Living and growing: It's time to use weapons of mass construction

Posted: Friday, November 16, 2001

Kabul has fallen. The Taliban are on the run. The Northern Alliance, aided by massive U.S. air strikes, is advancing on every front. Let's finish the job. It's time to haul out our big guns, weapons that we haven't used very effectively, ever.

Historically, mostly in situations where a weaker race or nation is facing an enemy of overwhelming power, the power of non-violence has proven effective enough to bring victory even against a powerful foe. Ghandi did it with Indian peasants against Great Britain; Martin Luther King did it against segregation in the American South; Mandela and his friends did it in South Africa. But that particular kind of non-violence may not be the weapon of choice in the war we are presently waging against terrorism in the world.

In his letter to the young church in Rome, the Apostle Paul, expanding and varying the theme of non-violence as it was taught by Jesus, said this: If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. This is not acquiescence or martyrdom or laying down in front of a tank to make a point. This is recognizing that goodness, our goodness as a nation and as a people, is a weapon that can be used effectively to overcome the evil we are facing.

Let's be clear: We did not deserve what happened on September 11. No level of perceived decadence or national sin can justify it, in spite of what the reverends Robertson and Falwell on the Right and some U.S. critics on the Left may imply. None of those 5,000 people deserved to die the way they did. Not one.

Our response will become a "test of our national character," according to the statement titled "Deny Them Their Victory," released in September and signed by 2,500 religious leaders. All agree that the terrorists must be defeated and brought to justice, but the question is how that will be done. The statement says, "We can deny them their victory by refusing to submit to a world created in their image." They must not be allowed to set the agenda. To deny them their victory, the statement asserts, "we must not, out of anger and vengeance, indiscriminately retaliate in ways that bring on even more loss of innocent life."

Let's respond out of our deepest values. If there are grievances and injustices that are breeding rage and vengeance in the Muslim world, let's face the behaviors within ourselves and within our nation that they believe bring on the injustice. You have heard people ask, "Why are so many people so angry at us?" It's a good question, and we ought not to be satisfied with simple or simplistic answers. We need to make something good come out of this tragedy. American pride is one thing; American chauvinism is quite another, and is exactly the response bin Laden and his stripe are hoping for.

Jim Wallace in Sojourners suggests that "grinding and dehumanizing poverty, hopelessness, and desperation clearly fuel the armies of terror, but a more ideological and fanatical agenda is its driving force." Wallace suggests that we attack "their ability to recruit and subvert the wounded and angry for their hideous purposes" by leading the world in a demonstrated new compassion, generosity of spirit and commitment to justice aimed precisely toward those people who have been abandoned and abused. This is the population that bin Laden depends on to support terrorism's central purpose, which is to regenerate itself, to grow, to gain momentum across the world.

America is a great country. But we are also a good country, filled with people who honestly want to do right by the world. We ought to see that goodness as the most powerful weapon we have in our arsenal. Massive military might will not defeat this enemy because they will never engage us at the level of that might. They expect us to use our might indiscriminately, and they will use the collateral killing of innocent people to demonstrate to the world that we are evil. That is their agenda. We ought to prevent them from following that agenda by doing the unexpected. Let's create a web of global ethics that will attack them with goodness. Let's create strategic alliances that will overwhelm the Muslim world with generosity and decency. Let's drop a million tape recorders across the Muslim world, with clear messages from serious and compelling Koran scholars, asserting that terrorism against civilians anywhere in the world is an insult to Allah, which it is. Let's strip bin Laden not just of his money, but of his power base. Let's heap coals of fire on the heads of our enemies by feeding them if they are hungry, creating lasting access to water if they are thirsty, and rebuilding war-ravaged economies and infrastructures even though they may have brought the destruction on themselves. Our goodness and our generosity and our inherent good are our most powerful weapons. Let's use them. Let's not be overcome by evil. Instead, let's overcome evil with good.


Thomas H. Dahl, is pastor of Aldersgate United Methodist Church

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