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Ten years later: Our response to attacks on 9/11/200Woman in Brazil cathedral1

A version of the following article appeared in the November-December 2001 issue of Maryknoll NewsNotes; it is reprinted in the September-October 2011 NewsNotes. Its message is as urgent now as it was then.

Shortly after the horrific events of September 11, 2001, having already expressed their profound sorrow and sympathy to all who lost loved ones in the terrorist attacks on the United States, Maryknoll leadership wrote,

In order to eradicate terrorism of all kinds, we have to address the hatred and exclusion that sustain it and foster global solidarity through understanding by promoting dialogue and defending human dignity...Surely these events will evoke deep reflection on who we are as an American people, and how we are in the world. Perhaps now is the time to ask "Why?" and to address the roots of anti-U.S. sentiment. What do we need to learn to transform ourselves and our world?

The fundamental posture that we would like to suggest for this reflection was dramatically and poignantly illustrated by the scramble for life in the rubble of the World Trade Center and Pentagon. In that dreadful context, as so many have noted, color of skin, nationality, language, title, level of income, gender and job description mattered not at all. The lines that too often divide human beings from each other disappeared. Each life was precious, worth saving.

Every step we take from now on as a people and a nation should be built upon this instinct and on the gospel mandate articulated in Luke 6 from the lectionary on September 13: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To the one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from the one who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to every one who begs from you; and of the one who takes away your goods do not ask them again… As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them."

Out of the confusion, some positive direction began to emerge. First were the calls for restraint, for justice not vengeance, for diplomatic efforts toward international police and judicial cooperation that could hold the perpetrators of this crime against humanity to account. Even as the United States gathered a coalition in support of military action, wise people were pleading that we move in another, an "unexpected' direction, one strikingly reminiscent of Luke 6.

John Paul Lederach, whose experience as a mediator and proponent of nonviolent social change in situations mired in violence around the world, is worth quoting:

Anger of this sort [that could express itself in extremely violent terrorist actions], what we could call generational, identity-based anger, is constructed over time through a combination of historical events, a deep sense of threat to identity and direct experiences of sustained exclusion … our response to the immediate events have everything to do with whether we reinforce and provide soil, seeds and nutrients for future cycles of revenge and violence … Military action to destroy terror, particularly as it affects significant and already vulnerable civilian populations will be like hitting a fully mature dandelion with a golf club… The biggest blow we can serve terror is to make it irrelevant…[by strengthening the web of] relationships we develop with whole regions, peoples and world views.

As the war in Afghanistan intensified, the shape of "Different Pathway to Peace and Security" was articulated in a statement by that name from religious leaders:

Our hearts are heavy as we mourn the dead, comfort the bereaved and absorb the already horrific, yet now expanding, spiral of violence that threatens to devastate the human community. As the war in Afghanistan continues, we fear that the opportunity to forge a different pathway to peace and security rooted in social justice and human solidarity may be lost forever. We urge compassionate attention to the cost in human life and the damage to already impoverished communities. We insist that diplomatic efforts not be abandoned in favor of expansive military action.

As communities of faith with relationships on nearly every continent, we are impelled to view this crisis from a global perspective. Testimony to the inextricable ties that bind the human family together has been given dramatically by expressions of sympathy and gestures of support received from around the world - the painful job of binding wounds and calming fears is surely lightened by this global solidarity. But communities of faith are also calling for restraint, for alternatives to the military action that is bringing terrible suffering in its wake - in Afghanistan and throughout the region, for a redefinition of security, for global justice that alone can bring lasting peace.

We join them in that plea. The peace that we seek will be birthed out of justice, not out of war!

Justice demands that perpetrators of terror be held to account, but a vicious crime that took the lives of thousands of people from dozens of countries should be prosecuted under international law, not avenged by war. Humanity has made much progress in establishing and enforcing international norms for human rights and crimes against humanity. This is an opportunity for the United States to underscore an absolute commitment to the rule of law – to strengthening and participating in an international legal system necessary to the task of doing justice. The investigation, pursuit and prosecution of suspected terrorists and their supporters should be accomplished in a manner completely cooperative with the family of nations and making full use of international law enforcement mechanisms. The accused should be brought to justice in an international tribunal established to deal with terrorism.

Prudence dictates that the human family take immediate steps to regain a sense of physical security, but how will we define that security, who will be secure, and at what cost will we pursue it? Faith communities, educational institutions, businesses, neighborhoods - all U.S. Americans should initiate a period of national reflection on the meaning of security. Vast military, economic and political power did not protect people in the U.S. from the horrific attacks of September 11th; nor is military action likely to protect them from every possible threat in the future. In fact, it may well exacerbate the danger.

Can we draw upon this tragic and traumatic experience to redefine personal, communal, national and international priorities? Can we probe with care the root causes of rage and despair that spawn such unconscionable acts and respond with our own commitment to international solidarity, the global common good, and the economic and political changes necessary to reflect that commitment?

Too much damage and suffering has been inflicted on the human community in the name of God. It is time to chart another course -- to make a new beginning and to generate the peace that we all so desperately seek.

New political and economic priorities will be required if the U.S. is to forge new relationships around the world. Millions of people, who are impoverished and politically or culturally excluded, see the process of globalization as a threat rather than a promise. They also see U.S. foreign policy as enormously problematic and will test the sincerity of our commitment to free the world from terrorism by the actions we take to heal wherever we can the festering wounds that breed terrorism. Many of us are convinced that the same process will heal our own wounds.

Photo of woman in cathedral in Aparecida, Brazil by Sean Sprague, Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers

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