On September 11, 2001, we became aware of the existence of
Al Qaeda, and in that moment, Americans were forced to recognize that within
the Arab world, there was a seething resentment against the West: a seething
resentment against Western colonial history in the Middle East; a seething
resentment against the disempowerment of Arab people in a world dominated by
foreign economic interests; and a seething resentment of our self-centered,
arrogant stance toward others. Stung by
the collective anger toward us, we went into a defensive posture and took no
accountability for the realities that had spawned the attack.
Few took even a moment to question why the tragedy occurred.
Instead, how quickly did we condemn Al Qaeda and Muslims, and how little did we
explore the sources of their rage. How consistently did we condemn the
perpetrators, but how rarely did we investigate why their organizations were
attractive to so many young people who dedicated their lives to their cause. Ignorant
and defensive, we demonized our opponents and labeled them terrorists, as
though that label explained everything. And amazingly, large numbers of us were
swept up in the stance that large numbers of Arabs and Muslims are different,
not regular folk, who, like us, wake up every day with a desire for love,
respect and a sense of value, just like we do. No, Al Qaeda and their supports
were simply “terrorists” led by a monster, and that was the end of the story.
So here we are in 2011. Have we yet taken advantage of the
tragedy of 9/11 to see the deeper tragedy of humanity’s callous behavior toward
others, especially those of different nations, races or religions? Have we
acknowledged that in our personal lives and on our globe, ego begets ego,
negativity begets negativity? And are we now ready to wake up to the fact that
we can’t protect ourselves only by building fortresses and that we need to
protect ourselves by creating good will?
It’s never too late to become more conscious. While in no
way condoning terrorism, we can still ask the question: Why? Why were these people
angry? We can still remember our oneness and see that 9/11 was a wakeup call that
reminds us that we are one world and that when you hurt other people, they may
come back and attack you, even where you think you are safe. We can still reach
out our hands to others in our personal and collective lives and try to
understand, rather than to condemn.
Today, Osama bin Laden, the symbol of Arab resentment and
revenge, is dead. Has the resentment died with him? In fact, how will this
latest killing impact the negative view of our nation? Fortunately for us, the
Middle East is in the grip of its own revolution, and bin Laden is not a symbol
of that revolt. Perhaps we will have avoided creating even more anger toward
Only time will tell. In the midst of this revolutionary era,
some people may focus on our democratic legacy, and that may override the sad
history of colonialism and exploitation. On the other hand, suspicion still
runs deep because of a history of economic and political exploitation, and the
killing of bin Laden might just add a deeper resentment. In addition, people in
the Middle East also have ego agendas, and some may posture depending on
Whatever happens to our “reputation,” the more important question
is this: Are we in fact learning anything about ourselves and about the need to
co-create a mutually supportive world? I hope so.
I feel sad about the death of bin Laden. I cannot celebrate
the killing of anyone, and more than that, I fear the potential loss of our
opportunity to learn the lessons of history. Do we see what we did? When 9/11
struck us with awe and terror, most of us dropped into a fear-based posture
that led us to be manipulated by our own government, so that we abandoned our
own civil rights and allowed ourselves to be led blindly into an unjustified
and costly war in Iraq. Most of us descended into greater racism against Arabs
and Muslims. And many of us rationalized away a continued ego-driven view of
the world, where we are “good,” everyone who opposes our agendas and interests
is “evil,” and no thought or self-reflection is required.
Doesn’t all this point to the same lessons we need to learn
about ourselves personally? Can we more consistently look at our own part in
any painful experience, instead of being so quick to blame others? Can we
achieve new levels of self-awareness, and can we make amends?
We have yet to make amends to the peoples of the world that
we have disregarded and exploited through blatant self-interest. We have barely
acknowledged our terrorism toward African slaves, the poor, women, children and
our own Native American populations. Are we waiting for others to take the lead
in becoming more conscious? Do we want the “terrorists” to do it? Who will take accountability first?
Why don’t we take this moment to pray together that no human
being be treated in an oppressive way; that no people’s resources be grabbed
for the benefit of others; that no one’s crimes be justified; and that the
circumstances that led to the rise of Osama never happen again.
Let us pray that each one of us becomes more conscious and
that, individually and collectively, we become more willing to be aware and
accountable. That I would celebrate.