September the eleventh, 2001! A date in human history, when religious extremists used civilian aircraft to destroy the World Trade Centre in Manhattan and part of the Pentagon in Washington D.C.
The death and destruction wrought with callous and unconscionable violence, the cruel carnage of the innocent and the evil vested in the whole process, horrified and rocked not only the United States of America, but the rest of the world as well. We were seared and sickened by those images and reports, because wherever we may be, we are bonded by our fragile humanity, the same human stuff. And we know that nothing, nothing, nothing can justify such acts.
From an event of such a terrible order, people and governments have to decide what will flow. It will not be enough to find out who was behind the outrage and devastation, and to destroy them and their global networks. It will not be enough to grieve and to recall the heroism of ordinary men and women who stood tall in the hour of trial, and to perpetuate their memory in some way. It will not be enough to pray for the souls of the dead or all those affected by the events of that day. It will not be enough to rebuild or strengthen the same edifices of security and success, and to return tomorrow to business as usual.
If no more than these are done, the world will be back to square one. Acts of terrorism will be repeated again and again, as long as their underlying causes are not dealt with justly. Lessons that that fateful day might have to offer must be painstakingly sought, and learned, if any good is to come out of that hellish happening.
Those who were hurt and violated by those events must take care not to allow themselves to become blinded and debased by xenophobia, jingoism, hatred or the desire for revenge. These cannot free or heal the human heart.
Secondly, it needs to recognised that the time has come, indeed it has been brought forward, for the world to take stock, and to decide whether or not to go much further, and to begin to exorcise not only the demon which terrorism is, but also its many attendant spirits.
So, while the question, “Who did it?” must be answered, there are other important questions that should not be ducked. Why target the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon? Why were they, whom we would see as madmen and fanatics, willing to stifle conscience and decency, to murder the innocent and throw away their own lives in the process? Why?
We acknowledge that terrorism is the resort of those with little clout in world and national fora, and of the disenchanted to whom the future is a blind alley. Many who turn to such methods are victims or witnesses of suffering and outrage themselves, and in their idealism or desire for revenge are ready recruits for those, who for some ideological or religious reason want to make a political point or to destroy what they regard as anathema?
Whoever planned the attack of September the 11th did so meticulously, and chose as their prime targets the symbols of power, pride and privilege which support and safeguard an inequitous world economy, and without which it would collapse. Those targets could well have symbolised a wider fanaticism, so entrenched and so all-encompassing, that all of us are steeped in it and accept it as the norm. And so, through violence and suicide, the alienated and the desperate probed and exposed the weakness and vulnerability of the strong.
The attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon were very much assaults upon the temples of Mammon and Mars which they symbolised, where priests of the world’s business and financial elite, worship and perform the rituals which enable the latter to make the world their oyster, to be prised open and plucked at will, regardless of others’ hurt and privation; where the rules of international trade are drawn up, where the prices of commodities are determined, and currencies speculated in. Could not these targets have symbolised also the well-heeled decadence of the wealthy and the powerful, flaunted brazenly and uncaringly in the face of those who hunger and thirst for something more, and who have long been brushed aside; or symbolise, by biblical analogy, the insensitivity of the rich self-centred Dives to the plight of the beggar Lazarus who lay at his gate? Are these to be dismissed as skewed perceptions and sick thoughts? Are they really off the mark?
The pain of the 11th of September, 2001, will never be forgotten. Nor should it be allowed to go to waste, as it would if the response to it is one that sets the social and economic and political status quo in even harder concrete. It will not have been in vain if that tragedy treated as a catalyst, impelling us to re-examine our values and our practices in the name of justice and compassion and our common humanity. It would not have been in vain if it makes us ask how the global socio-politico-economic system, which is driven by the quest for power and predatory profit-seeking in the open market, should and could be redesigned so that people are placed before profit, where all are respected, and the worth of the human soul is recognised?
I see this as Kairos time, God-given time for decision, for seeking fresh direction, and for a new beginning. It is the time for profound conversion at all levels of personal and societal being. To recognise this and to do something about it, we need to pray for the grace and the mercy of God, Who alone is Light in the deepening darkness; Who alone can bring and good out of evil, because we cannot.
Now is the time for a second Exodus: from the fleshpots of greed, consumerism and hedonism, from our cosy liaison with Mammon, and from our trust in the methods of Mars. Now is the time to set our hearts unswervingly on the things of God and on the values of His Kingdom of Love, the “New Jerusalem”. To do this we must walk sincerely, humbly and closely with our God. This is the fundamental and glorious challenge of the 21st century and of the new millennium.
So, where and how do we begin? We have to pray about it, think about it, talk about it. But we had better start now. There’s such little time to waste.