Sunday, September 11, 2011

Some Thoughts on 9/11 and Right Remembering

So it has finally come. The tenth anniversary of the tragedies that befell our world on the morning of September 11, 2001. I think it is very appropriate that in the wake of this anniversary I am struggling with questions of justice, peace, and reconciliation. I think it is also appropriate that I am struggling with these questions inside a peace tradition juxtaposed to a wider society that does not hold the same convictions. For these things, I am happy.

However, 9/11, a scar that has healed for me, remains an open wound for those who were tied more directly to the bombings that took place on that day. Indeed, I was in a fourth grade history class when the news broke. I had never heard of the World Trade Center and nations outside my own were an incredibly vague concept to me, particularly the Middle East. And yet I felt like I wanted to punish these people for their crimes. It became easy for me to fear and to hate. It became easy for me to want vengeance.

But that was a short-lived phase. I am not a person who invests a lot of time or energy into things that do not directly affect me, and I certainly don’t invest nearly the amount of energy it takes to sustain a feeling of pure hatred. I grew more indifferent with each passing year.

Yet this incident still happened, and this is a reality that a lot of people who are indifferent do not acknowledge. We cannot ignore that the incident happened and had a profound effect on not only our nation but our world. The course of history has changed forever.

From my perspective, things did not change for the better. Exacting vengeance through war and hatred are not particularly welcoming thoughts and they are certainly not sustainable courses of action, as the recent economic recessions and increases in national debt have shown. Yet again, it is hard for a social body like the United States to forgive when three major buildings were severely damaged in this incident and (supposedly) a fourth target, the White House, was narrowly saved.

It would be easy for me to say from my standpoint that we should forgive, stop the hate machine, and pull our troops out of every conflict in which we are currently involved. But those are not practical sentiments. And if I want my voice to be heard in any way at all on this subject, I need to speak practically.

A few days ago I had the extreme pleasure of eating with a scholar from Qom, Iran, who was visiting the United States as a part of interreligious dialogue between Shiite Muslims and Mennonites (who knew?). As he prayed before our meal, I could not help but feel the deeply ingrained Islamophobia within me kicking in. I felt uneasy. I felt a bit of fear. Then I realized I was being incredibly insensitive, irrational, and hateful. I felt bad about this because I realized he was a human being too. In short, he broke every stereotype we propagate in the United States about Islamic culture. And even though I do not actively pursue animosity toward Muslims, my reaction goes to show first how deeply ingrained these habits of hatred are ingrained but also how hard they are to break without paying careful attention to them.

It is impossible to sustain an agenda of hate for other human beings. This is why we start to dehumanize. We begin a long process of social degradation and the grand sum of it is that we are able to kill them without remorse. We can strip them naked and pile their bodies up while smiling happily next to photos of them. We can tear down their statues and kick their faces and cheer while they are hung alone in a dark room. We can raid their house and shoot them in front of their wife and children.

But of course, these people are pure evil right? Fear doesn’t entire the minds of these sick, twisted people. Regret doesn’t begin to register in their minds. Surely, they could never possibly love anyone at all and their family was just a show! And so on.

On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I am going to make it my prayer not that we forget the actions that happened ten years ago but that we begin to tear down the sprouting seeds of hatred and replace them with forgiveness and repentance. May we begin to turn our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks for the next ten years. May we remember that the actions of a few do not represent the body of the whole. And may we remember that the capacity of the whole to do good outweighs the actions of a few. Let us find an opportunity for redemption in these sentiments. Let us begin the slow process of healing. Amen.