Tag Archives: 9/11

A Friendly Suggestion to Muslims Today (TDTCTW 5)

In reflecting on the previous two blogs, I would like to offer a word of counsel and encouragement to Muslim thinkers today, but before I do I want to make it clear that I am not blaming Islam for all the world’s troubles. While Islam has failed to solve the problems of the Middle East, Christianity has fared just as poorly at influencing the West in the direction of peace, humility, and compassion. I offer the following comments in the desire to be helpful.

I suggest that the thoughts and actions of people like Mohammed Atta and Osama bin Laden ultimately pose a greater threat to Islam than to the West. They seem to have believed that the true faith is shown by material power and wealth that resemble the power and wealth of Allah. In other words, the fruit of true Islam would be world dominance and material wealth. But Islam has not produced this kind of result in today’s world. Bin Laden and others have blamed the weakness, the oppression, and the poverty in Islamic countries on the West. But it seems more likely that the weakness of the Islamic world reflects a failure to adjust to the rapid changes over the last couple of centuries.

To claim material wealth and power as the outcome of true faith is to draw an immediate contrast with the West, which exhibits the very military might and economic abundance that ought to be associated with Allah’s cause. No wonder Atta and bin Laden were frustrated with both the Middle East and the West! The “infidel” has reaped the very things that should be signs of Allah’s favor. So the extremist Islam of Atta and bin Laden focuses not on producing better people but on seeking to destroy the tokens of the West’s ascendancy. But such an Islam can win only by destroying others, not by building them up. Such an Islam can only increase the violence and misery in the world.

But there is another option. The second approach is to say: “Islam becomes the best channel to God when it focuses on faith, not on wealth and power. While Muslims may suffer defeat and poverty in this world, they are the ultimate winners because they have the maturity to ignore the allures of power and wealth. While Islam may appear to be a loser in the eyes of the West, it is actually a winner, it is winning human hearts to God by humility, mercy and compassion.”

An Islam that has the strength to renounce power and wealth would also abandon war as a way of achieving spiritual goals. It would free itself to become a spiritual community that would be attractive to all the nations of the world. Such a course might even shame the so-called “Christian” West into taking the humility and compassion of Jesus more seriously!

If this vision for Islam is the best course of action, the jihadists’ focus on the West and its wealth and power could prove a lethal sidetrack for the faith. Instead of focusing on the spiritual task, people become consumed with destroying the West’s power and wealth. Muslim thinkers would do well to reject the al Qaeda doctrine by renouncing wealth and power as emblems of righteousness. In this way of thinking Muslims should leave the West alone and not covet its riches, but get on with the business of spirituality. If power and wealth is a deception, then the Western way of life will eventually collapse on its own.

I believe that Islam, therefore, can make a major contribution to the world in the wake of September 11 by seizing the path of humility, openness and spiritual growth. People are hungry for just such a faith. Perhaps the following sura could point the way: “Summon thou [people] to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and with kindly warning: dispute with them in the kindest manner: thy Lord best knoweth those who stray from his way, and He best knoweth those who have yielded to his guidance. If ye make reprisals, then make them to the same extent that ye were injured: but if ye can endure patiently, best will it be for the patiently enduring. Endure then with patience. But thy patient endurance must be sought in none but God. . .” (16:125-127)

The best response to September 11 is a faith that categorically rejects violence in the name of religion. Religious violence improves nothing, it only makes the world a more miserable and a more dangerous place. Extreme forms of religious fundamentalism do more than kill, they divide those who remain and impoverish them, both materially and spiritually.

From Waco to Isis: September 11, Part 1

I landed at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam early on the morning of September 11. It was a beautiful sunny day and I quickly hooked up with the driver who was to take me to a conference a couple of hours drive away. The countryside was flat as a desktop, but interesting in a Dutch sort of way. After a nap, a walk and a little reading I headed for the dining room of the conference center around 5:30 PM (11:30 AM, New York time).

I always get a little nervous the first time I am in a large group of new people, particularly when most of them aren’t speaking my language. In this case the conference had about 900 attendees from all over Europe, from the Arctic Circle and Iceland in the north and west to Greece and Romania in the south and east. In that setting I was somewhat relieved that the dining room was not crowded. That meant I could eat by myself without seeming anti-social.
I was halfway through my meal, when a pastor from Croatia approached me. I remembered having seen him somewhere before and tried to be friendly in a dazed, jet-lagged sort of way. I was about to feel a lot more dazed. . . .
“Have you heard the news from America?” he asked.
“What news?” I grunted, thinking I might be in for more explanation than I cared to receive at that moment.
“I just heard that four passenger jets have crashed today in the United States,” he said excitedly.
“No way!” I said, “Such a thing has never happened before!”
“Two of them crashed into the World Trade Center in New York and the towers collapsed, and another one crashed into the Pentagon!”
“World Trade Center collapsed? The Pentagon?” I was beyond confused, I was suspicious. One of the things I deal with in worldwide travel is all the wild and crazy rumors about stuff going on in America. People want to impress you with their knowledge of things and often they jump on reports that have no substance in the hope of impressing you. This was sounding like one of those times. “That’s impossible, you aren’t making this up are you?” In retrospect, I don’t think I was very nice to him.
“It must be true, I saw it on CNN. Go see for yourself. They have CNN on a big screen in the room just upstairs.”

I still didn’t know what to believe. I began to doubt my own reality. Perhaps I was still in a jet-lagged dream and would soon wake up in a bed somewhere in the Netherlands. But the food tasted real enough. I shook my head, trying to get the cobwebs out. I hurriedly finished my meal and dragged myself upstairs to the meeting room.

Several hundred people were crowded into the medium-sized room. Live feed from CNN was being projected onto a screen. Behind the CNN announcer was a view of the southern end of Manhattan Island in New York City. There was a huge cloud obscuring everything.

Although there were no seats available in the room, someone I knew motioned for the “New Yorker” to take his seat near the front in order to get a good view. I sat down and fixed my eyes on the screen for the next hour and a half. The nightmare continued. I peered intently at the screen looking for signs that the World Trade Center towers were still there. I couldn’t believe that they would have collapsed so easily. Then the network began repeatedly airing a new tape, showing the second airplane impacting the south tower, the fiery explosion that burst out the other side and the horrified cries of onlookers near the video camera. This was combined with repeated showings of panicked people running for their lives with a great billowing cloud of dust approaching rapidly behind them.

For me this scene cut deeper than for the hundreds of others watching with me. This was my home town. I grew up in New York. I had walked those very streets many times. No matter what perspective of the tragedy was being shown, I knew what I was looking at. I knew the likely location of the camera. I knew whether we were looking north, south, east or west. Then I considered what I knew about the World Trade Center. On a typical business day, about 50,000 people went to work in the twin towers. At any given time, several thousand tourists would also be there, going up to the viewing decks of the South Tower or the huge restaurant on the 107th floor of the North Tower. As the reality of the towers’ collapse was made clear by repeated showings of the video, the magnitude of the tragedy began to sink in. This was my home town! These were my neighbors and friends. I just knew that somebody close to me must have been in those towers, must be in the rubble that was left of the towers.

And at that moment I knew one other thing, the world would never be quite the same again. . .