Terrorism, not a very spiritual topic. I wonder how many people stayed home. Yet, terrorism looms around us, one of those unspoken elephants in our lives. Do you wonder, like I do, when I get on an airplane, if something might happen? The terrorism of 9/11, after all, didn’t happen just once. Those scenes of the twin towers exploding happened hundreds of times, over and over again on television. We drew together as a nation and other nations gathered around us. That was the time of a great missed opportunity. Perhaps we weren’t comfortable being on the receiving end of help. I saw that in Japan after the Kobe earthquake. Thousands of people were trapped under buildings. The U.S. Army offered to come in and help and the Japanese refused—because they didn’t want to be more obligated to the United States government. That was a pivotal time for Japan and the only time I have seen Japanese citizens become very angry at their government.
In this country, instead of seeing the terrorism in the diversity of the victims—as an attack that killed citizens of more than 90 countries. The majority of the dead were Americans, though, and our instinct as a country was to band together and fly flags on our cars. It also instigated/justified wars and the death tolls kept climbing.
In Robert A. Pape’s book Dying to Win, the author writes that the purpose of suicide terrorism is to get occupying powers out of the countries that they are occupying. Suicide bombers are effective when they attack democratic countries because the people of that country can begin to rally and urge their governments to stop being part or all of the occupying force.
When part of the purpose of occupation is to change the culture then we are occupiers. People don’t want us to change their culture—and the attitude that everyone should have our culture is simply not true.
In Hong Kong, Lou and I were walking in a market when a tour disembarked from a cruise ship—or bus—I can’t remember which. What I do remember is an American woman who went up to a girl and said, I bet you’d like to go home with me.”
At medical conferences in Japan where I was working as a translator, I heard American scientists make fun of the accents of Japanese scientists speaking English. Before I could say anything, an Indian American doctor countered, “I wonder how you would do if you had to do your presentation in Japanese?!”
When we decide that the religion or the culture is the problem then we become occupiers who are like colonizers—who are called Crusaders by the people of the country we occupy.
In a militaristic extreme way, we are —especially we begin trying to make change that will make another country more like ours. How would you like that here?
The photographs of Abu Ghraib show what we have been sowing in Iraq. Those images of cruelty and disrespect wrought by our soldiers are overlaid by beheadings by ISIS. This is what we are sowing in the world.
In a trip to Istanbul, we met a man who was a Byzantine Christian meaning that his family descended from the Christians at the time of Constantine in the 4th century. He recounted as if it had happened yesterday, the sack of Constantinople in 1204 when Christian Crusaders killed Byzantine Christians. “Blood flowed in the streets,” he said.
The suicide terrorists call the American and allied armies the Crusader army. History continues. The crusader army wished not only to recapture land, it aimed at converting its people. We so easily believe that people want to be like us. And, I believe that is part of the reason why our occupation (which appears to us as helping) becomes unbearable to people proud of their countries and their culture.
It is a challenge to be proud of who we are and to respect the differences of others. Healthy curiosity is often a hidden element that can change everything. At our worship planning meeting, we spoke of having an Interfaith summer. I think it would be wonderful to ask people of different religions to speak to us and be curious as to why, for example, they might cover their hair or only eat animals killed in a certain way.
We reap what we sow. My first year in Salt Lake, I was asked to write some op-eds around torture and the increasing cruelty of Guantanamo Bay. To write those articles I had to read 600 pages of documents about how we have demeaned and tortured mostly Muslims since 9/11. That was a difficult week. We have brought cruelty that is coming back to us.
Another fact of our life on this planet is that no matter how many times our lives are saved, we will die. Terrorist attacks, like airplane crashes are frightening and they are highly unlikely.
A NY Times article clarified: If you are worried that ISIS might strike the United States and want to prevent the loss of American lives, consider urging Congress to invest in diabetes and Alzheimer’s research.
Terrorism is effective in doing what its name says: inspiring profound fear. But despite unremitting coverage of the Paris attacks, an objective examination of the facts shows that terrorism is an insignificant danger to the vast majority of people in the West.
