The Common Good
November-December 2001

A Platform for a Movement

by David Batstone | November-December 2001

We can't sacrifice our deepest convictions for the sake of a false unity.

Both politics and religion lend themselves to absolutes-all too often even minor points of divergence are treated like uncrossable chasms. For starters, it's not easy to sort out the trivial from the substantial, for every judgment is accompanied by a nagging sense that you may be compromising your deepest convictions for the sake of a false unity.

Be that as it may, I will propose 10 planks of a platform around which we can build a movement, transcending our more trivial political and religious differences.

1) The intentional murder of innocents must never be justified, neither legally, morally, nor strategically (i.e. for some greater end). That's how we define a terrorist act, whether it is carried out by a political cell group or a nation-state.

2) Agents of terrorism must be held accountable for their crimes. The safety of innocents demands their apprehension; justice demands their punishment.

3) The U.S. government and its security forces are pursuing outlaws who have committed crimes against humanity. Using these events as an opportunity for extending global hegemony and economic self-interest will be obvious to the Arab world and will lead to continued instability and conflict in the region.

4) Osama bin Laden and his "base" network are not freedom fighters struggling against globalization, economic oppression, or Western imperialism. While these are indeed pieces of their ideology-and each of these forces has certainly contributed to our troubled times-bin Laden and his base are fundamentally motivated by a "holy war" that seeks to eradicate sources of social power not aligned with his violent religious ideology, including what he considers "apostates" within the Muslim community.

5) The people of Afghanistan and Iraq have suffered under violent conflict and fascist regimes for decades. They are no more responsible for terrorist cells than the accountant sitting at her desk on the 110th floor of the World Trade Center. Indiscriminate retaliation would be rightly considered a terrorist act.

6) World opinion, by and large, supports the U.S. government's pursuit of justice. The Bush administration wisely has sought to build as broad a coalition as possible to stand behind those efforts. But that moral high ground and political support will quickly fade away if the U.S. engages in vengeful retribution that imitates the acts of the terrorists-acts that would catalyze strong Arab antipathy toward the United States.

7) The Bush administration has unwisely painted potential allies into a corner by publicly polarizing their response: Either you collaborate with us or you are our enemies. Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Egypt have strong minorities of Islamic fundamentalists who use that rhetoric to build up opposition to more democratic forces. Our goal should be building up democratic forces, not choosing up sides for tug-of-war.

8) The spiritual practices of reconciliation and forgiveness are essential to reducing war and conflict. The United States must do everything possible to practice reconciliation between itself and Arab states and between the Israelis and Palestinians. In both cases, a great deal of forgiveness must be asked for, and granted. The United States had a one-sided allegiance to Israel and has been deaf to justifiable demands for Arab justice. Reconciliation requires each side-and the United States-to recognize that both Israelis and Palestinians have valid historical, cultural, and religious reasons for their existence.

9) All authentic adherents of the Abrahamic religions-Jewish, Christian, Muslim-must dig down deep to their own wells and stretch out far to their distant cousins to lock arms in peace and civic unity. Fundamentalist perversions of their respective traditions threaten the destiny of the planet.

10) Citizens of the United States understandably feel vulnerable after the attacks of Sept. 11 and have a heightened sensitivity for better security. But we must be careful not to forfeit essential constitutional rights out of fear. Much blood has been shed to win freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, freedom from persecution on the basis of ethnicity or religion, freedom of privacy. We must be willing to gamble on freedom rather than to be rendered a captive to our fears.

David Batstone is executive editor of Sojourners.

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