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Special Report

Time to reassess nation’s attitudes


We are always taken aback when people hate and scorn us. We are never prepared to recognize our own selfishness and our sins. But sometimes God, who teaches in unpredictable ways and at unlikely times, speaks through those who rebuke and reject us.

We will not be able to discern for some time all that God wants us to learn from Sept.11. But surely God wants us to reexamine our nation’s attitudes, its concepts of its role in the world, and what Catholics in America should do to bring the wisdom and courage of their faith to their nation.

Let’s assess three possibilities:

1) Widespread anger and frustration can prompt politicians to cater to the deep feelings of many who want “the world’s one superpower” to display its might and assert its hegemony. Not many public leaders will be calling for restraint. But religious voices must remind all of us that the desire for revenge can hardly ever justify the use of massive violence.

Revenge and retaliation will not help. Military means are unlikely to destroy the capacity of terrorists to make war or to prevent further assaults.

Even if the ethnic groups or nations that planned terror in New York and Washington are identified, bombing their cities and their hiding places may serve only to strengthen the allegiance of their followers.

2) God is almost certainly urging us to reassess the military posture of the United States. After the years of Cold War does America have a need for an “enemy”? Are terrorist Osama Bin Laden and his followers the new communists?

The terrorists who struck the Pentagon reflect a feeling widespread around the world, and shared by many Americans, that the United States has opted for violence as a way to impose its own self-interest on recalcitrant countries. That feeling may be misconceived, but it will not disappear even if a wounded Pentagon seeks to justify its traditional policies, proclaiming to the world that arms and the threat of violence will bring peace.

The arrogance built into our country’s self-description as the “only super power” is clear. In reality the United States has only 4 percent of the world’s population, but uses some 40 percent of its resources. Proportionately, our government donates less in foreign aid to poor countries than any of the 23 donor nations.

In reaction to the recent devastation, the U.S. Congress is likely to add billions to the defense budget in the name of stopping the new barbarians at the gates. The painful truth, though, is that the United States cannot protect itself against biological and chemical warfare -- even if the nation becomes a police state.

3) The third clear lesson from Sept. 11 is contained in a warning from Catholic Bishop Walter Sullivan of Richmond, Va. He pleaded with Catholics not to blame the awful events on the Muslim people.

Some 6 million followers of the Muslim religion live in the United States. Around the world, Muslims number slightly over 1 billion -- one-sixth of the human race. Over 40 nations are Islamic in their population or their government. Muslims everywhere may now be under a cloud of suspicion.

We like to think that the centuries-old antagonism between Christianity and the Muslim religion has ended. But there is little contact between America’s 62 million Catholics and the ever-increasing number of Muslim communities in America. The academic community, for instance, has only recently begun to notice the importance of understanding Islam. Georgetown University, for instance, recently employed a full-time imam for the 300 Muslims in its student body and has also established a center for the study of Islamic culture.

Echoes of a centuries-old war between the three Abrahamic faiths -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam -- were present in the attacks of Sept.11th.

It is time for the three Abrahamic religions, who believe that God has entered into history, to come together and pledge to act against hatred and violence in all of their hideous forms.

Reconciliation, cooperation between nations and the sharing of resources are the only things that will induce other nations to cease their threats to the United States.

Jesuit Fr. Robert Drinan is a law professor at the Georgetown University Law Center.

National Catholic Reporter, September 21, 2001