27 September 2001

The Shape of Peace to Come

Make no mistake, four US carrier battle groups are moving into position as America gets ready to strike back against the terrorist organizations who attacked us, and against the governments who provide them with safe haven. We are going to wage our part of the ugly war they have thrust upon us.

But after every war there comes peace. If we are to wage war sucessfully, we must contemplate the peace we are trying to shape before we strike our first blow. For we must hew that peace out of the war as a sculptor carves a beautiful statue out of a granite block.

Part of that peace must include the most powerful concentration of Islamic Fundamentalists in the world — the Islamic Republic of Iran. The news media protray Iran as a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and as a sponsor of terrorism. Iran appears to have come a long way from the nation that declared chemical weapons to be "un-Islamic" and that did not kill a single American hostage taken during its founding revolution.

Iran took those hostages from the American Embassy in Tehran, because America had helped Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi stay in power far longer than the Iranian people wished, because we tolerated his use of a repressive secret police to maintain his power, and because the US provided him safe haven after he was finally overthrown by a popular revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini. That the Shah was staying only temporarily in the US to receive treatment for cancer (which was ultimately unsuccessful) carried no weight with Khomeini — he saw the Shah as a criminal (the way we might view Slobodan Milosevic), and wanted to subject him to Islamic Law. For our part, we saw the Shah as an ally, and while we were not going to defend him against the revolution, we were equally unwilling to hand over an ally to his enemies. There had to be some small benefit for supporting the US.

I believe protecting the deposed Shah was unjust, but less so than giving him to his enemies, and therefore we cannot apologize for making what we considered to be best choice. But we did a great injustice, according to the philosophy behind our own Declaration of Independence and our Constitution by helping to maintain his regime in power against overwhelming popular will. We have an opportunity to begin making peace with the Iranian people by officially apologizing for that act.

We have a further opportunity to begin making peace with the Iranian people by apologizing for standing by while Iraq began using chemical weapons against Iran during the Iran-Iraq war. Iran was originally reluctant to employ such weapons, but eventually began using them to deter their unlimited use by the Iraqis. This was shortly after the hostages were finally returned to America by Iran upon the inauguration of Ronald Reagan. Henry Kissinger spoke for most Americans when he said that it was a pity that both sides couldn't lose. But we would have changed the world's perception of us (and the balance of power in the Middle East) if we had told Iraq that we would not tolerate the use of chemical weapons even against our enemies, and that we would intervene on the side of Iran if they did not stop using them. Once again, we failed to do the right thing, and we have an opportunity to apologize for it now.

The world has much to gain if the dominant Islamic Fundamentalist power in the Middle East can bring itself to perceive the US as anything other than "the Great Satan." With the help of Iran we might be able to more quickly and effectively suppress international terrorism. With the help, or at least the non-hindrance, of Iran we might eventually be able to broker a peace with justice for the Palestinians and security for Israel. And, quite frankly, Iran is the only country that has come close to blending Islamic Fundamentalism with representative democracy — we might do well to consult Iran on how to set up a government to replace the Taliban in Afganistan, or even Saddam Hussein in Iraq (should that become necessary).

I think United States would do well to apologize to Iran for our past shortcomings in order to give Iran its moment of historical opportunity to help shape the coming peace, instead of helping to prolong the current war.

Note added in 2008: On the other hand, Iran has never apologized to the West for its fatwa against Salman Rushdie, which was in effect, a declaration of war against the West in general, and Freedom of Expression in particular.

17 September 2001

Against Terrorism, not Islam

The war against terrorism is not a war against Islam, because the terrorists who attacked us are not necessarily Muslims. A Muslim is one who submits his or her will to the Will of God. Now the Qur'an says something so important about God that it is repeated 113 times — every chapter but one of the Qur'an begins with the words, In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. I believe that those who would fly jets into buildings, killing over 5,000 unsuspecting men, women, and children, none of whom posed a threat to the terrorists' societies or homelands, could not do so in submission to God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. At best, they submit to no will other than their own. At worst, well, may God rebuke them.

