, let’s kill all the Hindus. One terrorist group gone.

In 1995 Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck bomb in front of the Murray Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and injuring more than 600 hundred others. Again, just one discontented man—a Christian intrigued by white supremacy and anti-government fervor. But where to begin with that? Christians have been killing for centuries, sometimes each other, and sometimes in the name of God. No trust there. So next, let’s kill all the Christians. Another terrorist group gone.

Later that same year, as Israel and Palestine were beginning to see light at the end of a long tunnel of violence, peace seemed within reach. That is, until Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir, a Jewish religious extremist. Again he was only one person. But as far back as the Old Testament, Jews have been killing often with the illusion that they were acting under their God’s orders. No wonder then, that Rabin’s death paved the way for Benjamin Netanyahu to completely collapse the tunnel of hope and fully extinguish the light of peace, making it easy for Israel to embrace its own style of terrorism. Next move? Let’s kill all the Jews. A third terrorist group gone.

Choices abound for the next group. Let’s pick 2015. A husband and wife team, Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, opened fire on a community center in San Bernardino. Two Muslims entranced by the absurdities of Islamic State extremists. This direct attack on the life and values of Western society proved that Muslims cannot be trusted either. That’s no surprise. History shows that beginning with Muhammed (peace be upon him), Islam has waged religious war for more than thirteen hundred years. The next move is clear. Let’s kill all the Muslims.

Some might object, declaring that each of the examples cited above is just one or two people. That’s not the point. Each perpetrator reflects the reality of a larger group. Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz know this. That’s why so many are following their lead in condemning all Muslims, insisting that we keep all Syrian refugees out and register all Muslims already here. But if we’re honest, Muslims are not the only problem. Hindu on Hindu violence, Christian on Christian violence, Jew on Jew violence, Muslim on everybody violence.

Yes, I say, “Let’s kill them all—Hindus, Christians, Jews and Muslims.” Then when all the killing is done, when the religious thirst for death and revenge is quenched, when people need no longer fear religious fanatics, and we are left only with Atheists, I say

AMEN. Peace be upon all.
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Is It Too Soon?

On Wednesday, December 2, 2015, America suffered yet another mass shooting. This one took place in San Bernardino at the Inland Regional Center. Caring for more than 31,000 persons with disabilities, it is the largest such center in the State of California. At this writing, 14 people are dead and 21 injured.

Once again the people of the United States reacted with shock, anger, bewilderment and disbelief. Although it is questionable that disbelief should be among those reactions. After all, this has become almost commonplace with more mass shootings occurring in the United States than in any other country. The reasons are many and cannot be blamed merely on the possession of guns. The fact that this occurred in California, the state with perhaps the most stringent gun legislation, indicates the complexity of the problem.

And yet, as President Obama has stressed frequently, we cannot continue to abide this kind of senseless violence. Finding a solution means stitching together many pieces of the puzzle, but clearly one of them must be sensible gun legislation. California’s neighboring states do not have the same laws, making it easy to bring guns across the border. Further complicating the issue is that the guns used in this shooting were legally purchased in Southern California. We need some kind of national legislation.

In the wake of yet another of these rampages, several legislators have called for just such legislation aimed at preventing future attacks. But on Thursday morning, state assemblyman Marc Steinorth on a radio interview stated that he was offended that anyone would be talking about gun laws when they should be responding to needs of the victims and their families.

My response to the assemblyman is that offense cuts both ways. I am offended, righteously so, that Steinorth would seek to manipulate this tragedy by attempting to divert and control the public discourse from a conversation long ignored by many politicians. His comment suggested, or at least implied, that caring for victims precludes talking about what created these victims in the first place. The illogic escapes me. Perhaps he is uncomfortable confronting his own complicity in the easy access people have to guns in this nation. Doubtful. Like too many politicians, he is in the pocket of the National Rifle Association and seduced by an illusion of second amendment rights.

Steinorth, like every other politician, knows that the further removed we become from tragedies like the one in San Bernardino, the less willing we are to discuss the causes. The result is, we don’t. And so the gun lobby cements its irrational hold on state and federal legislatures.

