Ten years on, I'm remembering the literature I read and the music that kept me going in the days and months after 9/11. I had Rumi and Whitman on my bedside table, reading them back to back, alternating between selections of the Mathnawi and poems from Leaves of Grass, sometimes feeling like the two were one, the soul of America, and that the soul of Islam were intersecting at some point beyond where the eye could see:
Whoever you are!, motion and reflection are especially for you, The divine ship sails the divine sea for you. -- Walt Whitman
Come, come, whoever you are, Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving, Ours is not a caravan of despair. Even if you have broken your vows a thousand times It doesn't matter Come, come yet again, come. -- Rumi
Until then, the Quran for me was a book of personal spiritual guidance, a convening symbol for my religious community. But after 9/11, I viewed it as a balm for my country's pain, especially lines from Ayat al-Kursi: "His throne extends over the heavens and the earth, and He feels no fatigue in guarding and preserving them."
I just returned from a very moving convocation at the Claremont School of Theology where I am on the faculty. We were celebrating the historic founding of a new interreligious theological university that brings together institutions representing the three Abrahamic faiths, along with our newest partner, the Jains. The Jains are an eastern religion founded in India over 2,500 years ago who are perhaps best known for their deep commitment to the concept of no-harm or ahimsa.
While each partner institution will continue to train religious leaders in their own traditions, the Claremont Lincoln University will be a space where future religious leaders and scholars can learn from each other and collaboratively seek solutions to major global issues that no one single religion can solve alone. The CLU's founding vision of desegregating religion was reflected in the extraordinary religious diversity present at the convocation held in a standing room-only auditorium. I sat next to a Jewish cantor and a Muslim woman who had tears flowing down her face as we listened to the prayers offered in all four religions along with a reflection from a Humanist speaker.
On his radio show last week, Glenn Beck read a vow of nonviolence, which he said he'd been working on for about a year, and pleaded his followers to take it as well. The pledge itself is actually quite good, and even Gandhian, at parts. Here is an excerpt:
Today, quarters of the Earth are endangered by tyranny, discrimination, barbarism, and subjugation by fellow man. With an understanding of basic rights and equal justice, we must remain loyal to God and deliver the rights which [God's] benevolence has bestowed upon us to those who have been denied the blessings of liberty, justice, and equality. More importantly, we must protect them from being robbed in the future, so that forever the world may be safe, and her people free from malevolence. Together, we must be prepared to do our duty no matter the cost and we must do so inexorably. We must march forth steadfast and unconquerable and defeat the forces of evil not by sword, but through our love for mankind and his creator.
The forthcoming dedication of the national memorial monument honoring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., affords an opening for considering the complexity and meaning of his leadership. He was not the tamed and desiccated civil hero as often portrayed in the United States around the time of his birthday, celebrated as a national holiday. He was until the moment of his death raising issues that challenged the conventional wisdom on poverty and racism, but also concerning war and peace.
King was in St. Joseph's Infirmary, Atlanta, for exhaustion and a viral infection when it was reported that he would receive the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. As Gary M. Pomerantz writes in Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn, this was the apparent cost exacted by intelligence surveillance efforts and the pressures of learning that Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy had formally approved wiretaps by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. His evolving strength as a leader is revealed in his remarks in Norway that December, which linked the nonviolent struggle of the U.S. civil rights movement to the entire planet's need for disarmament.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was standing in the bathroom of my apartment outside Chicago, about to hop in the shower, when I heard the phone ring and then my husband call my name.
"It's Roger from the desk," he called, sleepily, invoking the name of the morning assignment editor at the Chicago Sun-Times where I was a reporter at the time.
I padded down the hallway in my pajamas to the living room and picked up the phone.
"How quickly can you get down here," Roger asked.
"I dunno, an hour, maybe," I said. "Why? What's up?"
"A plane hit the World Trade Center in New York," he said. "They think it's a terrorist attack."