Thus, war against these terrorists and their organizations is not a war against Islam, but rather against pretenders to that honored religion. Giving the terrorists into our hands is a rejection of those who defame Islam by actions done falsely in God's Name. Those who fail to do so may ally themselves to the terrorists' fate.

15 September 2001

The Right to be Ourselves

I was just leaving for work this past Tuesday (11 September 2001), when my niece phoned to tell me to turn on my television. She didn't need to say which channel. I saw the World Trade Center collapse in flames. I had a sinking feeling in my gut. This, I felt, is the beginning of World War III.

We have already suffered 1/10 the casualties of the entire Vietnam War in the very first battle, which took place in New York and Washington. Those Americans who are hoping we will not "commit ground troops" please get your heads out of your asses. [Oops, that was my father's voice from WW II and Korea.] We now have to be prepared to invade and crush any government that refuses to cough up the perpetrators of this attack, and attacks like it. Otherwise, the only credible threat we have is nuclear weaponry, and I think we need to reserve that threat to reply to chemical or biological attacks.

In particular, it takes relatively little biological material to cause mass casualties, which is why bio-weapons have been called the "poor man's nuke." The name implies the only means we have to retaliate — nuclear weapons. We need to make it clear to ourselves and our adversaries, that if biological weapons are used against the US, our allies, or our troops, that we reserve the right to demand the evacuation of the entire country that harbors such terrorists, after which we will erase it from the earth, while sparing as much of its people as possible, who will then have to live in diaspora for the next couple of centuries.

Therefore I urge the US and our allies to act with due regard for speed to take out all the major terrorist players before they find a way to carry out a successful biological attack. An overly prolonged war against terrorism will be a nuclear war, possibly with many more of us dead before it gets that way.

But we must also prepare to be strict with ourselves. Are we ready to make it a federal crime, punishable as treason, for anyone knowingly to aid, monetarily or otherwise, a known terrorist organization? Forget Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and the PLO — are you willing to see your neighbor jailed, or even executed, for donating to the IRA? To Chechnya? And, since our enemies are determined to bring some of the battles to the heart of America, are you willing to report suspicious activity, rather than hope someone else will magically find out about it before it's too late?

I am not engaging in all this bloodthirsty language for its own sake. I want you to know clearly what you're in for, if you are one of the 90% of Americans who want to go to war. Nor am I trying to scare you out of it. I just want you to steel your nerve for very ugly war, in which many of us may lose our lives as victims, and some of us our souls as perpetrators.

Let us not delude ourselves that our enemies are cowards. They are not. They are misguided, but courageous, self-sacrificing people, who are hitting us with all the heart, wealth, stealth, genius and force they can muster. Think of the Afgan freedom fighters (whom the US funded and eventually supplied with shoulder-fired Stinger surface-to-air missiles) who would throw themselves, with explosives hidden in their clothing, onto Soviet tanks. These enemies are more dangerous to us than another nation-state, because we know how to fight nation-states. We have to invent the ways to fight terrorists.

Finally, we need to understand the sympathies of those who have brought the war to us. They don't just hate us for supporting Israel (however luke-warmly). They hate us for being us. They hate our culture for glorifying its crime, drugs, and sexual immorality, and most of all its luxury. They hate culture's success at advertizing itself to the world, which they see as cultural imperialism. To them, we are filthy whores bent on seducing their children, bent on destroying their way of life by Americanizing the whole planet.

Which is really what this war is about. We have the right to be ourselves, and to be so openly. There are those in our midst who turn their backs to our way of life — like the Amish — but they tolerate us, and we tolerate them, because they accept our core values of individual liberty and responsibility in expression, lifestyle, politics, economics, and religion. We are even grateful to them for preserving an alternative to the way we live, because we know we have problems. Now we must destroy those who cannot bring themselves to do anything but destroy us. In Stephen Sondheim's musical, Into the Woods, a character mourns the loss of his family by violence with the words

Can't we just pursue our lives
With our children and our wives?

