The Towers of Hell

William Loader

The image of the mighty towers of the World Trade Centre imploding, sending concrete floors crashing down, layer upon layer, crushing those still trapped in its floors, continues to fill the mind with horror. The bizarre scene of a commercial airliner slicing into the upper floors and exploding in a ball of flame still strains credibility. The terrible image of people trapped above the gash or leaping to their death to escape the heat is seared upon the memory. Beyond the dramatic footage of the television reports we were left imagining what it would have been like aboard the airliners. What would people have known? When would they have realised they were a living bomb? What would it have been like not to know for days whether a loved one had survived? What would it have been like being crushed in the rubble of collapsing concrete floors?

The pain of such an event is unimaginable. No words could capture the grief. Its terror settles deep into the soul, creating fear and uncertainty. Welling up beside the revulsion comes the anger; for some, indiscriminate hate, which is impatient to lash out savagely at the unfamiliar, to find targets of blame, to release the fury of revenge and meet terror with terror; for others, a deep revulsion at the callous violence and a sad anger which energises the quest to bring the perpetrators to justice and seek change.

Such mad cruelty wants war, seeks violence, braces for vengeance and counter-strikes, plans disintegration. Its fanaticism perceives its enemy as evil, Satanic, against which no holds are barred. It seeks to live out the great battle between light and darkness, God and the devil, and to draw its American foe into the conflict. Seduced by the challenge many will answer the call, so that both sides will see themselves as fighting for God’s cause, a fight to the death.

Violence begets violence. War begets war. The spirit which seeks to prevent such violence, and, by strength, to disarm the perpetrator, is easily hijacked by the will for vengeance. The result is an ‘our side - their side’ stance which loses sight of the goal which is peace and justice for all. Society needs protection against the violators. They must be prevented from wreaking their havoc. But it must do so in the name of seeking to assert and preserve the dignity of all human beings, even the perpetrators. Letting go these primary values as the basis for tackling terrorism exposes us to the very values which also inspire them: hate.

Answering hate with hate is not the answer. Hate has a habit of breeding indiscriminate disparagement, of lashing out at others who are imagined as a potential threat, sometimes just because they are unfamiliar. We have seen it in these last days as people have identified particular ethnic or religious groups as the enemy. Wellings up of hate usually spill over into mindless racism and violence against the innocent, indeed, against all minority groups in a community, as they evoke deep fears and prejudices.

Actions must be prevented. Resolute strategies, which necessarily include force, are required to do so and to remove threat. But respect for human dignity demands that we probe beyond such grotesque manifestations of inhumanity. What is it in our world that is such that people choose to develop such ghastly responses? Is it just the religious fundamentalism which drives its cause and inspires such suicidal feats? Religion can be terribly dangerous. Our Christian history is littered with ‘God-based’ cruelty. Islam (Arabic for ‘peace’) is not alone in the struggle to do theology, to assert the compassionate nature of God against the hating images of some of its exponents.

Violations of human life were not suddenly invented in what was shown on our TV screens. They have been around for a long time. More often than not they are hidden in the distress of people unable to articulate their woes. Poverty and malnourishment silence the victims. The complex injustices of economic exploitation, governmental mismanagement and corruption crush hundreds of thousands of people. Those still with some means try to escape cruel regimes by whatever means possible only to be maligned as unwanted refugees. Huge debts weigh like concrete slabs on weak economies.

When change comes, it comes so slowly that those who know and hope despair or persevere heroically in advocacy and struggle to dislodge oppressive systems and move governments to compassion. We should not be surprised that some who cannot stand it any longer reach for violent means. International banditry is a symptom of deep malaise in our world order. We must stamp out such banditry. But that will be of little use if we do not also stamp out the less obvious but much more substantial banditry which pushes people into poverty, for it will only reinvent itself.

The world faces an opportunity to renew itself from the fallen towers. It would be a tragedy if what was renewed was the wealth of some against the majority of the world’s population. It would be a terrible failure if the only exploits are joint actions against terrorism. We have an opportunity to re-address the causes as well as the symptoms, to recognise that if we do not concern ourselves with peace and justice in the world we are simply creating the breeding ground for more violence. We are probably better able to find broad agreement these days on the worth and dignity of all human beings than ever we were. The energies unleashed by the September horror need to be harnessed for good, not for playing a quasi-religious goodies-baddies cosmic war.

Is not God in lament at the tragedy? Is not God in lament at the poverty? Is not God in lament at the apathy and the willingness to hate? Let us honour the victims of violence wherever they are with a return to peace and justice. Something new and strong needs to grow up from this devastation.

The world faces an opportunity to renew itself from the fallen towers. It would be a tragedy if what was renewed was the wealth of some against the majority of the world’s population. It would be a terrible failure if the only exploits are joint actions against terrorism. We have an opportunity to re-address the causes as well as the symptoms, to recognise that if we do not concern ourselves with peace and justice in the world we are simply creating the breeding ground for more violence.  YelvertonSheoakChaletTree1.jpg (34595 bytes)
We are probably better able to find broad agreement these days on the worth and dignity of all human beings than ever we were. The energies unleashed by the mid September horror need to be harnessed for good, not for playing a quasi-religious goodies-baddies cosmic war.

Is not God in lament at the tragedy? Is not God in lament at the poverty? Is not God in lament at the apathy and the willingness to hate? Let us honour the victims of violence wherever they are with a return to peace and justice. Something new and strong needs to grow up from this devastation.

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