Perspective, or Can you remember when...?
On Wednesday the 12 of September I woke, as is my custom, to the morning radio news program here in Australia called - surprisingly enough - AM. As I headed for the shower I heard the presenter say "After the tragic events in the US...". I mentioned the announcement to my wife on my way still unaware as to what had happened. After I showered I noticed that my wife had turned on the TV. Now I have to mention here that the only morning news programmes on free to air TV in Australia are those obnoxious commercial magazine style programmes so I normally never watch morning TV. We also receive live feeds of some of the US versions at around midnight. As I came out of the bed room my wife mentioned that some planes had crashed into some buildings in the US. I watch the TV stunned as planes crashed into buildings and as the buildings subsequently fell to the ground. I spent the remainder of the day alternating between a state of shock reading theInternett reports and watching the news reports on the TV in our lunch room and of preoccupation with my work.
I have spent a lot of time since then meditating on the events of that day.
September the 11th is going to be one of those "Can you remember what you were doing when...?" events. The three most memorable to me being Martin Luther King Jr.'s death, Nixon's appearance on TV denying any knowledge of Watergate, John Lennon's murder, and Princess' Di's death. In Australia there is also the dismissal of the then Prime Minister, Gough Witlam, by the Governor General followed by that famous speech on the steps of parliament; "Well may we say 'God save the Queen', for nothing will save the Governor General." Of course there will always be personal variants of this list but for all westerners September the 11th has to be near the top.
However I would like to consider for a moment what qualified this as a candidate for a "Can you remember what you were doing when...?" event.
There were many statements by our leaders that this would change the world. My question is "How so?" Maybe the scale of the tragedy. Not real. There have been more people killed in other conflicts, going back to records of battles and conflicts for thousands of years. In comparison the Holocaust saw many more civilians killed by terrorist acts. After all what could be more terrorizing than to have an entire ethnic group taken away and slaughtered like so many cows with BSE. The British treated their cows better than the Nazis treated the Jews.
The first reason is relationship. Someone once said something like, (if you can remember the quote please email me) "One million people in China, equals one thousand people in the west, equals one hundred people in my country equals ten people in my city, equals one person in my street." We may not know anybody who died in the September the 11th incidents but they are like us. We identify with them and this makes them more significant to us.
The second reason is visibility. How many lives have been lost in the conflict in Ethiopia? It fails to even make it to the news reports now. How long before Zimbabwe becomes just another obscure African country to most of us? Cadet TV news journalists in Australia's national broadcaster, the ABC were once told that if they did not have good video not to even think about putting the story on TV news. They were told, "This is not radio with pictures." The pictures of the twin towers collapsing certainly made good news. I do not know how many different views I saw and how many photographs of grieving or dead people were broadcast. Now it arises that there is a complete documentary filmed by a crew who happen to be in the vicinity at the time. By any standard this is good copy.
The third is the malevolence. The concept that a handful of fanatical individuals could cause such destruction without regard to consequence for a misguided religious ideal. Although it seems not to be so much as religion as parochialism. Parochialism is the antithesis of true religion. Much false religion is driven by parochialism. It seems inconceivable to us as (we would like to think) reasonable, rational, right thinking individuals, that another person could undertake such an evil act with such planing and pre-meditation. It strikes at the center of our western way of life.
Final there is vulnerability. One of the chacteristics of the western lifestyle is our perception of our invulnerability. We have defeated disease, and where it is not defeated we have sent it off to large institutions to hide where we train people to hide it from us. We have defeated crime. At least where we have not managed to defeat it we hide it in large institutions where we train people to hide it from us. If somebody goes berserk with a gun we hide the guns in locked cabinets and hope the problem has gone away. Heaven forbid if we should actually attempt to deal with the source of the problem. We have defeated war. At least we have trained a lot of people in large institutions to deal with it for us and to protect our eyes and minds from the nasty bits. We do not mind seeing war on the media as long as the losers are other people. However this is not other people - this is us. This is not in Palestine or Israel, or Rwanda, or Ethiopia this is the heart of western civilisation, this is New York, this is the home of democracy, this is our big brother, the one that saved Europe - twice, the one that kept our oil flowing from the gulf, the one that saved the Kosovars. This is a strike at the very heart of our civilisation. So many things were represented by the targets. Our system of democracy, our artistic culture, our media and the freedoms that it represents, and our center of commerce. This was an enemy that caused deep wounds to the very heart of our civilisation.
The responses to this have been many. They range from the dignified and statesman like words of Tony Blair the British Prime Minister, to the fanatical rantings of the right wing reactionary rednecks whose response to the xenic is to set off a few nukes on foreign soil. May I however offer my opinion?
Step one is to forgive. We cannot begin to deal with the enormity of the issues involved without it. We cannot hope to make a difference - a real difference without a pure heart. I know, forgiveness is not an easy thing but it is a lot easier than vengeance and bitterness. Revenge feeds our enemies, but forgiveness strikes at the heart of what they are trying to achieve. To truly forgive is to free ourselves from the bondage that our enemies are trying to enslave us with.
Second, open our hearts. Be as concerned for the one in China as the one in our street. One of Jesus' disciples once asked him who his neighbour was. He picked the then most despised people to the Jew, the Samaritans. Read the story. Luke 10:25-37. He gives it a very interesting twist. Today it would be the Palestinian to the Jew, the Aborigine to the white Australian, the white Zimbabwean farmer to the veteran soldier. Who is your Samaritan and would you be willing to accept help, even love from him?
The then President Kennedy at his inaugural speech said "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." May I rephrase that. Ask not what you neighbour can do for you, ask what you can do for your neighbour. Your neighbour being the one you despise, the one you do not consider, the one you try to ignore in the street, the people that you try to avoid because they are just an embarrassment.
Am I then saying that we should not have gone to Afghanistan? Certainly not. There are the issues of justice and protection. Justice for the murder of thousands and the protection of those who have become or would be victims of the terrorists. But true justice is not to be alloyed with vengeance. Gold mixed with clay becomes base so does justice tainted by hatred.
We can learn from this. We have learnt from this. Wether that instruction leads to greater wisdom, compassion, understanding is up to us. We must make a decision. What decision have you made?