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Calling 9-11: America and Iraq
9 September 2002
This week, PBS is showing a documentary, "Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero," that examines how America's faith has been challenged by the terrorist attacks on our country a year ago. It asks, "Where was God on September 11?"
Living in Iraq right now, trying to stop this war, I find myself with questions of my own. I wonder whether my fellow Americans really believe they are the only real people on this planet - or whether they just act that way?
I was in New York City on September 11, and everything I saw, and everything I felt, only reaffirmed my faith. I saw grief everywhere I looked, and I saw courage in the face of that grief. I saw Americans, suffering under terrible tragedy, come together to try and overcome our terror. I felt a spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood, from people who I had feared would look at me, a Muslim, as "the enemy." The fears I have of our fast approaching war with Iraq were born, in no small part, on September 11. But what hope I have that we will overcome those fears, and stop this war, also comes from that day.
There is something passing for a debate, raging in our country today, that attempts to segregate war between those that believe it will be easy, and those that believe it will be hard; between those who fear it will cost too much, and those who fear no cost could be enough. There must be other voices. We have to stop discussing the practicality of war - because that discussion prevents us from discussing the morality of it.
How comfortable would we be about a discussion in the Middle-East about the practicality of bombing U.S. cities and killing thousands of Americans, in order to oppose U.S. foreign policy, or protect Arabs from the threat of further attacks? September 11 tells us.
How comfortable would we be if Iraqi warplanes flew over our skies, bombing our cities and towns every few days, over 12 long years - with absolute impunity? September 11 tells us.
How comfortable could we be if Iraq had thousands of nuclear bombs, chemical and biological weapons, the most powerful military in the world, and was threatening us with destruction if we didn't do whatever they wanted us to do? September 11 tells us.
The sign at the memorial in Union Park last year that stands out in my mind more than any other simply read, "We don't want this to happen to anyone else ever again." It does happen, all the time, all over the world. It happens here, in Iraq, every day.
It happens when U.S. warplanes accidentally bomb civilians, over and over again. Our defense is "self-defense" - we bomb every time Iraqis challenge our right to control their skies.
It happens when uncounted Iraqi children starve to death, every day, because our bombings and sanctions have deprived them of adequate income, adequate food, and access to safe drinking water. According to UNICEF and the Red Cross, among others, hundreds of thousands of children here have died because of U.S. actions against Iraq over the last 12 years. That's a children's 9-11 every month - 250 skyscrapers filled with babies and toddlers, crashing to the ground. Are these innocents any less real than those killed in New York and Washington last year?
Does the use of chemical weapons by Iraq's government in order to achieve military and political goals during a war 17 years ago justify the slaughter of innocents today? Does their government's failure today to meet our conditions for disarmament justify the slaughter of innocents? Before we answer, we should ask whether we believe Hiroshima or Nagasaki, or the thousands of atomic bombs we maintain to this day, justified September 11. If the failure of the Iraqi people to establish a non-violent government requires their destruction, then does our failure to do the same thing require ours?
Someday Iraq might terrorize America, but today America terrorizes Iraq. The people who will die here when we start our war are just as real as those killed on September 11. Their grief is just as strong. Their anger is just as righteous.
I don't know why God allows atrocities to occur, but then I don't understand why we commit them in the first place, and I think that should be where the questioning starts. If there was a purpose to September 11, we won't realize it until we start seeing the rest of humanity as we see ourselves.
That challenge is where faith begins, and the failure to realize it is where faith dies, for the only place we can possibly wage war against inhumanity is in our own hearts.