12 September 2001

War and Peace

One day after the attack on America, evidence is accumulating that begins to point toward Extremist "Islamic" Organizations, such as the motley collection funded by Osama Bin Laden. I use the word "Islamic" in quotes because there is nothing truly Islamic about such organizations beyond the cultural affiliation of their members. This is a view supported by the three English translations of the Qur'an that I read in parallel some years ago, and by almost all Muslims, both within the US and abroad.

I will confess to you that part of the reason for VCBC's existence is to provide a tiny place to speak for a rapprochement between the West and Islam. The desire for this came to me in a dream, which I knew to be absurd even as I was dreaming it. Over twenty years ago, when I was a graduate student, I dreamed that I was in an antebellum mansion, shaking hands with Anwar Sadat, then President (well, dictator) of Egypt. "You idiot," I thought to myself. "You'll never really shake hands with Anwar Sadat." The next morning, I dismissed the dream as an infantile egoistic fantasy, and took a bus to work. It was only then that I began to feel creepy. On the bus someone's radio announced that Sadat had been assassinated during the night, martyred by his own people for making peace with Israel.

As a scientist, I can only say that the dream was a coincidence. That is, the dream and the assassination happened within hours, possibly within minutes, of each other. But the co-occurrence (coincidence) of two events does not imply that they are related to one another. But as a religious person, I must admit that I feel a bit like Native American seer Black Elk must have felt, when observed how little he had been able to make of the great visions he had experienced in his youth. I still have no idea what the dream might have meant, but I feel that it ought to have meant something.

And so, Jewish Christian that I am, I am sympathetic to the grievances of the people of Islam, and the people of Palestine in particular. Yet, I cannot forget the images of Palestinians in East Jerusalem celebrating the collapse of the World Trade Center. I would like to think that they were only a small group performing for the cameras. They discredit the cause for which they seek justice, and take the heart out of my sympathy for them. It is shameful and wicked that a group of people would so lightly take upon themselves a kind of spiritual guilt for the murders of tens of thousands. (I am thankful that Arafat spoke words of condolence, but he is capable of presenting one face to the Arabic speaking world, and another to the English.)

Similarly, we must present two faces to the world. We must use military force destroy the ability of the perpetrators to continue their terrorism, their "war by other means," because the perpetrators will only escalate, if we don't. But the only way to minimize the formation of new terrorist organizations after we deal with the current set of bad actors, is to make peace with populations from which they will otherwise draw their recruits.

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