Living out Religion |
Yesterday twenty years ago America was attacked by terrorists. On a beautiful sunny September morning two airplanes deliberately flew into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre causing them to collapse. A third plane flew into the Pentagon and flight UA 93 disappeared from the radar. It later emerged that the passengers on this flight fought back against the hijackers. Their efforts prevented many more deaths.
The attacks were unusual in that they were witnessed by millions of people in real time. We saw fire fighters respond, we saw them as they made ready then risked their lives by going into the burning buildings. We saw the towers crash down on them and the wall of dust that flowed through the streets from the collapsing towers. We watched with horror as people held hands and jumped from the burning towers to their certain death.
That we witnessed the attack made it emotional and real. The reality of lost lives is reinforced as every time we hear the names of those killed read aloud. We hear their life stories and twenty years on we hear how their deaths continue to affect the lives of children not yet born when the parent died on 9/11.
In the wake of the attacks President George W. Bush addressed the American people he promised to avenge the attacks. This politician kept his promise. War was declared on terrorism and America led its allies in the Invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Bush promised to make American safe again and used the military might of the world’s most powerful country in pursuit of security.
While there is reality about what happened on 9/11 the aftermath of the attacks lacks this clarity. We know that Saddam Hussein was quickly overthrown. The weapons of mass destruction reported to be held by Iraq, whose existence was used to justify the invasion, proved to have been a rumour. We can only guess at the number of Iraqi civilians who died in the twenty years since 9/11. One estimate puts the number in excess of two hundred thousand. The number of American soldiers who died in Iraq is in excess of three thousand six hundred. The number injured and maimed can be counted in millions.
Just days ago all foreign soldiers left Afghanistan. (31st August 2021) President Biden’s stated reason for withdrawing troops is that during twenty years more than two and a half thousand American soldiers have died there and the Afghan war has cost America Three Trillion dollars.
Before the evacuation was completed the supposedly defeated Taliban took control of the entire country. The Taliban now patrols using American vehicles, wearing American uniforms, armed with American weapons. As ever there are no statistics for the numbers of Afghani deaths and injuries.
Seventeen terrorists committed the 9/11 attacks it is estimated that in 2001 there were about one hundred members of Al Queda. ISIS didn’t exist then. The gut reaction to being hurt is to retaliate but is retaliation the wisest course?
The Buddhist scripture the Dammapada is more than two and a half thousand years old. It says-
“Never does hatred cease by hating in return
Only through love can hatred come to an end.
Victory breeds hatred
The conquered dwell in sorrow and resentment
Let us overcome violence by gentleness
Let us overcome evil by good”.
Those seventeen young men that led the attacks on America were filled with hate. Their actions initiated a circle of retaliation and hatred that continues. Darkness cannot dispel darkness only light can dispel darkness. “Hating does not cease by hating in return; only through love can hatred come to an end”.
The 9/11 attacks took the lives of almost three thousand Americans. As a result of actions that followed the attacks more than six thousand American soldiers lost their lives, hundreds of thousands of civilians died; this grim tally does not include the physical and psychological injuries.
The world is a less safe place; 9/11 was followed by terrorist attacks in London, Madrid, Paris Nice, New Zealand, Germany the list goes on. British secret service reported on Friday that they had prevented six possible attacks. The 9/11 attackers died in the planes; retaliation had to be directed at people who were innocent.
There are other stories of 9/11 and its aftermath that are less familiar. The story of Balbir Singh Bodhi and Frank Roque is one such story. Balbir Singh Bodhi was a Sikh, a husband father and a successful businessman. Frank Roque was a petty criminal. On the 15th September Frank Roque went out to as he said “to shoot some towel heads” adding “we should kill their children as well”. He thought Balbir’s turban meant he was a Muslim and shot him. Twenty minutes later his shots narrowly missed a Lebanese American then he went on to shoot up the house the home of an Afghan family. Frank is serving a life sentence in gaol.
Balbir’s niece is Valerie Kaur; she is a lawyer and peace activist. Her motivation for peace work comes firstly because she wanted her country to be a safe place for her young son to grow up in. She is also motivated by a promise she made as a child to her Sikh grandfather. Her first encounter with racism was as a six year old in the playground when she was told to go back to her country. Her grandfather comforted her and made her promise that she would not fall into hatred but to follow the Sikh tradition and be warrior for peace. Valerie tries to keep that promise.
Since 9/11 incidence of hate crimes have increased year on year. Valerie often records interviews with people she meets through her work as a peace activist. Shortly after the funeral of Balbir Singh she recorded Balbir’s widow Juginder. Juginder’s first words were “I want to thank the three thousand people who came to my husband’s funeral”. Juginger felt the love of those people who didn’t know her or her husband but who showed their love in the only way they could- my attending his funeral. Every time Juginder hears accounts of deaths caused by hate she tells everyone who will listen to her “we have to love more”. At one family gathering she asked “who do we not yet love?” The answer to this question was of course Frank Roque.
On the 15th Anniversary of Balbir Singh’s death the family phoned Frank Roque in jail. One of the few freedoms prisoners have is the freedom to decide who they will meet and who they will talk to. Frank Roque spoke to Juginder. Early in the conversation he is defensive. Eventually he made the offhand comment “I’m sorry it happened”. Balbir’s Brother said “are you saying that you are sorry?” Roque replied “Yes I’m sorry for what happened when I meet your husband in heaven I will hug him and ask his forgiveness” The apology has given Balbir’s family peace. This peace took fifteen years to come into existence. Fifteen years of constantly taking small difficult steps on the road to love brought them to a good place.
Valerie Kaur works as a lawyer on behalf of the detainees in Gauntanamo Bay. These prisoners are the forgotten nameless tortured victims caught in the fallout from 9/11.
What if America had taken the path of reconciliation rather than the path of revenge? George Bush would have been accused of being “soft on terrorism” and probably not been re-elected. Six thousand American soldiers would be alive. Countless Iraqi and Afghanis would be alive. The list of what if’s is endless.
We come back to the words of the Dammapada:-
“Never does hatred cease by hating in return
Only through love can hatred come to an end”
We live with what is; not with what ifs and if only. We have work to do we have to be examples of love in action in our world. We can’t leave it to someone else making the world a better place is everyone’s responsibility.
I repeat the words of Lau Tzu from the service.
If there is to be peace in the world
There must be peace in the nations
If there is to be peace in the nations
There must be peace in the cities
If there is to be peace in the cities
There must be peace between neighbours
If there is to be peace between neighbours
There must be peace in the home
If there is to be peace in the home
There must be peace in the heart
When all the people of the world love
Then the strong will not overpower the weak.
The many will not oppress the few
The wealthy will not mock the poor
The honoured will not distain the humble
The cunning will not deceive the weak.
Let us cultivate peace
Peace for our selves
And peace for the world.
Rev.Bridget Spain September 2021
Minister Dublin Unitarian Church