I have looked back over the statements made by NRA representatives each time one of these shootings takes place. These men are masters at deflection and deceit. One might expect that if the NRA were committed to legitimately lofty ideals, they would defend the possession of rifles for hunting and possibly even target practice. Every thoughtful person knows that there is no legitimate reason for the possession of assault weapons, other than to kill as many people as possible or to fire the testosterone of insecure and usually aging men. As for handguns, their only purpose is to kill—period.

Perhaps the real tragedy is that the number of people killed in mass shootings make up a very small percent of the total killed by guns every year in the United States. Mass shootings merely focus our attention for too brief a time.

The United States has always been a country in the pursuit of peace, but it has never been a country at peace. The proliferation of weapons, in particular handguns and assault rifles, fully guarantees it never will be.

If now is not the time to talk about gun legislation, when is? Some politicians would have us believe the answer is never. Instead, they suggest that the problem always resides in the individual. At this point, the motives for Wednesday’s killings are yet to be determined. Were Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik terrorists? Was this a workplace dispute? Or perhaps a little of both? Was the Inland Center the original target or mere an expedient one? We will know more in the days and weeks ahead. Still, there is one thing that this shooting has in common with all the others: no one can deny that dozens of people would be alive today were it not for the guns.

It is not by accident that the Declaration of Independence lists “life” as the first of the unalienable rights endowed on all people by their creator. If we want to be a peaceful society, if we want to secure that right to life for everyone, it is not too soon to engage the nation in a long overdue discussion about what kind of laws will make these tragedies less likely to be repeated. “Steinorth, are you listening?”
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Why…and Why Not? Questions about the Sandy Hook Shooting

The peace, joy and celebrations of Christmas and the holiday season have been shattered by despicable violence. In many parts of the country, people have been physically sickened and have shed tears, some uncontrollably. The first question, the Why, is not an attempt to seek and understand an explanation for the massacre. Rather, it queries the reason so many in our country care what happened.

Certainly for the families and friends who lost loved ones at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the pain and sorrow are obvious and understandable. Families have been ripped apart, literally, as they lay the bodies of their little ones to rest. Sadly, neither our President, nor local politicians, nor our teachers, nor even our pastors can craft adequate words of consolation. Darkness hangs over the city of Newton; an oppressive darkness that obscures even the light of Christmas. On a basic and intuitive level we understand the concern and care of each of the families and of their friends.

But why should the rest of the country care? Most of us did not know these little children or their families. Could it be that the wanton murder of twenty little first graders creates an existential disruption in our own lives? After all, for most of us, the massacre was, and remains, incomprehensible. Our own sense of order has been distorted and thrown into chaos. Or could it be that we have become afraid? Afraid for ourselves and our own children? Or maybe it is that the massacre of innocent six and seven-year-olds is simply too unsettling to fathom, compounded by the fact that their little bodies were riddled with close-range bullets. Could it be our own repugnance at the terror they must have felt as their bodies were pierced and life ripped from their tiny frames? There are many legitimate and humane reasons to care. And as a nation, we care deeply.

But we are challenged by the second question:
Why Not? Why do we not demonstrate the same outrage and grief for the innocent children killed in Pakistan and Yemen? I don’t mean children who are victims of floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters, or even children who die of starvation or disease. I am not speaking of children caught in the crossfire of soldiers’ rifles in the midst of war. No. I mean the 178 children killed by drone attacks ordered by our own government, the United States of America. That is nearly nine times the number killed in Newton!

The children at Sandy Hook faced a madman. Children living in Pakistan and Yemen faced unmanned drones. Is their terror any less because they cannot see their killer? Are they any less innocent? Are their futures filled with any less promise? Are their dreams of being teachers or doctors, scientists or musicians any less deserving? Why don’t we rise up in anger and protest? Why don’t we care?

Could it be that they are not massacred together in a single violent act? Could it be that the media doesn’t deem these deaths worthy of news coverage? Could it be that we do not see their faces or know their names? Could it be that we consider them the “other” because they are not us? Could it simply be that they are different?

We try to justify our drone attacks by saying we are pursuing an enemy. We are hunting the “bad guys.” Well, little children are not the bad guys—no matter what country they live in. The fear that overwhelms them as they hear a drone humming in the sky above is just as real as the fear of children who hear gunfire in the next classroom. And it is just as evil.