Could nonviolent resistance have succeeded in Libya? Here are four points worth considering:
1) The movement was fairly spontaneous, unlike the highly coordinated campaign in Egypt. As Peter Ackerman consistently points out, planning is an essential element to a successful nonviolent revolution. As with any battlefield, a nonviolent campaign requires extensive preparation. But reports seem to indicate that Libyans began protesting in earnest around Feburary 15th, likely inspired by events in neighboring Egypt and Tunisia. Gadhafi seemed prepared for this and immediately cracked down using overwhelming violence. By February 19th, the movement had become violent in response to these crackdowns. Four days of civil resistance doesn't give it much time to work. Egyptian pro-democracy activists struggled for years before seeing Mubarak fall. Syrian oppositionists, thousands of whom have been killed by Bashar al-Assad's regime, have toiled along for the past six months. So, we can't really say whether or not nonviolence would have worked in Libya. It never had a chance to materialize in the first place.
The recent British film In Our Name is a returning-soldier drama featuring a married woman, Suzy, who leaves her husband and little girl to fight in Iraq. Because she's involved in the killing of a little girl during her tour-this part is based on a true story, but it happened to a man -- she returns home only to steadily fall apart under the stress of soul-destroying anxieties.
Broadcaster Tavis Smiley and Princeton professor Cornel West just wrapped up their 18-city "Poverty Tour." The aim of their trip, which traversed through Wisconsin, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and the Deep South was to "highlight the plight of the poor people of all races, colors, and creeds so they will not be forgotten, ignored, or rendered invisible." Although the trip has been met with a fair amount of criticism, the issue of poverty's invisibility in American media and politics is unmistakable. The community organizations working tirelessly to help America's poor deserve a great deal more attention than what is being given.
The main attack against the "Poverty Tour" is Smiley and West's criticism of Obama's weak efforts to tackle poverty. For me though, what I would have liked to see more is the collection of stories and experiences from the people West and Smiley met along their trip. The act of collective storytelling in and of itself can be an act of resistance.
Picture this: Hundreds of thousands of women, men, and children plod across barren cracked earth. Dead cows and human corpses litter the roads, revealing to us evidence of two things: 1) the hottest summer on record in Somalia, which caused the worst drought and famine in 60 years; and 2) twenty years of a truly failed Somali government swallowed up in cycles of violence.
Picture this: Posturing politicians claim to stand up for the rights of Americans, even as they hijack the proverbial steering wheel of America. They hold a proverbial gun to the heads of every American, and say outright that they'd have no problem driving us all off a proverbial cliff if millionaires and billionaires don't remain protected from raised taxes, and if we don't cut more programs that protect working and poor people.
The rioting and rampages that spread across English cities last week have caused severe property destruction and raised public alarm. Writing in London's Guardian, community organizer Stafford Scott describes how he was among the group that on August 6 sought information from the police in Tottenham, a poorer section of London. They wanted an official statement on whether Mark Duggan had been killed by police bullets, as had been reported in the news.
All we really wanted was an explanation of what was going on. We needed to hear directly from the police. We waited for hours outside the station for a senior officer to speak with the family, in a demonstration led by young women. A woman-only delegation went into the station, as we wanted to ensure that this did not become confrontational. It was when the young women, many with children, decided to call it a day that the atmosphere changed, and guys in the crowd started to voice and then act out their frustrations.
This event is what most media accounts have identified as the spark that set England on fire, which has caught the world by surprise. Yet, says Scott, "If the rioting was a surprise, people weren't looking."
It's been a fabulous few weeks for movies -- at theaters and at home. There are images in the great Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris, recently released on Blu-ray and DVD, that are so beautiful they can evoke an aching longing for transcendent experience. This is entirely the point, for the film is about the search for meaning in a God-breathed universe. A man goes to space to investigate a mystery, discovers himself in the face of his loved ones, and ends in an embrace with the divine -- love itself. It's an astonishing work of art that repays multiple viewings, and serves as nothing less than an icon for worship. This summer's The Tree of Life, the fifth film in 40 years from the Christian humanist artist Terrence Malick, becomes something similar, and in the process makes excellent cinematic use of Brad Pitt and Sean Penn as avatars of contemporary masculinity. It's the most moving film I've seen this year.
