September 11th Response

The following letter, signed by 41 members of First Mennonite Church, was published in The Morning Call on September 26, 2001. It addresses the events surrounding the attack on the Pentagon (Arlinton, VA) and the destruction of the World Trade Center (New York City) on September 21, 2001.

As Americans who love their country but who are also committed to Jesus Christís gospel of peace, we struggle to respond to the terrorist attacks of September 11.

Stunned by the magnitude of this crime and the senseless loss of life, we offer our prayers, money, skills, and blood to help bring healing. We are grateful for the courage and endurance of the rescue workers, and we are heartened by the near universal signs of solidarity with the victims and their loved ones. Yet, we are also deeply saddened by the increasing rhetoric of war and retaliation that encourages U.S. military action. We add our voices to those calling our nation to look for another response.

As Christian pacifists, we strive to follow the example of Jesus Christ, who teaches us to break the vicious cycle of violence by loving even our enemies. Christ demonstrated that we can stand up to evil without resorting to evilís tactics of violence and retribution. Jews, Muslims, Bahaíis, Buddhists and Hindus who are committed to nonviolent resistance draw their inspiration elsewhere, of course. Still, we join together in declaring that Godís love calls us to peace and justice, not vengeance. With our neighbors from these varied traditions, we urge our nation and its leaders to turn from the rhetoric of war and to combat terrorism in more promising ways.

In making this challenge, we view ourselves as patriots and ask our fellow Americans to consider the following:

Does the rush to vengeance play into Bin Ladenís hand? Bin Laden seems bent on polarizing the world into two major camps: his distorted brand of Islam vs. the West. Military action will alienate and inflame the passions of many in the Islamic world who already view us with suspicion, thus advancing Bin Ladenís agenda.

Many around the world live in constant fear of violence and terrorism. Yet, when it has suited our short-term national interests, our nation has frequently supported state-sponsored terrorism and directly trained terrorists, including training terrorists in Afghanistan. We need a national policy that withdraws U.S. support from all forms of terrorism, leading toward greater safety for all.

If our nation pursues military action, we will maim and kill thousands of innocent civilians. Most Afghanis had nothing to do with the attacks on this country. Most are poor, struggling for survival in the midst of a severe drought that follows the devastating conflict with the Soviets. Outraged at the loss of innocent life in our country, are we now ready to kill just as many innocent people abroad as we try to get at Bin Laden and those who support him?

Perhaps we should be talking about prosecuting a "crime" against humanity instead of a "war" with terrorists. The language of war implies a level of legitimacy and widespread support that these criminals do not have or deserve. War also implies an easily identifiable and targetable enemy, which we do not have. The language and legal framework of criminality seem better suited to punishing these heinous acts.

Can our nation respond in ways that promote trust and solidarity with both nations and ordinary people around the world? Such relationships would provide far more security than military reprisals. The sympathy and cooperation of other nations and common people would strip terrorists of their hiding places, limit the base from which terrorists recruit, and provide a protective watchfulness in every corner of the globe.

With those who show their support by waving the flag, we stand in solidarity with the recent victims of terror and we take pride in this nationís many great qualities. This greatness does not, however, reside in military might. Instead, our nationís greatness is found in freedom of conscience for all and in the virtues of courage and sympathy exhibited by so many since September 11.

While the above comments and questions are crucial, our call to step back from military action is grounded in the example set by Jesus Christ. Surely, if we think more deeply about his example, we can move toward a world that is both more just and safer.

For other commentaries on responding creatively to the events of September 11, 2001, see "Sept. 11 Response".
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Last updated: September 26, 2001.