This is not a lecture, and I do not have the answer. I have only the question:
Why don’t we care?
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9/11 New York Memorial

This is the United States of America. So it should come as no surprise that controversy has arisen over New York’s planned commemoration of the 9/11 attacks. What’s more, this is probably the most ridiculous kind of objection, for it is rooted in the fact that no religious leaders will be included in the ceremony.

For the record, a commemoration has taken place every year since the attacks. The format proposed for this 10th anniversary is the same as those over the last decade. Although many religions have memorials in their repertoire of services, the 9/11 commemoration is not a prayer service and it is not hosted by any religious body.

The commemoration at ground zero is significantly different from the prayer service held at the National Cathedral on September 14, 2001. That service was specifically religious and included representatives from several different religious traditions. It was not a civic event and did not foist religion upon the nation, even though the nation was tuned in.

The feigned outrage (I say “feigned” because it is not rational enough to merit legitimacy) of people like Richard D. Land of the Southern Baptist Convention serves only to diminish the value of religious tradition in the United States.

The First Amendment of the Constitution presents us with the establishment and fee exercise clauses regarding religion. A careful reading will reveal that this amendment guarantees not just freedom “of” religion, but also freedom “from” religion. The framers of the Constitution understood the dangers of imposing religion, any religion, on others. This is the reason that courts throughout the land at various levels of judicial review have banned the use of prayer at civic events.

For some reason, people on the fringe of reason, just don’t get it. I find it instructive that the Catholic Archbishop of New York and the President of the Board of Rabbis have voiced no opposition to the format for the commemoration. Perhaps it is because they are both a little more secure in their respective faith traditions.

As a Catholic priest with many years of service, I can attest that people who are grounded in their faith do not need to shout and scream; they do not need to threaten with damnation; they do not need to foist their beliefs upon others. People who are secure in their faith are capable of respecting the traditions of others, even those who have no belief at all.

In his objections, Mr. Land stated, “We’re not France” proceeding to claim that the United States is not a secular society. Actually, we are a secular society. More precisely, we have a secular government for the reasons stated above, coupled with the fact that we (at least some of us) learned through the long and tragic period of Christendom, that governments run by a religion are dangerous and self-defeating.

It is unfortunate that we are not more like France. At the risk of confusing the issue, there were many speeches given to the world community in the build-up to the Iraq War. Yet there was no more eloquent or profound speech than the one given by the French Foreign Minister in opposition to the war. Though not religious, it was rooted in the deepest of moral principles. It was tragic that his argument did hold sway. That oft-lamented hindsight proved him correct.

Any person of faith is entitled to commemorate the 9/11 attacks in a prayer service with his or her fellow believers--or any other believers. There is no law preventing it. However, the national commemoration at the site of the attacks is neither the place nor the time.

This is nothing more than a blatant attempt to hijack this national and international tragedy and politicize it under the guise of religion. In the last ten years, one would hope that we had finally learned that we are not engaged in a religious war. Nor are we engaged in a war of cultures. Whatever the roots or religious beliefs of the 9/11 terrorists, their actions were an attack against the civic structure of this country.

The planned commemoration is exactly what it should be. During the period of silence all present call pray to their God in their hearts. But the commemoration should not be polluted by the misguided intentions of religious fanatics.
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The Death of Bin Laden—A Second Look

There is, of course, no picture of Osama Bin Laden in this blog. It would serve no purpose other than to further agitate the distorted intellects of conspiracy theorists who are already frenetically claiming Bin Laden’s death is a hoax. Still, if a picture paints a thousand words, then moving pictures sketch a dictionary. While photographs possess the power to entrance, often leaving us wanting more, moving pictures transport us to the very heart of action itself, exhausting and exciting our emotions whether for good or for ill.

Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, people all over the world were stunned and alarmed. Not only did we watch in horror while planes flew into the Twin Towers, we were also dismayed at the level of destruction as the towers collapsed with mini mushroom clouds vainly attempting to shroud the ruin. To make matters worse, the world was subjected to videos of cheering crowds dancing and celebrating these unprovoked acts of death and destruction.

