Sunday, September 11, 2011

Reflections on 9/11: Failing to recognize our commonality

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Our post-9/11 failures

For a moment, 10 years ago, the Sept.11 terrorist attacks threatened to unite the human family. So ghastly was the carnage that the whole world, even the most distant of relatives, rightfully clamored to condemn the perpetrators.

For a moment, the world stood still, stunned by the realization of what we all have in common, our humanity, and therefore our vulnerability and dependence on each other.

Of course, as we began to dry our eyes, the Trillion Dollar question was: What should we do? There were two fundamentally different contexts for the question. The one asked: What should we do, as a family, to heal our fractures, to reconcile with one another across borders and faiths, to ensure that such an outrage never happens again? The other asked: What should we, the most powerful nation on earth, do--militarily -- to ensure such an outrage does not happen again?

Depending on your approach to the question the answer either begged self-examination (What have we done wrong in terms of our relationships, and what should we do to bridge the divides that exist between us?), or an outward expression of force (I am the strongest child in the playground; whose butt should I kick?).

You could either say that the criminals must be brought to justice (the necessary jurisprudence exists) while the human family undergoes collective psychotherapy, or you could teach the bad guys a lesson.

For a moment it seemed that the Unites States was taking the introspective option. We prayed it would be so. Then it invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. I don’t want to dwell on these wars. The people of the U.S., Iraq and Afghanistan have paid a very heavy price. It suffices to say that the U.S. owes the world an apology -- at the very least -- for lying about the existence of so-called weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

But that is not the worst of it. If it were possible for anything to be more devastating than the unnecessary deaths that have accrued over the past 10 years, I would argue that the damage that has been done to global relations between the so-called Judeo-Christian and Muslim worlds must be a candidate.

The 9/11 attackers were labelled “Muslim terrorists” and evil personified was given a Muslim face. We were told that these Muslim terrorists were aided and abetted by Muslim countries. Clearly, this logic went, Muslims were not to be trusted. The West developed special security procedures and sophisticated software to identify and track Muslims. Adherents of the Muslim faith were harassed and humiliated across the world. It was the computer-age equivalent of the Nazis daubing yellow Stars of David on the doors of Jewish homes.

If these were “Muslim terrorists,” why did we not label the Oklahoma bomber a Christian Terrorist? Why did we not label members of the Irish Republican Army Christian Terrorists? The people responsible for the genocide of Bosnian Muslims were not labelled Christian fundamentalists, and nor are members of the Ku Klux Klan.

The simple truth that we all know is that there are many good Jews out there and some bad ones, many good Christians and some bad ones, good Hindus and bad Hindus, good Buddhists and bad Buddhists, good Muslims and bad Muslims. That’s the human condition. All of us have our fair share of frailties and imperfections.

There is no religion I am aware of that propagates violence, yet many are they who commit violent acts in the name of religion - and who falsely justify cruelty as something that is sanctioned by God. As Kofi Annan so eloquently put it, the problem is not with the faith but with the faithful.

We may be differently pigmented, have different facial features, speak different languages and worship in different temples. But we know that we can successfully transplant the heart of a member of the Christian faith into the body of a Hindu patient, or a Jewish accident victim’s kidney into a Muslim.

We failed the biggest test posed by the 9/11 outrage: In our anger and dismay we failed to recognize our common humanity, that we are made for love and that acts such as those committed on that day are an aberration.

When we looked at the terrorists we did not see ourselves, we did not consider how our actions and posturing in the world may have contributed to the crime. No. We saw “others,” and we demonized them.

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