You, your family members, your friends, and your community are all significantly more at risk from a host of threats that we usually ignore than from terrorism. For instance, while the Paris attacks left some 130 people dead, roughly three times that number of French citizens died on that same day from cancer.
In the United States, an individual’s likelihood of being hurt or killed by a terrorist (whether an Islamist radical or some other variety) is negligible.
Consider, for instance, that since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Americans have been no more likely to die at the hands of terrorists than being crushed to death by unstable televisions and furniture.
We are encouraged to fear because our fear can justify huge investments in the military and the invasion of other countries. It can justify cruelty—waterboarding, the registry of Muslims as it did the incarceration of Japanese. I encourage all of you to read the National Geographic articles about what happened leading up to Pearl Harbor and the racism that both incited the bombing and made us unable to see it coming. We thought Japanese couldn’t see well enough or were smart enough to be good pilots. And then fear of them caused us to incarcerate people of Japanese ancestry who were loyal to this country and make many others hate this country.
I hope that you travel with us to Topaz in March or April when we will take a field trip to that incarceration camp near Delta, Utah. If you have any time before January 14th, you will be able to see the art exhibit there now.
I believe that once again our racism and lack of understanding could lead us into doing great damage to the human rights of Muslims who have made a home in this country.
The focus of the coming government on the “danger” of migrants and Muslims is a blatant cry of squirrel to keep us away from looking in the mirror at the real danger of our racism and our addiction to personal weaponry. People are as likely to die in a car crash as to die by a gun.
Do you know Gabby Giffords? She was our brilliant Congresswoman in southern Arizona. A woman her mentor saw to be headed for the White House. If it weren’t for our addiction to weaponry, she might be the one waiting to occupy the Oval Office.
Today, Gabby Giffords wrote this: Six years ago this morning, I called Mark to tell him that I was on the way to one of my Congress on Your Corner events. Those were the informal meetings throughout the district where I’d set up a table and just talk to constituents about any questions they had or issues my office could help them fix.
She was our congresswoman and would have been a fine president. A fine president—if not for the proliferation of guns and the ease in acquiring them in our country.
Using our energy wisely would be getting involved in exposing the gun lobbyists. We must see what the true threats are to this country—not to become fearful but to become wise stewards of our time. Let us stop doing a kind of silly reactionary war dance around the fear mongering. By letting fear lead us, we are playing into their hands!
The trouble with fear if we let it grow is that it can take over our lives. We become afraid to get into our cars, live outside of Utah, speak to someone wearing hijab, or someone of color. The work that we must do in this city, every day in our lives is fight our fear. And, in this new administration built on a fear-based campaign, we are going to have to fight fear like Etty Hillesum wrote: “We have to fight them daily, like fleas, those many small worries about the morrow, for they sap our energies. We make mental provision for the days to come, and everything turns out differently, quite differently. Sufficient unto the day. The things that have to be done, must be done, and for the rest we must not allow ourselves to become infested with thousands of petty fears and worries.
When we lived in Arizona, the governor herself talked about people being beheaded in the desert. This was untrue but for people already afraid of migrants who are mostly crossing due to poverty, the scene created more fear which in turn justified worse treatment, more racial profiling.
Refuse to be sucked in by fear—that becomes directed towards actions that will simply fill someone’s pockets—like the fear of migrants has fueled the private prison industry of Arizona—just as fear fueled the War on Drugs which in turn filled the pockets of people in the prison business. Refuse to support fear-based legislation.
Bring more understanding into the world. Study a language—because that is the one of the only ways that you can truly listen to people of another country.
And, find a spiritual practice that supports non-violence. For deep non-violence is what helped Standing Rock succeed. Non-violence brought about the independence of India from Britain.
Let us not be fooled into feeling threatened so that we increase the military spending and presence that will lead to more terrorism.
Let us each sow goodness whenever we can for that will come back to us as well. And, if this coming administration decides to register Muslims, I hope that you go with me to be registered too.
As Mahatma Gandhi said, It is possible to live in peace: A lively peace full of hard work and of training ourselves not to chase after squirrels.
Get ready. There is going to be much for us to do!
Rev. Patty Willis