Saturday, September 10, 2011


On that Tuesday, 9/11/2001, I was one of many stranded business travelers away from home.  As the morning progressed it became clear that airports were closed for an indefinite time.  Not knowing what might happen next, I yearned to be with my family.  So did everyone else it seemed, and the uncertainty left travelers scrambling for alternatives to air transportation.  I was grateful to find the last rental car available at any of the local rental services for my ten hour drive home.  During the drive, I prayed and reflected on what I was hearing on the radio.

I wondered what could be so troubling to those involved that they were willing to take their own lives and kill other humans in order to damage or destroy the buildings into which they crashed the planes.  The buildings hit were prominent icons of American business, military and government, which indicated to me a deep anger at America.  Radio reports began to identify the perpetrators as Middle Eastern. 

Listening, I realized that I had little meaningful knowledge about the Arab world.  My general awareness of the language, customs and religious views of the region indicated a great difference from my middle class, white American experience.  I wondered too what Arab region people really understood about my world.  From my view the Arab and Western worlds seemed not only distant geographically, but largely unknown to each other.

To me, the 9/11 attack served as a wake up call to genuinely understand the people of the Arab world and their needs and desires as well as the message of the perpetrators.  I wanted to feel and understand our similarities in strong faith, love of family and common human values.

Once home, I found a copy of the Koran and studied portions of it.  I spoke more deeply than my usual business talk with my Pakistani and Iranian colleagues about our families.  I intentionally went to Middle Eastern restaurants to eat falafel, babba ganoush and tabbouleh.  These were no longer just exotic foods, but meals representative of regions and people becoming more visible to me.  Tiny steps, but helpful towards more understanding.

As I look around today, ten years after the event, I see signs of more than a passing curiosity of American and Middle Eastern people trying to understand each other beyond conditions brought about by war or military force.  In the USA there are forums such as inter-religious discussions that bring ideas around Islam, Christianity, and Judaism together for discovery and mutual understanding.  There are a growing number of Middle Eastern restaurants, and for better or worse some of the foods are becoming part of the American fast food nation.  Even controversial reports of banning the wearing of head scarves associated with the Islam faith signals that Americans are wrestling to find public solutions for previously hidden or invisible issues.  Though there are still great gaps of unknowing to overcome, the progress is worth recognizing.

Looking at military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, they now include humanitarian approaches that are changing the methods of military involvement.  We can also point to the Arab Spring as a movement out of oppression for some peoples toward a form of greater self-determination that they are working out. 

To me, the enemy is not a person or a group of people.  The enemy is ignorance, fear, hatred, jealousy, greed, apathy, or anything that suggests the absence of love.  As a Christian and practicing Christian Scientist, I think of the spirit of love and the expressions of real caring as examples of God in our midst.  These expressions transcend nationality or religious creeds though they may be practiced in a quite different way than I have experienced.  Violent or aggressive actions show where the absence of love appears and where love can fill a space.   

Nothing can justify the violence of 9/11.  And, it has become clear that those who perpetrated the aggression are not representative of their region.  However, the attack alerted me to the great gap in mutual understanding between the general populations of the West and the Middle East.  A gap that can be bridged through the transforming spirit of genuine brotherly love.

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