We can. We must. Even if we have to fight for our right to do so, yet again. Even if we have to open another century with war.

13 September 2001

How Much Angrier?

Two days after the attack on America, a man carrying phony Delta Airlines pilot's ID was arrested at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport, trying to board a plane using a ticket for Tuesday, September 11. Two other men carrying box-cutter knives were picked up at Dallas airport. The message to Americans is clear. The bastards are not finished yet. The attempts are still coming. We are at war with international terrorism, whether we like it or not. (Yes, war - and the sneak attack that started this war has just killed some 5,000 of us, not on a remote island, but in our financial and governmental hearts.) The only question is whether we have the moral will to fight and win. And the wisdom afterward to forge a just peace.

And now a message to the terror organizations that are continuing to attack us: There are still around 250 million of us left, and polls indicate that 90% of us want to flush your cremated remains down the sewers of New York and Washington. How much angrier do you want us to get? How much of your world do you want destroyed?

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.

11 September 2001

War by other Means

Today, a coordinated terrorist attack was carried out against the People of the United States of America. Four commercial airliners were hijacked, of which two were flown into the World Trade Center in New York City, and one was flown into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The fourth plane crashed in western Pennsylvania.

By coordinated, I mean that the four airliners took off within minutes of each other. The coordination, however, is only one indication that a sizeable organization carried out this attack. Another indication is that the airplanes struck the towers of the world trade center at a point low enough to destabilize the entire structures — which indicates that the perpetrators had been advised by engineers. Finally, assuming that a commercial airline pilot would crash a plane into a clear field or into water rather than crash into a building, it seems to me that the perpetrators had trained pilots among their number, who could navigate and fly a commercial jetliner. Coordination, engineering expertise, and piloting expertise all point toward a terrorist organization, rather than a small group of like-minded, evil crazies.

Now, with regard to America's future, there are two possibilities regarding the origin or the perpetrator organization. Either the perpetrators come from within, like Tim McVeigh, or from outside the United States. If the perpetrators are domestic, the challenge is whether we can root out and destroy them and their organization without giving up the individual liberties that are the reason for this country's existence and uniqueness. If the perpetrators are from a foreign terrorist organization, then the challenge is whether or not we have the will to wage war against international terrorism, and the self-restraint to prevent that war from becoming a civilization-destroying conflagration.

Why do I mention war? Because the World Trade Center, when fully occupied, held approximately 50,000 people. Some tens of thousand of them now lie dead or dying beneath the rubble of the collapsed buildings, along with some 200 police, paramedics, and firefighters who were trying to rescue them. If this was perpetrated by a foreign terrorist organization, then it goes far beyond an act that is addressable by law enforcement. It is an act of war, by other means. And if it is an act of state-sponsored terrorism, it is an act of war, period. And if we fail to respond decisively to an act of war, it will be open season on Americans.

So, to my fellow Americans, I counsel you to enjoy the next few weeks of uncertainty as the calm before the storm. Once we know who the perpetrator organization is, then we will be fighting to eliminate enemies from our midst while maintaining our individual liberties and our democracy, or we will be at war.

May God gather up the dead and dying, comfort their families, and help the wounded. May the perpetrators, living and dead, stand before the awful eye of God's Justice, as may any and all who rejoice in this despicable action. And may God have mercy on us all.

Note added in 2007: We recommend you also read We'll Go Forward from this Moment and Li'l Johnnie's Jihad/Hirabah Page.

03 September 2001

Silent Sermons

Sometimes Beauty & Simplicity say it All
contributed by Kay Goodnow

I grew up a Sunday Episcopalian and a Roman Catholic the rest of the time. I attended Notre Dame de Sion, a private Catholic French finishing school for girls. But I would go to church on Sundays at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church at 40th and Main Streets in Kansas City.

I do not remember much about what I was taught. I do remember that St. Paul’s had the most magnificent stained glass window I had ever seen. It was a round window, and the colors in it were predominantly red. During the years when I attended a youth group there on Sunday evenings, as the sun was setting in the west, the window would literally explode with color. It spoke to my heart and somehow it remained there. With the single exception of a white lamb with one paw raised, I do not remember what it depicted.

