Monday, April 25, 2005

Be Not Afraid

Chapter 7 of Jim Wallis' book, God's Politics, is entitled "Be Not Afraid; A Moral Response to Terrorism." Before commenting on this chapter, let me offer some current news, to put the discussion of terrorism in perspective.

From the Seattle Times;

The State Department decided to stop publishing an annual report on international terrorism after the government's top terrorism center concluded that there were more terrorist attacks in 2004 than in any year since 1985, the first year the publication covered...

...According to Johnson and U.S. intelligence officials, statistics that the National Counterterrorism Center provided to the State Department reported 625 "significant" terrorist attacks in 2004. That compared with 175 such incidents in 2003, the highest number in two decades.

The statistics didn't include attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, which President Bush as recently as Tuesday called "a central front in the war on terror"...
Over three times as many terrorist attacks in 2004 compared to 2003, and this is not counting any of the attacks in Iraq. Interestingly, some 300 of these attacks were carried out by extremists supported by Pakistan, who is supposed to be an ally in Bush's "war on terror."

Keeping that news item in mind, let's take a look at chapter 7. Wallis begins by suggesting that we were all terrified by 9/11, and that we still are. He claims the war in Iraq was justified by fear. He quotes Thomas Merton; "The root of war is fear."

If only it were that simple. There's no question that the fear card was played to argue for the invasion of Iraq. But I don't think fear was the primary motivation; nor has fear by the primary driving force behind the wars of the past. Greed, a lust for power, nationalism fueled by ideology and revenge are just some of the motives that can cause one nation to attack another. Some would suggest, and I would tend to agree with them, that these motives were involved in that attack of 9/11 and the decision by the current administration to invade Iraq. Fear was a tool used to try to rally public support for an invasion that was a form of terrorism itself; one that has caused the death of thousands of innocent civilians. When evil is used to fight evil, one can anticipate an evil result.

This administration has done everything possible to keep the public's fear of another attack at as high a level as possible. Why? As Wallis tells us;

...fear can cause us to give up important things, to accept other things that violates our own best values, and even do terrible things to other people. Fear has led us into a new foreign policy based on preemptive and potentially endless wars - which are not likely to remove our fears and could likely make the dangers we face even worse...
The dramatic increase in terrorist attacks suggests that Wallis is right.

Wallis affirms the need for us to bring to justice the few thousand people who are involved in terrorist attacks, but he cautions that our response "must not inflame and infuriate the tens of millions more in the Arab world (and elsewhere)..."

Wallis suggests that the religious community, which exists as an international rather than American community, might be helpful in the essential work of self-criticism and repentance that must be done. The reasons why Americans are so deeply hated in some parts of the world, and not trusted in most of the rest, need to be confronted. Here are just a few that Wallis identifies;

The truth that most of the world knows is that the US government has far too often supported military dictators in Latin and Central America, Asia and Africa who have murdered as many or more innocent people as Saddam Hussein. The truth is that the United States has not been an honest broker for Middle East peace and has not sought the proper balance between Israeli security and Palestinian human rights. The truth is that American and Western appetites for oil have led to a corrupt relationship with despicable Arab regimes. The truth is that the United States sits atop and is leader of a global economy in which half of God's children still live on less than two dollars a day, and the United States will be blamed around the world for the structures on injustice that such a global economy daily enforces. To speak these truths is very hard, sometimes especially in American middle-class congregations, but speaking hard truths is part of the prophetic religious vocation.
To engage in this essential work of self-examination, Wallis notes three things that are important to keep in mind;

1. When "telling the truth," it is important to not imply that America "deserved" what happened on 9/11. Nothing justifies terrorism.

2. Terrorists are not "freedom fighters who went too far." Osama bin Laden wants to create more oppression, not liberation, as evidenced by the Taliban.

3. Global injustice is not the cause of all terrorism. Such fanaticism is often more ideologically driven. Global justice is a part of the solution, as poverty creates an environment in which such fanatics may find recruits, but solving those problems will not eliminate the violent acts. Justice issues cannot be used as a negotiating tool when dealing with terrorists.

On the first anniversary of 9/11, Wallis wrote an article entitled "Ten Lessons to Defeat Terrorism." Here are the introductory statements for his ten lessons;

1. Treat the threat of terrorism as very real.
2. Avoid bad theology.
3. Listen to the different perceptions of Sept. 11 around the world.
4. Let's define terrorism the right way, and allow no double standards.
5. Attack not only the symptoms, but also the root causes of terrorism.
6. The solutions to terrorism are not primarily military.
7. It is time to move on beyond the debates of pacifism vs. just war...
8. It is time to end the unilateral action by any nation...
9. This is not a time for peace loving, but peacemaking...
10 The fight against terrorism is a spiritual struggle, not just a political one.

Wallis is quite adamant that the way the "war on terrorism" is being carried out is a big mistake. I think we have just started to see the signs that he's right.

The religious community needs to take the lead in self-examination and repentance. That is the only way towards reconciliation. Is such a unilateral call for repentance unAmerican? Only if you see this as a struggle between good and evil, with America in the role of the good guys. To thwart this dangerous self identification calls for humility; a recognition of the ways we have fallen short of the mark.

We have no control over what others do. The way of reconciliation and peacemaking has to begin with us. If we, as people of faith, do not begin to point to this way through our actions, who will? This way may be costly, but, as Wallis tells us, "the alternatives are both impractical and frightening."

Links to discussions of previous chapters of Wallis' book can be found here.


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