Originally issued September 26, 2001.
Pax Christi USA reiterates its deep shock and unconditional condemnation of the terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania. Our broken hearts cry out for the families and friends of the thousands of victims who died in this attack. No one in the world is left untouched by these events. We repeat our call that those responsible must be held accountable under international law. Pax Christi USA believes that, in adherence to the teachings of Jesus, the principles of Catholic social teaching and the best of what it means to be an American, we can end the scourge of terror on this planet.
We at Pax Christi USA bring almost 30 years of experience in resisting terror, violence and war around the world and in this country. From our very beginning we have challenged our nation and its leaders to consider the consequences of economic, political and cultural violence at home and around the world. For nearly 30 years we have pleaded with our fellow Americans to understand that the violence suffered by those living on the other side of the world and those living on the wrong side of town will eventually fall on us unless we make economic, political and social justice for all our top priority.
We Americans Are Not The Same People.
We Americans now share something with most of the people of the world that we did not share before. Our illusion of invulnerability has been shattered. We will never be the same. Hopefully we will never again be able to see ourselves as separate from the pain and suffering of the rest of the world.
Our unspeakable grief and pain has, like a woman in labor, also given birth to a new sense of unity and has given the nation an opportunity to show its true character. We have witnessed countless acts of heroic self-sacrifice, love and compassion for those caught up in this tragedy. A new kind of American hero has been forged in the sweat and blood of countless fire fighters, police officers, emergency workers, doctors, nurses, and volunteers who gave all they had, including their lives, for the sake of others. And in those instances when the ugly face of racism showed itself, countless numbers of people of faith stood in the breach and offered protection for our Arab neighbors. In many respects this has been our finest hour.
The challenge, as we move forward to develop a national response to these horrible events, is to remain true to the best of who we are as people of faith and as Americans. Fear is understandable. What we do with our fears will truly test our faith and character.
A Deeper Understanding
Faced with such incomprehensible horror, it is not difficult to understand the enormously difficult task that fell on President Bush in the first days following the terrorist attack. As the leader of our nation, he no doubt felt a strong need to find some way to respond to these despicable acts of terror. Like any leader, he did not want to project a sense of helplessness or powerlessness in the face of a country looking for leadership.
Unfortunately and predictably, he made a decision early on to couch his response primarily in military terms. Calling this criminal act an act of war has put our country on a course of action that we believe is counter-productive and ultimately doomed to failure. To understand why the president chose a military response to this crime we need to realize that of the total budget the United States allocates for working internationally, 94% of it is for formulating military responses while only 6% is spent for diplomacy, foreign aid, international cooperation and all of our other overseas engagements (see citation at the end of this statement).
This response is just what the terrorists hope to exploit. President Bush’s declaration of a global war on terrorism fits in perfectly with the terrorist’s own understanding of jihad against the godless Americans. Describing our response to this criminal act as a total war against all terrorists and those who support them reinforces a powerful myth in the Arab world that the Great Satan of the West seeks to destroy the Islamic World.
The greatest power that terror has is the ability to regenerate itself in the face of violence. The greatest temptation facing political leaders wanting to end the violence is to believe they can achieve it by getting rid of the perpetrators of the violence. But the lessons from the past 30 years teach us that these terrorist movements have an extraordinary capacity to regenerate themselves and renew their struggle. This is the reality we face. The threat of violence will not stop with the use of military force. In fact, open warfare will create the very soil in which it can feed and grow. Even if we win battle after battle, we still lose because the blood of these martyrs will testify to the myth of why we are evil and will assure yet another generation of recruits.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. … Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate…. Returning violence for violence multiples violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
A Principled Response: Protection Of The Innocent
Right now across the Islamic world, innocent people are living in terror, wondering what President Bush may do to them. The President says, “We shall make no distinctions between the terrorist and countries that harbor them.” Shall a whole country be condemned for the actions of its leaders?
Even before a shot is fired, this declaration of war has produced thousands of refugees fleeing Afghanistan fearing an imminent attack from the US. Already Pakistan is host to two million Afghan refugees most living in squalid camps. Another million refugees are internally displaced within Afghanistan.
We call upon President Bush to immediately pledge that U.S. led forces will not target the civilian infrastructure of Afghanistan, Iraq or any other nation deemed to be harboring terrorists. To destroy the means for civilian life-support by targeting electrical grids, water purification and sewage treatment facilities as was done in the Gulf War is unacceptable and must be rejected outright. More than one million Iraqi civilians, the vast majority children, have died since the Gulf War as a direct result of such targeting. The infliction of such human suffering creates the very source of hatred and dehumanization that leads to the terrorist’s total disregard for human life.
Our response to these heinous crimes will determine whether we feed the hate and continue the cycle of violence, or whether we take a deeper approach at addressing the conditions that breed that hate.
A Call To Our Fellow Americans.
We have a choice to make. We can embrace the best of who we are as people of faith and as Americans in addressing the root causes of terrorism, or we can repeat the mistakes of the last century of death and destruction. As people of many faiths but one God, we need to be sure that our anger does not cloud our reason and that our desire to be patriotic does not cause us to abandon the principles of our faith. We should not have to choose between the two. The real challenge is to seek to understand the root causes that spawn such horrible acts of dehumanization. Without a clear understanding, it will be impossible to hold our commitment to God and country together.<
There will be those who will try to tell us that criticizing our national policies in time of crisis is unpatriotic. But, as William Fulbright, the former Senator from Arkansas reminds us, “Criticism is more than a right; it is an act of patriotism—a higher form of patriotism, I believe, than the familiar ritual of national adulation. All of us have the responsibility to act upon the higher patriotism which is to love our country less for what it is than for what we would like it to be.”
A Call To Our Catholic Religious Leaders.
In the immediate days following the terrorist attack we have been proud of those pastors and bishops who have cautioned restraint and preached against hate. These are difficult times that call for leaders to be both pastoral and prophetic. In the weeks and months ahead, there will be great pressure on bishops and pastors to either be silent or acquiesce as our political and military leaders call for support for this war. In a time of national war fever, the Church stands as one of the few respected institutions in our nation that can offer an alternative point of view. Our hope and prayer is that this important voice does not go mute, nor succumb to political pressures. Pope John Paul II stated on Sept. 12, “In the face of such unspeakable horror we cannot but be deeply disturbed. I add my voice to all the voices raised in these hours to express indignant condemnation, and I strongly reiterate that the ways of violence will never lead to genuine solutions to humanity’s problems.”
Pax Christi USA stands in full support of those leaders with the courage to place the teachings of Jesus and the social teaching of the Church ahead of support for national polices that only call for deepening the cycle of violence. Our members across the country stand ready to follow the call of those leaders who embrace the Gospel of peace with justice.