For almost ten years Osama Bin Laden, the founder and leader of al-Qaeda, had eluded the combined efforts of the world’s most sophisticated intelligence organizations. Though he never faded from memory, most people had understandably begun to wonder if he would ever be caught, if justice would forever be denied.

Then, on Sunday night, May 1st, President Obama announced a successful intelligence operation that ended with the death of Bin Laden. The President delivered the announcement with cultured elegance. It is difficult to imagine the emotions he must have been feeling. There appeared to have been excitement in his eyes—resulting as much from the magnitude and impact of his speech as from any possible joy or satisfaction. Obama pronounced a verdict of justice with sedate solemnity, and his words were filled with gravitas as he reaffirmed the perilous milieu of terror that still grips our world. Through it all, Obama was profoundly presidential and resolutely restrained.

Contrast the President’s demeanor with the throngs that gathered outside the White House, in New York City and elsewhere—chanting masses that seem so eerily similar to the cheering crowds of 9/11. It is tempting to dismiss this reaction as Schadenfreude. The truth is more sinister and therefore more difficult to correct.

Certainly there is a mix of emotions welling from within, most uniquely from within the hearts of those who have lost family and friends to the violence of al-Qaeda. From those whose loved ones have been ripped from life, we expect to find relief, gratitude, closure, perhaps even some sense of peace. No one can sit in judgment on how any individual who has suffered such tragedy should feel or react. Indeed, there probably is no “should”.

At the same time, a desire for understanding and compassion must not deter anyone from probing deeper questions of response. Specifically, what is an appropriate collective reaction when a perpetrator of mass violence ends up the prey of violence, himself? There is simply no triumph or honor in the ability to kill. That was what Bin Laden stood for; it cannot define us, also. There is something terribly obscene about watching people celebrate any death, even the demise of Osama Bin Laden.

Whether in the Middle East or in the United States, such assemblies demonstrate a depraved indifference to life and exhibit a duplicity that is beyond the pale of reason. If all human life is of value, then every human life is of value. For believers there is also a religious component. After all, even the Osama Bin Laden’s of the world are created in the image of God. Although they betray that image by acts of violence, we also betray that image--and our faith--by celebrating their executions.

In the United States today, perhaps in every country, we cry out for leaders, for men and women to serve as examples the rest of us can admire and emulate. It was evident on Sunday that we have at least one politician who understands what it means to lead and to inspire. President Obama did not taunt the enemy in his Sunday address. He spoke with candor about justice, but his words did not evoke revenge.

Public displays of emotion, even those that originate from conflict, are not inherently perverse. Innumerable photos and newsreels abound of citizens from various countries celebrating the end of World War I & World War II. In those pictures we see men and women rejoicing, not because someone has died, but because the specter of violence has ended. They celebrate in the hope that perhaps no one else will have to die by bloodshed. They celebrate a peace that was won with incredible sacrifice.

While that hope certainly surfaces with the death of Bin Laden, the mobs we have seen in the streets of America are not celebrating peace. As the president stated, the fight against terror goes on. No, the mobs are celebrating violence itself, and that kind of rejoicing debases us all. However difficult it may be, we must reach deep within ourselves to embrace the more courageous and truer principles of peace. We must be better than Osama Bin Laden was.
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Innocent until...

There was a time when an elementary school child could complete the phrase above: Innocent until proved guilty. That time is long past, in great part, because today almost everyone accused of anything is presumed guilty. There are a number of contributing factors--crime dramas such as the long-running "Law and Order" being one of them. I confess that I am a fan of the original show. Still, I am keenly aware that many of the episodes were designed to commit the viewer to a presumption in favor of guilt. The prosecution did not always win, but when it did not, the viewer was manipulated into feeling that somehow there had been a miscarriage of justice and that the guilty had gone free.

The 24 hour news cycle has also contributed to the flip of the presumption principle. In a rush to scoop other networks and to cement the attention of the viewer, cable news, in particular, frequently and irrationally condemns and convicts persons accused of crime, leaving little or no room for the finding of fact. This finding of fact is what a public trial is supposed to be about, but cable news has become its own courtroom. When the jury pool is comprised of people who have already convicted the accused, how fair or just is justice?

