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From our archives: How the United States Should respond to 9/11

11 September 2021

After the 9/11 attacks, which happened 20 years ago on Saturday, the Church Times’s published two Leader columns on how the US should respond


President George W. Bush and members of his staff on phones after learning of the 9/11 terrorist attacks

President George W. Bush and members of his staff on phones after learning of the 9/11 terrorist attacks

How the United States should respond

Leader comment, Church Times, 14 September 2001

A CHOICE between two tasks faces the United States, once it has cleared up the immediate aftermath of the New York and Washington attacks. It can work to make the US a safer place, or it can raise its sights to the safety of the world. A little reflection will show that the tasks are essentially the same: one lesson from the attacks is that the US is not an inviolable island, quarantined from the consequences of the world’s tensions. Its physical distance from the world’s political hotspots has reassured Americans in the past, but Tuesday’s explosions demonstrated to the public what their government has known for some time: that distance is no object to today’s terrorist. The speed of travel and communication has made it easier to do harm anywhere in the world.

It has, though, also extended our ability to do good, effectively removing any geographical condition to the question “Who is my neighbour?” There is a global dimension to our Lord’s detailed commission to care for the hungry and thirsty, for strangers, for the naked and sick, and for prisoners, and these aims should be the goals of any country’s overseas policy. It will be hard for the US government to resist the temptation to spend billions of dollars on internal security measures, to augment its costly “Star Wars” anti-missile defence-shield. But it should use that money to transform its economic relationship with the rest of the world. It will find that this helps to demolish its image as the “Great Satan” of imperial, Zionist capitalism.

Some will argue that this is a very roundabout approach to national security, but the principle is a sound one: easier to stop the firing of the gun than to catch the speeding bullet. Better to put compassion at the heart of globalisation than the rapacious materialism that ferments resentment. There is a fundamental Christian principle involved: we are taught in scripture that we have no ability to preserve our lives beyond the time allotted by God. Our responsibility, rather, is to use our time on earth to alleviate the sufferings of others.

It is, perhaps, hard to accommodate the scale and ruthlessness of the hijackers’ attacks in such an approach. However, as active Christians we pray regularly for the large numbers of innocent lives lost every day through aggression or indifference in less visible parts of the world. Suffering is what humans inflict on each other routinely. The challenge to the United States is to use its wealth and influence to relieve some of that suffering, and not retreat into a costly defence and recrimination programme. But first the country must mourn, and we mourn with it.


How the United States should respond (II)

Leader comment, Church Times, 21 September 2001

WHEN we suggested last week that the United States should respond to the terrorist attacks upon it by initiating a programme of international benevolence, we were being, perhaps, a little too hopeful. The desire for a quick and dramatic reaction seems to be setting the agenda. Nevertheless, we hold to our view that changing the relationship between the US and the world’s dispossessed is the surest way of undermining terrorism and making the world a safer place. The peace dividend will not be paid immediately, but in the mean time the many lives that could be saved by an enhanced aid programme would be the best monument to the dead of New York and Washington.

Afghanistan, since the world’s attention is focused there, is a case in point. Were the United States and its allies seeking vengeance, they might share responsibility for one hundred times the number of deaths that were caused by the hijackers. All it requires is to let the drought take its course (aided by the incalcitrance of the Taliban leadership) and do nothing. It is the West’s apparently doing nothing that lies at the root of much of the hostility expressed by the world’s poor, particularly those schooled in the Muslim understanding of almsgiving (zakat, one of the five pillars of Islam).

It is not, however, the deaths that might be caused by neglect which are the subject of so many misgivings. The misplaced rhetoric of war, where the enemy is a concept rather than a nation, is seriously misunderstood, particularly in the Middle East and surrounding countries. The fear is that the word is being used to prepare us for the “collateral damage” that is deemed permissible in warfare, but not in the prosecution of justice. Sadly, the concept of bringing the organisers of the American attacks to justice has been swamped by this rhetorical and impractical assault on terrorism in general.

A useful parallel is the Oklahoma bombing, where the culprit turned out to be Timothy McVeigh, a white supremacist. Other supremacists exist, expressing similar degrees o f paranoid hostility to the American state, but the capture, trial and execution of McVeigh was enough. In general, governments prosecute deeds, not opinions. There is a distinction to be made between those who plot and carry out acts of terrorism and those who merely agree with them. The deaths of those in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon demand justice. The great monotheistic religions concur. But justice — away from the dead-or-alive world of the Wild West — demands the discipline of evidence, proof and a fair trial. The US government is rightly hawkish, but it should therefore emulate the hawk, which circles until it spots its prey, and then swoops on that alone.

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