Foundations for Peace
Seventh in the Making Peace series
The Terror Within
Copyright © 2001 Dorian Scott Cole
The day following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, I attended a prayer meeting, my face and my spirit heavy and glum with the events of the last two days. The brightest moment of the day was when I walked in the door and a young person gave me a program and a smile. Her smile warmed me and made me realize that in this darkness, a smile radiates our peace and love, and although the situation is grave we have much to smile about, not the least of which is our nations young, and each of us can at least share a smile with each other.
Like the image of the explosion of the Challenger, which I also saw on TV as it happened, many images of this terrorist action have indelibly impressed themselves on my mind. I grow sicker each time I see one of the planes fly into a tower. It is this image that speaks to me of the capabilities of just one person, a terrorist or some other person filled with anger, to too easily strike at our might and all that we stand for and create.
The second image which will remain with me forever, touches me in a very different way, very personally and deeply. It is an image of a man on one of the top floors leaning out. I don't know who the man was or specifically what his purpose was. I grieve for him and his family. Many jumped to avoid the flames. Most of us have a natural protective reaction plus hold our lives to be so precious that we would be very frightened to lean out away from a tall building. Perhaps he was desperately looking for help. Perhaps he paused for that moment to make his peace with God. Perhaps he was holding onto his last moments of life, however terrifying, thinking of his wife and children, waiting until the last possible moment to do what he had to do. But of one thing I am sure, the terror inside the building was more persuasive than the terror of premature death.
It is the terror within the "building" of our world that we now must resolve, to survive.
Whatever message the terrorists were trying to send, their voices were lost in the outrage over an unconscionable action that is not an acceptable way to accomplish anything in a civilized world. We are left with nothing to do but eliminate the threat of terrorism, because very little can be accomplished to address terrorist's legitimate concerns when we are all preoccupied with the defense of our own safety. The terrorists have shown that they lack conscience and respect for human life, and employed their power too extremely, hoping to dominate others and force their will, and have forfeited the power of any terrorist to be heard or to even communicate a credible message.
This was a wake-up call to the US equivalent to Pearl Harbor, and is a wake-up call to the entire world about the destruction that can be inflicted by terrorists on every government or citizen that doesn't bow to terrorist's will. This is yet another polarizing issue. It is not possible to stand for good without making enemies. It is so far not possible for countries to align for mutual benefit and defense, without making some enemies. We can do better. But those leaders and countries that can't understand that the rest of the world believes that Godliness within us, and civilization, work for good in people and governments, not for destruction and evil, and that in any way contributing to those who work for the destruction of others must be resisted at all costs - those countries have probably signed a warrant against their own well-being. This is also their wake-up call to align themselves with civilization and work within acceptable ways to express their needs and discontent.
We live in a difficult age in which we all must struggle with our conscience about how we deal with other people and the repercussions. The US has considerable experience with understanding how people within its own society can be pushed to pick up a weapon and begin killing the people who are symbols of their frustration, pain, and hatred. Independent militia have done it. Disgruntled employees have done it. We have even witnessed the horror of school children who, desperate over their treatment by others, have taken weapons to school and killed those who are symbols of their mistreatment or problems. None of us can responsibly live within civilization without giving due regard to those whom we either mistreat, or on whom our actions can have a negative effect. Frustration and anger seem to eventually overwhelm the conscience of some who are affected by the worst of our intentions. The result is our own destruction. We must "do justice." And we must make sure that every person on earth understands how to resolve conflict peacefully.
We live in an age when differences must be embraced, not shoved aside. When Saddam attacked Kuwait and the militaries of the entire world threatened Iraq, I remember the faces of the Iraqi people on the streets of Iraq, gentle people who regarded themselves as citizens of the greater modern world community, incredulous that events created by their government could be taking them into a conflict of such magnitude. There are people in all nations who are full of hate and will rejoice when they see pain inflicted on their perceived enemies. But I have met many from Iraq and Iran in the US, just as I lived for two years with the people of Morocco, all largely Muslim countries, and I can say that any person who believes that the citizens of any nation collectively have values much different than any of us or want to inflict damage on us, is na´ve and deluded.
We live in a world where political motivation takes many forms. There are strong movements in some Islamic countries whose rhetoric incites many against the US, anti US sentiment is fanned by striking blows at an imaginary Satan (the convenient US), and the US presence on Islamic soil allows these movements to cite the US as a religious enemy for political purposes, similar to the white supremicist and militia movements within the US. Once political goals have been achieved the rhetoric dies down. Are Osama bin Laden's political goals any different from Sadam Hussein's and Ayatollah Khomeini's? It is unfortunate that the US must make relationships with these countries and then is held hostage to the political aspirations within these countries where there are legitimate issues and no democratic means for resolving them. Countering terrorism requires delicate diplomacy to prevent the US from being further demonized. We can't allow this present US tragedy to blind us to the politics of the MidEast and cause a separation between us - we live in a world and nation whose complexion is diversity. Separation is neither warranted nor beneficial, and unwarranted and imprudent violence would lower us to the ranks of terrorists.
The images of this tragedy are indelibly burned into our minds. We will never forget them. We must consider these events and respond to them. They will fuel our determination to end the threat of terrorism, and hopefully fuel our courage to reconsider the perceptions generated by our actions and create a more just world. Conflicts are inevitable and even desirable for growth, but we must learn how to deal with them without violence.
But in considering these grave events and issues, we must keep our own sense of morality and balance, and avoid responding as barbarians. I embrace the people of all nations and the work of all religions on this Web site, often quoting many of them, but will now share some of my own faith about remaining strong and balanced in the face of adversity.
The Apostle Paul in ancient times spoke to the relatively new church at Philippi about anxiety. Paul himself was writing from inside a jail where he awaited trial for spreading Christianity, and the outcome was likely to be his execution in the ancient Roman style, that is, being nailed to a tree and left to die. In his letter he mentioned his own anxiety. But did it stop Paul? No, in the face of personal terror, Paul was able to continue with his work, writing inspirational letters to his communities of believers and trying to convert the Roman guards so that they would continue to spread Christianity throughout the Roman world.
Anxiety captures our hearts and minds and won't let us think about or do anything else, making us respond without heart or mind. Paul told them that if they can get rid of that anxiety, then the peace of God will be with them. How do they get rid of it? To think about worthy things. He listed them: whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things and the peace of God will be in your hearts and minds.
If nothing else, think about the promise of the innocent smiling faces of the youth in all nations.
U B Peace
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