Now the dust has settled
J John writes about how christians should respond and commemorate the attacks on the World Trade Centre on September 11th 2001.
J John writes that just as the world gathered to pray to God on the days surrounding the event itself, so should christians today continue to prayer for God's peace, particularly on those friends and families who still carry around the affects of great sadness and loss.
J John writes...
On the 11th September 2001, the world stood in shock as 3,042 lives were tragically lost by violent attacks. The world gathered in prayer to God with indescribable sadness and groaning. We continue to pray today for God’s peace on all the families and friends who are still affected by their loss.
The world will not soon forget the clouds of dust and ash billowing out from the Twin Towers. The ember fog symbolizes the days that followed 9/11 as much was said and written that, in some respects, obscured the truth. Now, a decade later, perhaps the dust has cleared enough for us to see more clearly the significance of what happened. Here are some observations that arise out of the rubble:
1) The strength and complexity of evil
Few dispute that these violent acts were evil done by evil men. However, much more can and should be said of evil itself. Explaining evil is complex, as its far reaching tentacles breed and spread like a web or a virulent fungus. Sadly, reactions to evil often end up encouraging new forms of evil. 9/11 is a case in point. The evil of that day did not hide away but instead has since mutated and proliferated into new manifestations.
One product of 9/11 was the ‘war on terror’ which, whatever its initial justification, soon resulted in America, initially acknowledged as victim, becoming widely perceived as villain. Our ‘surveillance society,’ gripped by fear, generated a climate , which any authoritarian action – arresting photographers or deporting undesirables – can be justified with the words ‘in the interests of national security’.
Another unexpected result, at least in the UK, was a deliberate attempt by the political powers to reshape the cultural landscape. Faced with questions about Islam, there is, we are told, ‘authentic, moderate Islam’ based around mosques and imams sympathetic to the Western system; and its heretical counterpart, ‘radical Islam’ influenced by Al Qaeda. Muslims of the first type were approved by the state; the second, condemned and persecuted. This decision raises problems. First, it is an extraordinarily simplistic analysis. Second, it represents an astonishingly unwise intervention of a modern secular state into theological issues. Practically, the result has been that the so-called authentic Islam has acquired almost ‘favoured religion status’. This effect has troubled other faith groups, who feel marginalised by not being granted such a position in the socio-political discourse.
2) The weakness of Western secular culture
These stunning events brutally and humbly reminded those who considered themselves responsible for world affairs that their mastery of events was astonishingly shallow. Yet the damage went even deeper. It is hard to believe now but before 9/11 politicians and philosophers were considering whether we faced ‘the end of history’ and were discussing whether Western liberal democracy was the ‘final form of human government.’Prior to 9/11, the business arena, highlighted globalisation and of the opening up of the entire world for capitalism, business, and profit. Intellectuals and investors alike crafted a global script for the new millennium. Unfortunately, Al Qaeda disagreed and demonstrated in a horrific action that they held a radically (or dramatically) different vision of the future. The fact that the most iconic event of 9/11 was the toppling of the World Trade Centre was a stark reminder that for Al Qaeda, consumerism and trade is not the end goal.
It has become increasingly evident that secular culture lacks adequate depth and strength to counter a radical, aggressive Islam. The atheistic and agnostic worldviews prevalent in the West lack the moral authority of religion. The popularity of secular culture stems from the apparent freedom it offers. However, the weakness of the humanistic atheistic argument was revealed, in a London advertising campaign, when the best slogan they could develop was ‘There's probably no God... now stop worrying and enjoy your life.’
The reality is that secular humanism finds itself with no mechanism to handle (or confront) any faith which believes in something or someone beyond the here and now. Faced with fervent belief systems, secularism struggles for words. Preoccupied with selfish gain and living for the present with little thought of life after death, secular humanism is utterly submerged by people whose beliefs allow them to choose death.
3) The challenges
In the presence of so much that is evil it would be comforting to be able to end with a thoroughly upbeat assessment. Yet I do not find that this can be done. What I can say is that in the last ten years I think challenges have been revealed that demand a response:
• To a renewed seriousness
There has always been a temptation for people to shun serious issues and preoccupy themselves with issues of personal fulfilment. I think we can see in 9/11 a reminder that the world is not a tranquil, permanently sunlit place of joy, but a troubled scene in which a bitter struggle rages. Our world is not so much a playground as a battleground. I believe that people need to accept this realistic view of the world. Some people have seen 9/11 as a declaration of war between cultures. We should, however, see it as something else, a reminder of the deep reality that we are all engaged in a constant and painful battle between good and evil. As St. Paul said, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)
• To learn from our mistakes
When we look at the tragic events of 9/11 we cannot avoid recognising that the West played a part in sowing the seed of that terrible day. We in the West, found it all too convenient to turn a blind eye to the injustices present in the Middle East and to the unholy alliances that our governments made for the sake of national prosperity. We knew this was an area we neglected and in 9/11 there was the sound of chickens coming home to roost. We need to turn afresh to these Middle Eastern regions, people groups and the complex issues of international dialogue and engagement. Some people find the implications of 9/11 terrifying, seeing it as a sign of a world out of control. This kind of fear is unpleasant at best and potentially dangerous. Fear makes it impossible to love and to hope, However, the Christian faith affirms that perfect love banishes fear. As followers of Jesus Christ, the perfect embodiment of love, we have the opportunity to reach out to our fellow Muslims, human secularists, atheists, agnostics, encouraging the respect, dignity, and care of all fellow human beings. We can come in the name of Jesus Christ and seek peace in the world, working to cast out all fear as we “love our neighbors as ourselves.”