A third, and even more insidious, factor originates in the halls of government. Ever since 9/11 various branches of the government have played on the nation's fear. No one wants to see planes hijacked, buildings blown up and innocent civilians killed. Terrorism strikes fear in the hearts of all. But should we also allow terrorism to strike paralysis in the mind? Our justice system is designed to protect the rights of all, the victim and the accused. When the pursuit of justice is slanted in either direction, the scales become unbalanced. When it is driven by fear, the collective mind becomes unhinged.

This past Wednesday, November 17, the first Guantánamo detainee to be tried in a civilian court was acquitted on 284 of 285 counts of conspiracy and murder. Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was not involved in the 9/11 attacks. He was accused of participating the 1998 bombings of United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania--bombings in which 224 people were killed. Captured in Pakistan in 2004, Ghailani was held for nearly five years in a "black site" run by the CIA--far away from the peering and pesky eyes of U.S. justice--and then at Guantánamo.

Immediately following the verdict, pundits and politicians began parsing the trial and condemning the Obama Administration for proceeding in a civilian court instead of a military tribunal. It is much easier to admit illicitly obtained evidence in military courts. And, after all, everyone knows that Ghailani is guilty. Right?

Whoa! Back up a bit. Many, if not most, of those who are condemning the Obama Administration's decision are not at all interested in truth or justice. They are merely provocateurs seeking to capitalize on the fear of the American people. Even my friend David Kelsey over at Examiner.com got into the act with an article that was more inciting than informative. These critics seem to forget that there have been other civilian trials of suspected terrorists that have resulted in guilty verdicts.

In this latest trial could the unthinkable be true? Could Ghailani actually be innocent? Or on a darker note, could the unspeakable be true? Could U.S. agents actually be engaging in illegal torture to elicit information that they have already deemed as fact? This was the real problem with the evidence against Ghailani--much of it was obtained illegally and so was excluded from trial. There is a reason that not even the government is supposed to be above the law. The integrity of the justice system must be maintained at all cost. At this point I have to wonder if the Administration's critics are not simply driven by some kind of self-serving limelighting.

It is not extreme to suggest that the country itself is at stake in these proceedings, and not because terrorists might be set free. The U.S. Constitution is a remarkable document that stands as a model and example for all. If its guarantees are restricted only to U.S. citizens, it becomes capricious and arrogant and our moral standing in the world is diminished.

The concept that a person is innocent until proved guilty is not uniquely American. It is foundational law in many countries including Canada, England, France, Brazil and Russia. It is also enshrined in the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Although the United Kingdom and the United States have chipped away at the presumption of innocence, it must remain a bulwark in our legal system, regardless of what various commentators might suggest.

The Bush Administration led the American public into a legal tunnel. Unlike the carnival, however, this tunnel was not filled with artificial amusement. It held real dangers and it did not exit to the lights and thrills of the amusement park.

Rather than being pilloried by the press and other right-wing critics, the Obama Administration should be heralded for having the moral integrity to restore justice to its rightful place in the fight against terror. As a country we must have faith in our Constitution and the courage of our convictions. In the end, the loss of truth and freedom is greater than the loss of life.
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9/11--A Day of Remembrance and Forgiveness

The 20th Century has often been cited as the most violent in human history. The two world wars, coupled with seemingly unending civil conflicts; military coups and repressive dictatorships; genocide in all regions of the globe; the rising specter of street violence and escalating terrorist activities; all these succeeded in nearly numbing the world to the horrors of violence. It is almost surprising, then, that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 should have so stunned the sensitivities of the world, that for a brief moment there arose a renewed sense of humanity and common purpose.

More than stunned, the world found itself in a state of shock. Partly because nearly 3,000 people lost their lives in a matter of minutes, partly because more than 70 countries lost citizens in the attacks, and partly because this all happened on U.S. soil--a land often thought to be immune from such foreign violence. For almost everyone, the attacks shattered the routine of a tranquil September morning. As we look back on the past nine years, we find so much to commemorate on this anniversary, the most treasured being the lost lives--not only of innocent workers and travelers, but also of the heroic emergency personnel who risked everything to bring others to safety.