Many people remember "O God, Our Words Cannot Express," a hymn written on the afternoon of September 11, 2001. The hymn was quickly shared by email and Web postings (it is still on over 10,000 websites); it was used by many churches on that evening and in the days that followed. The hymn was featured in newspaper stories, radio programs, twice on national PBS-TV, and on BBC-TV in the United Kingdom. YouTube has the Church World Service music video by Emmy winner Pete Staman of this hymn being sung by Noel Paul Stookey (of "Peter, Paul & Mary") with the Northfield Mount Herman School Choir.
The new posting of this interfaith hymn includes a revised version for the 10th anniversary. Also included is "God, We've Known Such Grief and Anger", a hymn lifting up Christian hope in the face of disaster that was written for the first year anniversary of 9/11. Last week I wrote a new hymn for the tenth anniversary of September 11 with an emphasis on working for peace and justice for all.
On Monday the Dow Jones industrial average fell 634.76 points; the sixth-worst point decline for the Dow in the last 112 years and the worst drop since December 2008. Every stock in the Standard and Poor's 500 index declined.
It is easy to blame bipartisan bickering for the impasse that led to Standard and Poor's downgrading of the American debt, and in turn the vertiginous fall of the Dow. This bickering -- this substitution of ideology for reason, of egotism for compassion and responsibility on the part of lawmakers -- is a national disgrace; but while it failed to fix the problem, we must realize that it did not cause it. The cause -- and potential for a significant renewal -- lies much deeper.
So let's allow ourselves to ask a fundamental question: what's an economy for?
I hate war. I do not hate it because people die. Death is inescapable. And believers believe that we will meet those we love again in heaven. I hate war with a perfect hatred because it causes suffering and robs the world of incalculable human possibilities. It pains the earth. It creates waste and the misallocation of resources.
Saturday, August 6, 30 Americans and eight Afghans were killed when Taliban insurgents shot down a Chinook transport helicopter. The New York Times called it: "the deadliest day for American forces in the nearly decade-long war in Afghanistan."
An account in The New York Times by Ethan Bronner reports that Israeli women and West Bank Palestinian women and girls have once again broken Israeli laws. They have gone swimming in the Mediterranean Sea.
More than two dozen Israeli women invited Palestinian women and girls from the southern part of the West Bank of the Jordan River -- who are not normally allowed into Israel and have no access to the sea -- to go swimming with them. Under Israeli military occupation since 1967, according to Bronner, "most had never seen the sea before."
I have gotten so used to stories of violence in the news every morning that I confess they don't move me as much as they should, or used to. Today: Three straight days of killing in Karachi with 42 dead; Syrian tanks shelling the city of Hama, where more than 100 people have died since Sunday; U.N. peacekeepers killed by a landmine in Sudan; daily deaths in Libya; bombings in Baghdad and assassinations in Kandahar. It goes on and on.
Whenever I give talks on the effects of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian livelihood, the status of nonviolence as a means to resisting the occupation, and how I believe nonviolence is the only way to move forward to resolve the conflict and create a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, one of the first and immediate questions I get from foreign visitors to my office in Bethlehem is, What you said is good, but what about the Muslims? Do they also believe in nonviolence? Do they understand it?" Even if I don't mention religion in my presentation -- and I rarely do -- this question always seems to make its way in our discussions.
Hidden Battles is a 65-minute documentary which follows a female Sandinista rebel, an Israeli officer, a Palestinian freedom fighter, and two American soldiers as they come to terms with their combat experiences. The film offers unique insight and hope into the internal conflicts that human beings around the world continue to face long after they have left the battlefield.
The documentary listens to the stories of these former soldiers as they reconcile what it means to have killed another human. A Vietnam veteran recalls that when he first killed, he was gripped by the feeling that he "did something -- literally against God." Watch this film and see how these veterans have fought to overcome. Each soldier deals with killing in his or her own unique way. Hidden Battles shows five ways in which this act is integrated into five different lives. Ultimately these stories testify to the resilience of the human spirit and hopefulness for the future.