Ten years later

September 14, 2011 | Editorial | Number 18
Dick Benner | Editor/Publisher

The question isn’t, “Has our world changed since that fateful day of Sept. 11, 2001?” It is rather, “How have we changed 10 years after?”

As I write this, the air and print are filled with reflections on this anniversary date. The emotional wounds of the families of the fallen victims working at the World Trade Center on that tragic day are still raw, their losses still keenly felt. The violent and abrupt end of their loved ones is still overwhelming.

“Sometimes I feel I am asked to attend my mother’s funeral again and again, year after year,” writes a grieving daughter in an op-ed piece in our local newspaper. “I wonder what my mom, a clinical psychologist, would think of these memorials. Would she tell me to look back less and look ahead more? Would she remind me that the final stage of grief is acceptance and renewal?”

As I look around, though, we are not yet at that final stage. We are still in shell-shock, both Canadians and Americans, evidenced in many ways and on many levels by our fear of the perceived enemy. Many of us are taking our cue from the surrounding culture and slipping into a “season of vengeance that has been hard to shake,” as Theodore J. Wardlaw, professor at Austin (Tex.) Presbyterian Theological Seminary, puts it.

We have lost our sense of security and place, which may have been false in the first place. “Everything we knew about living in this world,” says Wardlaw, “our way of life, our place in the catbird seat, our sense of power, the truth of our causes—was running in panic, and still is. On that day it was our enemies, not us, who were singing and dancing for joy.”

As citizens of Caesar’s world, Mennonites are appalled at the fear-driven military expenditures in the name of “national security” in both North American countries, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper telling the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge that the greatest threat to Canada is still “Islamicism” (his term, not ours).

Still stuck in the conventions of outdated warfare, he and his military generals don’t seem to remember that the 9/11 bombers in New York City that day commandeered U.S. commercial airliners—that became weapons of mass destruction—and not a billion-dollar stealth bomber from enemy territory. The logic of fortressing our shores, 10 years after, with billions of dollars of taxpayer-funded military hardware is ludicrous, if not immoral and ineffective on all levels.

But far more important for us who believe in the reign of God, and who do not put our faith in nationalism, is the test of one of our most important beliefs: loving our enemies. Do we indeed still practise what Jesus asked us to do?

In his reflection on the effects of 9/11, John Paul Lederach, writing in a recent issue of Christian Century, says the question is inescapable: “How do we transform enmities?” “The faith I embrace,” he writes, “and the nonviolent transformation I am professionally committed to seeking both arise from the life and teachings of Jesus, who measures love in terms of how we respond to those who wish to harm us.”

Lederach, founder of the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University and professor of international peacebuilding at Notre Dame University, says that, “in settings of violent conflict, peacebuilding inhabits a liminal existence—it is the carving of a home for people whose lives are defined and held together by enmity.

“Peacebuilding chooses to build relationships and trust where pain and hatred run deep. The violent acts of Fall 2001 challenged the very core of this vocation: How do we pursue justice and love those who wish us harm?”

He then answers his own question: “The path of love starts with the simple yet unexpected act of engagement and befriending.”

Will we take up his challenge and purge our vocabulary and conversation of labels for those from the Middle East as “terrorists” and “Islamists,” as if they are not human or do not aspire to live in peace and tranquillity, free to rear their families and pursue satisfying work and professions, and to worship their God in their historic faith traditions?

Will we succumb to a continuing “season of vengeance” still so prevalent in our culture, or will we follow the example of Jesus, who ate with his enemies and went to their houses?

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