Few, if any, experiences in life are as emotionally draining as the death of a loved one. When that death is caused by unprovoked violence or terrorism, the bonds of love only grow stronger. In the process, the human heart is stirred to canonize the memory, and the will is driven to avenge the lives of those so unjustly reduced to an untimely death. In reality, however, that stirring of the heart and driving of the will are polar opposites that cannot coexist in any kind of peace or harmony. The bonds of love that are sealed in the heart end up shattered by the pursuit of vengeance. The memories of loved ones lost are betrayed in a relentless desire for retaliation. Such is this tragic polarity that the same pain that tears us apart ends up being inflicted on other people, who also lose innocent loved ones, thus creating a spiraling cycle of violence from which we can rarely extract ourselves.

Memorial celebrations, museums and monuments are a necessary part of collective therapy. War is not. Retelling stories of life, and remembering heroic acts inspire admiration. War does not. Embracing and supporting one another strengthens the spirit and initiates healing. War cannot. War is simply the most powerful, organized and hypnotic example of a violence unleashed in response to a violence perpetrated.

Let me be clear. People who execute the kind of violence we witness in acts of terrorism must be held accountable and brought to answer for their actions. But our responses are often out of proportion and far beyond reason. It is no accident that the decision to go to war in Afghanistan was made with haste in the midst of the confusion that followed 9/11. And given that the entire country was in the grip of fear, it is no wonder that few sane and thoughtful voices were to be found opposing the war. Even religious leaders from a variety of traditions capitulated to the seduction of violence. It is also a little ironic that our political leaders would ignore a guiding principle of counseling, namely, not to make any major decisions while in the throws of emotion. Such is the power and effect of this kind of violence. It is called terrorism for a reason: It strikes fear and terror deep into the psyche of even the most thoughtful and peaceful people.

So if war is not the best response, what is? I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine in which we were discussing forgiveness. During our exchange he told me that he could never forgive the terrorists who organized and carried out the 9/11 attacks. I believe that to be a common, perhaps near universal feeling. It also is quite understandable. It is far easier to give into the desire for retaliation, as happened nine years ago. Learning to forgive takes repeated effort in a myriad of situations. In any given circumstance it also takes time.

Immediately following 9/11 I did not feel like forgiving any more than others did. But consider what resulted from an unwillingness even to try to forgive. The United States has spent nearly a decade waging war in Afghanistan. In the process, the goals advanced to justify the war have not been met. We have failed to capture Osama Bin Laden, and countless innocents have lost their lives in this conflict. We have even managed to use video games (drones) far from the battle field to kill innocent Afghanis while protecting American soldiers.

Add to this the corrupting influence of vengeance and its unquenchable thirst for violence. This corruption distorted our thinking to the point that we launched a second, illegal and immoral war--one not even connected to the terrorist attacks. That war cost many more billions of dollars, more than 4,000 American lives, hundreds of allied casualties and another countless number of innocent Iraqi deaths. On balance alone, these two wars cost more than the 9/11 attacks both in terms of money and lives. The second war also squandered the goodwill of a world community that was willing to seek the common good. Instead it reduced the United States to the same level as the terrorists themselves.

This was the fear that gripped me immediately after 9/11. The attacks took place on a Tuesday morning. In my preaching the following Sunday, I took direct aim at the words and actions of our political leaders. In my homily I challenged the United States as a nation, and my congregation as believers, to step back from the violence and seek a truer, more peaceable path.

As a Christian I look to Jesus for inspiration and strength of purpose. But I also hope this blog will reach people who are not Christian. So, while Jesus places before us the awesome challenge to love our enemies and pray for those who do us harm, I would like to suggest that for the non-Christian or the non-believer, forgiveness is not just some spiritual exercise. To rise above the destructive forces that tend to overwhelm us; to seek a good in people that they themselves have cloaked in darkness; to forgive the most grievous offenses committed against us; these enable us to tap into what poets call our better nature. That is where we discover the truth of who we are. That is where we learn to call out the best in ourselves and in others. That is where we develop the skills to work together to build a world of justice, of equality, of peace.

Today we remember, we weep and we celebrate those many loved ones who died on 9/11. Perhaps the greatest way to recall the joy they brought into our lives is to forgive those who took those lives away. War and violence will neither give us an internal calm nor bring the world a lasting peace. But if the love that causes us to remember also enables us to forgive, it can overcome violence and establish that elusive, lasting peace that we all claim to desire.
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