Today - September 11, 2010 - was the day a Florida pastor planned to burn the Qur'an. Now those plans seem cancelled. The world spoke out against his actions (including nearly 19,000 who joined the Facebook site People of Faith Against Burning the Qur'an).
That Florida pastor is saying he cancelled the event because his goal of exposing the "radical" nature of Islam has been accomplished. Sadly, what he truly exposed is that all religions, including Christianity, have their extremists. The world, however, stood up to that extremism. Muslims called for restraint and peace. Christians and Jews stood in solidarity with Muslims across the globe. In an ironic twist, the extremist pastor from Florida helped to bring people of faith together and perhaps defused some of the growing tensions between the American people.
Today, on this anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I wrote in an op-ed for The Oregonian - in which I said, in part:
Thousands of religious leaders -- myself included -- released a statement in the days after 9/11 entitled: "Deny Them Their Victory: A Religious Response to Terrorism." It read, in part: "We face deep and profound questions of what this attack on America will do to us as a nation. The terrorists have offered us a stark view of the world they would create, where the remedy to every human grievance and injustice is a resort to the random and cowardly violence of revenge -- even against the most innocent. Having taken thousands of our lives, attacked our national symbols, forced our political leaders to flee their chambers of governance, disrupted our work and families, and struck fear into the hearts of our children, the terrorists must feel victorious. But we can deny them their victory by refusing to submit to a world created in their image. Terrorism inflicts not only death and destruction but also emotional oppression to further its aims. We must not allow this terror to drive us away from being the people God has called us to be. We assert the vision of community, tolerance, compassion, justice, and the sacredness of human life, which lies at the heart of all our religious traditions. America must be a safe place for all our citizens in all their diversity. It is especially important that our citizens who share national origins, ethnicity, or religion with whoever attacked us are, themselves, protected among us."
Our government didn't listen to that plea. It began an assault on Afghanistan that seemed more of an act of vengeance than a genuine effort to root out terrorists. Then we used the excuse of 9/11 to invade Iraq. Security experts have since warned that our actions have made the world less stable.
In scripture, Jesus says: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous."
We didn't listen to those words. We chose another path. Americans had just cause to go after those who conducted the terrorist attacks to prevent further violence. Yet our actions in both Afghanistan and Iraq violated the principles laid out by Thomas Aquinas and others in terms of what a "just war" should be. Our response was not proportional. It did not protect civilian lives. And in the case of Iraq, it was pre-emptive rather than in response to any attack on the United States. We never sought to build a genuine peace out of the ashes of war. Still we are not listening.
The recent opposition to plans for a Muslim community center and mosque near the site of ground zero in New York, and the threats from a Florida church to publicly burn the Quran illustrate that anger, fear and even religious bigotry are some of the lessons we've taken away from 9/11. A fever seems to have taken hold of part of our people. Blind hatred seems to have replaced the desire for reconciliation and peace.Perhaps the experience of the last week will bring us closer together and reinforce the positive role religion can play in the quest for peace.
I want to thank all those who became a fan of People of Faith Against the Burning of the Qur'an. Many of you sent respectful and heartfelt letters to the Florida church asking them to call off their plans. Others are attending events today to remember this 9/11.
Let us all join in prayer today for the victims of that terrible day when religious extremists sought to divide the world. Let us pray for peace, reconciliation and justice. Again, thank you for standing up and being a witness for God's unyielding love. Your actions have brought hope alive again.