Sunday, September 03, 2006

Twin Towers | Icon

As we approach the fifth anniversary of 9/11, the Twin Towers will fall again and again before our eyes this week; breaking-into our living rooms; breaking into our lives; silently disrupting our clamorous demands that we be entertained. These are among the most iconic images of our generation: iconic in the cultural sense of being instantly recognisable, fixing us in time and space…but also iconic in the religious sense, of being an image in which we encounter God, gaze upon him and feel his gaze upon us.

I do not believe that the destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre was God’s will, an act of divine judgement on the West. And yet, I do believe that standing at Ground Zero we, as westerners, (can, and ought to) encounter God’s judgement.

9/11 was a ‘kairos’ event, a moment where life, as we know it, is interrupted – rudely, violently interrupted – allowing the Kingdom of Heaven to break-into the world, to fill and transform the vacuum. For those who fell, and cried out to God in their falling, I believe the Kingdom of Heaven broke in with mercy and with rescue, if not of the body, of the soul. For those who witnessed the events first-hand, not mitigated by a TV screen; and for those who lost loved ones in the pillars of fire and cloud; I believe that the Kingdom of Heaven was, and remains, available, in the here-and-now, for healing. But for us as a wider community, who by our actions and our refusal to act have endorsed a global economy that exploits two-thirds of the world, I do believe the Kingdom of Heaven broke in, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear, with judgement.

The choice of the ‘World’ Trade Centre was not arbitrary; nor was its concerted targeting wrong – though the means of targeting was utterly evil. But what concerns me as much, perhaps more than, the acts of terror is the response of the West. Presented with a moment for repentance, we chose defiance. Presented with an opportunity to re-evaluate our society, we chose to redouble our efforts to continue on the same path as before. Presented with the possibility of opposing and defeating evil through choosing to love our enemies and laying down our lives for another – sacrificing our monetary security so that fewer children might die needlessly in Africa, for example – we chose to attempt to oppose and defeat evil by its own means, at its own game…and have succeeded in fuelling the fires and cause of terror against us.

Five years on, we get another moment, another opportunity, another possibility…

“How long, how long must I sing this song? How long, how long?”

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  1. This is a very good, and a very provocative, post. It takes courage to assert that 9/11 constituted a judgement from God on Western society.

    It's hard to separate it from your other assertion, that the perpetrators were evil. But perhaps it shouldn't be such a stretch for people who know biblical history. After all, God repeatedly used pagan nations to execute judgement on Israel.

    How to respond, that's a whole other question. Must the West turn the other cheek? Or would it be possible both to repent and to get aggressive with terrorists?

    (Not meaning Iraq, btw! Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.)

  2. How to respond? That is, indeed, a whole other question.

    However, there are very clear guidelines, arising out of lengthy international deliberation, and forged in the context of times of exceptional acts of terror such as the Nazi Holocaust. There are the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 1949 Geneva Conventions, the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the 1984 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to cite just four - all of which are currently being violated by the US administration and some of her allies.

    Personally, I think the term 'terrorist' has lost most, if not all, of its value, given that:
    a) one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter; and
    b) in pursuing the War On Terror, the peppering of Iraq/Lebanon with depleted uranium/unexploded cluster bombs by the US/UK/Israeli armies amounts to inflicting terror on civilian populations...

    Terrorists - or rather, those who inflict terror - certainly need to be brought to justice. That is one of the fundamental problems with Guantanamo, for example, where there is no legal process, but indefinite detention.

    How to respond is not an easy question, and certainly has no easy answers. But it does have answers that have been come to through the experience of terror perpetrated on every continent in recent history. We are ignorant if we assume our context is unprecedented, or makes the wisdom of recent generations obsolete.

    How to respond is not an easy matter. But, at present, we are being presented with a masterclass in how we ought not to respond...