Some fifty years later I had occasion to be in the vicinity of that church and I went in, just to see. Although the building has been enlarged to accommodate classrooms and administrative offices, the sanctuary remains nearly the same. The red carpeting, which led from the front door to the altar and which I believed to be miles long, is gone, and has been replaced with hardwood floors. St. Paul’s is today, and probably always has been, a beautiful church. It has an air of majestic dignity and commands respect; to me it seems to call for silence, for meditation.

There it was, ‘my’ magnificent round red window. As in my youth, it took my breath away. It is pure beauty, and even today, undefiled. I wanted to stand there and let it speak to me, to let it repeat over and over again "I am here" just as it had in my youth. Tears started, but it was time for the church to be locked. I went away, glad that I had gone there.

There are beautiful things in this life.

When I was in the 7th or 8th grade a friend invited me to go with her family to the Benedictine Abbey in Conception, Missouri. I went, because it was something to do, but mainly because it was a Catholic thing to do. I do not remember the nature of what transpired or the reason for the trip; just that it was in winter and it was snowing.

It seemed like a very long trip to me and I was excited when we finally arrived. I stepped out of the car. It was early in the evening, but dark. Unmarked snow covered the fields and the buildings. I felt no sense of cold, only awe at the pure beauty of the stark but regal landscape. I wanted to stay there forever, and just let my feelings be what they were.

When we entered the monastery (in my memory, the word ‘basilica’ replaces ‘monastery’) we were ushered into a chapel, which also was dark. Only the eternal tabernacle light and what seemed like millions of vigil lights, red, blue green and gold, kept it from total darkness. I was mesmerized. I could not move and I do not remember breathing. The round, red window from St. Paul’s placed itself squarely above that massive altar, high up, nearly to where the two sides joined in an arch. It was a perfect place, one of those perfect moments in time. The tears began, but this time no one hurried me away from the beauty and I was content.

When the chanting started I believed I was imagining something or that my ears were deceiving me. Here was more beauty and, as with the window and the snow, it was pure and unadulterated. I let it pour over me and I consumed it. It spoke to my heart. As it grew in volume and complexity, sometimes changing from full tone to half tone, and sometimes changing cadence, I knew that it would always remain with me.

At first I didn’t hear the words. I heard only the quality of the sound and the love that it conveyed. I could feel the peace that lived in the hearts of those monks who were singing. And then I heard the words of praise and knew them as Lauds, the Evening Prayer. The Latin came and went in my mind and in my heart and then I was hearing, over and over again, "I am here."
There are beautiful things in this life.

I believe that all of us experience what the camera industry refers to as a "Kodak moment." They are to be treasured, as time passes quickly and our lives become full of the demands that added responsibilities incur.

The beautiful moments come more frequently now, for me anyway, ‘mellowing’ with age and experience. I had one just this week that I feel is more than significant. I had just met a grandmother and we were exchanging glorious stories and enjoying the fact that grandchildren are well worth the effort of having lived through the agony of raising our children. She related that two of her granddaughters, ages two and four, are learning to pray. She was laughing.

"The two-year-old is just starting to form sentences," she said, "except for when she prays. We can’t get her to say anything other than ‘God is.’"

God is! Time, and my heart, stopped. Reality stopped. My heart filled with so much golden light that I had to give it away but it kept coming back, stronger each time. God is! Blessed is that child who knows that God, simply, is!

The tears, always there as my companion in a time of great joy, began. My mind wondered how and when all of life became so complicated, so frenzied, so duplicitous.

For me, the stained glass window, the snow, the vigil lights and the Gregorian chant are linked somehow to ‘silent sermons’. Their simple beauty, etched delicately in my memory, remains constant, long after the spoken words have faded. But then, so is a baby’s first smile, the crocus in spring, and the magnetic pull of the tides. Life is beautiful in it’s simplicity. God is!