The war against the terrorists who turned planes into bombs has moved from rhetoric to rockets. No doubt many among us will feel some sense of satisfaction, a catharsis. Some may even see the military action as a cause for rejoicing. It isn’t.
The popular political support for the military strikes should not be misunderstood; few Americans want to see innocent civilians suffer and die as retribution for the acts of the few fanatics.
I’m not alone in feeling a deep, soul-wrenching second wave of sadness and sobriety. Of course I’m fired with frustration and incensed–I want the terrorists taken out, as the euphemism puts it, just the way I would want a malignant tumor removed before it spreads throughout my body.
While the missiles, bombs and bullets have popular support, I’m simply afraid that this military action will be counterproductive in the long run–and a war against terrorism, as opposed to a war against Osama bin Laden, will outlive all of us as well as all of them. There’s no quick fix.
This new war is more complicated than any in which our country has been engaged. It has a religious aroma. It stinks to high heaven, to turn the religious fanatics’ language back onto them. They want to make it an old-fashioned crusade, and I’m afraid our well-intentioned leaders may just accommodate them. That’s the shame of it. It’s not about religion- it’s about fanaticism.
The terrorists happen to be Muslims, but they do not represent Islam, any more than Timothy McVeigh represented Christianity. The fanatical terrorists are perfect examples of what the famous psychologist William James called sick-minded religion. They give Islam a bad name, and by extension they give religion itself a bad name.
Their deep-seated hatred was implanted in them systematically; that it was put into them in the name of God makes it all the more reprehensible. Their sick-minded belief that their suicidal acts of murder will give them a one-way ticket to paradise makes all sensitive clergy shrink in shame. They committed heinous acts against civilization itself, against the best in all the religions.
Their lack of a rational grounding makes it impossible to deal with them without falling into their trap. “Kill me,” they say, “please send me to paradise as a hero, a martyr.” They are not soldiers in a war, they are thugs on a murderous rampage. They are lost, sick souls like the mythological Cain of old.
Yes, we have to go after the terrorists, but we also have to dig into the root causes of their homicidal, suicidal pathology. We have to be willing to look at ourselves so we can understand them and ourselves better. Remember the line in America the Beautiful that says, “God mend thine every flaw, confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law!”
What do you think Katherine Lee Bates had in mind when she wrote her famous poem? She had climbed Pike’s Peak. She saw the ‘spacious skies’ and ‘purple mountain majesties.’ She also had a romantic relationship with another woman named Katherine with whom she shared her life until her partner’s death in 1915, when love between lesbians had to remain in the closet. Wasn’t homophobia a flaw, like racism, sexism and economic injustice? Aren’t each of these flaws we still have to mend?
We need to make a sober, systematic reappraisal of our policies, domestic as well as foreign, not because the terrorists say so, but because we need to mend our every flaw. May we as a religious community find ways to work together for peace and justice during this difficult time. May we find ways to join in our efforts with our sisters and brothers who practice Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and so forth–or who have no particular religious affiliation, but who have goodness in their hearts. There’s work to be done. It is our work–the sacred work that brings us together in a global cause for life on Earth.