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Asian friends send prayers, advice


Shock and grief have numbed our nation. At times like these it is uplifting to know we are not alone in heartache and that words such as “human family” take on new life.

I was not prepared for a phone call from London just minutes after the attack on the Word Trade Center, televised live worldwide, from a woman who called and expressed her “sympathy with all the American people.”

Instinctively acting as a journalist, I sent out e-mail messages to friends and associates around the world, mostly in Asia where I have traveled in recent years, to gather reactions. Their responses came quickly -- and in almost every instance with a note of sympathy.

“I feel a deep sense of sorrow,” a journalist in Mumbai, India, wrote. “We in India in this time of crisis would like to stand by our American brothers and sisters.”

From Beijing, a woman wrote: “I feel deep sorrow and offer a tearful prayer for all the victims. God is so serious in creating us free that the intolerable is seemingly tolerated. But this is surely not true. To tolerate such hatred is the last thing God would want.” She added that the Chinese papers “have shown shock and genuine sympathy,” finally saying, “I would say even empathy.”

“We feel as if the terrorist attack had taken place right in front of us in Delhi,” a Jesuit in New Delhi wrote. “Here we feel one with the victims and the people of the United States. This morning we prayed in a special way for the people in New York and the families of the victims. But our people will not be defeated in their faith and hope for peace for our world.”

From Canada, a woman in Montreal wrote: “My heart goes out to all the American people, to the victims and their families, in the wake of this horrendous and deliberate terrorist act.”

And this from a woman religious in the Philippines: “I extend my heartfelt condolences to the people of America who are under shock and who are faced with terrible loss. … I offer you courage and hope at this time of apparent hopelessness.”

These expressions of solidarity and sympathy were offered to be shared and to lift our spirits. One cannot read them without feeling the strength of human bonds.

In almost every instance, these and other friends from various parts of the world also offered perspectives and advice. Because these are friends, because these supporters and sympathizers want America to succeed, their voices need special attention.

A religious in southern India added this, almost sheepishly, to his note of condolence. “It is also important to locate the present incident in a global scenario as this incident is not unrelated to such others,” he wrote. “There is a lot of injustice in the world. But justice is an essential ingredient of peace. Justice involves providing a decent living environment for every human being, no matter of what religion, race or citizenship. I think that it is the duty of all nations in the world to ensure such an environment.”

An educator whose home is Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, offered sympathies, and then added: “I ask who would do something like this? Who would be so filled with so much anger and hatred? Immediately my guess was that these must be people who have in their own lives experienced a great deal of hatred and violence. They, too, were human beings, but human beings who personally suffered much pain and perhaps had seen their loved ones suffer violent death.”

And this from an Indian scholar: “The guilty must be punished, but America needs to develop skills and tools to better understand why religion gets abused for political purposes.”

Another scholar in India, a Jesuit, sent me a text he had written that contained the following sobering words of advice: “Unfortunately this will polarize the world even further. It is a polarity of civilizations, a polarity between different accepted ways of acting, but more basically a polarity between haves and have-nots. This world can no longer overlook this polarity as if it was something natural and acceptable. Africa and the poor nations of Asia cannot continue to be treated as the junkyard of the First World. The economic exploitation of nations and people will have to give way to a new civilization of cooperation and mutual concern. The alternative is death.”

In Mumbai, India, a woman added this to her note of sympathy. “When the American people have got over the initial pain of this great tragedy, they need to reflect more seriously and deeply about the role of their country on the world stage. I do echo your sentiments here and repeat, [Americans] should remember that we are one human family. The pain and suffering of people in one part of the world affects everyone. You cannot talk about globalization only in terms of wielding economic and political power. You have to begin to think about it in human terms as well. Because of American business, political and military power and games, many people in the rest of the world continue to suffer as much as the Americans have done on Sept. 11 if not more, because it is often a continuous suffering. Will the people of America begin to demand that the ‘American powers that be’ become more accountable and humane toward the rest of the world?”

I can assure you these are friends of America speaking, pouring out their hearts. Will we listen?

Thomas C. Fox is NCR publisher. He can be reached at tfox@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, September 28, 2001