Friday, July 15, 2005

One of those Long, Serious Ones

I've waited about a week to post these thoughts, dear friends, because (as with all things) it's never a good idea to blog in anger. Anger, you know, is a weakness. It prevents a person from focusing clearly and, in the worst cases, creates mental and spiritual paralysis. I've fallen into that trap before - and, because I'm only human, I'm bound to fall into it again every now and again. Right now, though, I seek only clarity as I ponder last Thursday's terrorist bombings in the U.K.
First and foremost, I send my condolences out to everyone in the U.K. and abroad who may have been affected by this tragedy. As a by-product of England (i.e. an American), I feel as if someone has inflicted suffering on my extended family, and I wish there was something I could do to make things better. I'm especially saddened when I think of all the great things the U.K. has given the world over time -- Shakespeare, the Beatles, J.R.R. Tolkien...the list goes on and on. (Hell, I spent four years studying the masterworks of English literature and I STILL haven't learned all there is to know.) Truly, for a relatively small island, England has exerted true influence on the world and established itself as one of history's great civilizations. Of course, there are a lot of naysayers out there who would say (and you have to say this in your whiniest coffee-shop college kid voice), "You want to know what England has given the world? Nothing but SUFFERING. They've, like, exploited so many cultures and been, like, so imperialist and barbaric and stuff, and now they're just getting a taste of their own medicine. America sucks too, and it learned everything from England. They're like a tyrannical father and son - just like Bush and his dad! Che Guevara rules! I take yoga classes!" Yeah yeah yeah. Blah blah blah...
Let me tell you something, folks. No race of people on this earth is innocent. At one point or another we've all been the oppressed and the oppressor. Ask America about the Irish immigrants. Ask the Irish about the English. Ask the English about the Germans. Ask the Germans about the Jews. Ask the Jews about the Palestinians. Ask the Palestinians about...well, pretty much everyone. Ask China about Tibet. Long story short, every group of people has some other group of people they can point to and say, "Those people over there have done me wrong." And the people they're pointing at could undoubtedly turn around, point right back at them, and say the exact same thing. Yes, it's a sad fact that our human nature comes with an innate need to feel victimized. And it's with this thought in mind that we turn our attention now to the perpetrators of the London attacks.
I'm going to say something now which is unflinchingly non-P.C., and that is this: Whenever a bomb goes off in a civilized Western country, there's no real need to speculate about who's responsible. Sure, we can do the whole song and dance about "Well, we don't want to jump to any conclusions..." or "Right now we encourage our citizens to practice restraint while we investigate", but let's be real. Whenever a bomb goes off, you can rest assured there's a Muslim somewhere holding a detonator and writing a speech about how Israel and the U.S. were ultimately responsible. I used to have a lot of anger about this, and I'm pretty sure that if I were running for public office my opponent could dig up enough anti-Islam/Muslim/Arab statements from my past to do one hell of a smear campaign. (Honestly, I don't know anyone who felt the same amount of blind hatred over 9-11 that I did, and I know people who were actually in the WTC when it happened.) Of course, my feelings changed significantly after a Syrian cardiologist saved my mother's life back in February of '04. Needless to say, that's the kind of thing that really makes you step back and ask different kinds of questions...
What defines the Arab? Is it the terrorist in London or the cardiologist in Gulfport? What defines the German - Hitler or Mozart? What defines England - imperialism or Shakespeare? What defines the Catholic Church - the Inquisition or Pope John Paul II? What defines Tim Burton - "Edward Scissorhands" or "Planet of the Apes"? In short, what makes us who we are? Is it the things we do wrong or the things we do right? The sacred or the profane? Well, the obvious answer, I think, is BOTH. Being human, we are all made up of equal parts triumph and failure. And I don't mind telling you, dear readers, that when I allowed myself to be overcome with anger and hatred in the wake of 9-11, I failed.
I failed to uphold the obligations that come with calling one's self a Christian. (Don't worry, I'm not going to get all Bible-belty on you here, I'm trying to make a point.) It should go without saying that one of the cornerstones of Christian theology is the practice of forgiveness. According to what we believe, Christ suffered a horrendous death so the sins of mankind could be forgiven. The first words Catholics say when receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation are "Forgive me, Father..." When Christ was being nailed to the cross, he uttered the words, "Father, please forgive them. They know not what they do." And, perhaps most poignant, the common prayer that links all sects of Christianity includes the following words: "...forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." Regardless of your personal belief system - indeed, even if you're an atheist - you have to admit this is a very powerful set of words. It implies, in no uncertain terms, that we can rightfully expect from God only what we are willing to bestow upon our fellow man. In order to be shown forgiveness, for example, we must first forgive. Thus, by refusing to forgive those responsible for acts of terrorism, I was in effect turning my back on my own faith, just as Islamic terrorists have turned their backs on theirs. Yes, they too have failed.
Make no mistake, my friends, terrorism is not the same thing as martyrdom. It's not synonymous with laying down one's life for another, and it's certainly not the will of God. Some will make excuses for it, saying, "Well, I know it's not right, but I can understand what motivates their actions." Once again, a situation we must look at and say, "It's not the same thing." The fact that you can understand someone's reasons for doing something does not miraculously make you more enlightened or their actions more justifiable. Hell, if you really want to be open-minded about things, you might say, "Well, you know, Germany was treated really badly during World War I, and the Treaty of Versailles was really just one humiliation after another. Plus, I guess their economy was wrecked and there WERE a lot of Jewish people who were living the good life while the German people were starving to death. So, I guess I can kind of see how someone like Hitler could come to power." Okay, so you understand the legitimate circumstances that created the Third Reich...Is it now OKAY for the Nazis to have stood thousands of people in front of trenches, shot them in the back of the head, and buried their bodies in mass graves? No. And you have to look at terrorism the same way. You can become well-versed in the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict and historical humiliatons of the Arab people and the dividing of the Ottoman Empire until you're blue in the face, but none of those things should make you say to yourself, "Oh, okay. Then I guess it's okay for them to blow up a train filled with London commuters." No, it's not. THIS does not equal THIS. Two wrongs, as the old saying goes, don't make a right.
But here's what I'm doing differently this time, dear readers. I'm not sitting back and obsessing over the wrong that has been done to our friends and family in England. Rather, I am ACKNOWLEDGING the wrong that has been done and I'm praying for everyone who needs comfort. And, at the same time, I'm praying for the perpetrators of the London attacks and asking God to change those parts of their hearts and minds (and ours) that will allow us to approach one another in a way more befitting of the children of God. Remember, to hate another human being is to hate something that God has created. Let's strive to be better than that. There are no words in the Bible, the Quran, or any other scriptural texts that will bring us as close to God as that moment in time when we sit down and devote ourselves to finding what is still good in our enemies.
God bless the U.K.


Blogger Brandalyn said...

My friend, that was the scariest thing I have ever read from you.

12:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is an incredible blog! Very well written and very thought provoking.

7:17 PM  

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