The terrorists’ attack has stunned and horrified all people of good will. We should not let the impact of it provoke us to prejudice against all Muslims nor to indiscriminate and violent retaliation.
At the same time, we need to see what we are seeing. In the mind of the terrorists, this was a religious and holy act, as perverted as that seems to us. They represent the radical and activist wing of a broader fundamentalist movement. Islamic fundamentalism is on the increase, so it will be critical how a much broader segment of Muslims react to this event.
The terrorists chose as targets the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Even if the original target was the White House, these are symbolic of what they hate and fear in the modern world: the spread of a global economy and a materialistic culture. They hate it, for they feel that it tempts and corrupts not only Western but also Islamic nations. The United States is a special target, for they feel its military power protects what is demonic evil.
They are not able at this point to engage in conventional war, so they use terrorism, but precisely as psychological warfare. Their attack was not only symbolic in its targets but in its means. They used sophisticated airplanes, directed them against buildings that were engineering masterpieces and planned the whole event to be televised. They planned it well to use our technology against us.
The magnitude of the evil inflicted on innocent people was also part of the message. As with all sudden and violent assaults, it was meant to overwhelm. Above all they sought a psychological victory. But it had a message: America has come under the judgment of Allah; you are condemned for unbelief and spreading corruption. While their primary target is modern culture, they are aware (even if modern secularists are not) that the modern world has Christian roots. For them, this is also part of a 1,400-year struggle with Christianity.
How could such an atrocity be a religious and holy act?
What the terrorists are practicing is their version, extreme as it is, of the jihad.
A jihad is a Muslim holy war, that is, a campaign against unbelievers and enemies of Islam. For the terrorists, Allah is an utterly transcendent and holy God who demands total obedience and worship from his subjects. Holy war has been a belief of Islam from its beginning in the seventh century, but its actual practice has waxed and waned. The terrorists do not promote the Jihad to advance this or that Muslim nation but rather the cause of Islam as a pure and universal religion. They are an extreme renewal movement that hopes to rally Muslims and make of Islam a world force.
Christians, likewise, believe that God is utterly transcendent and holy but also that he is a God of love. Jesus Christ revealed that God is one God in a communion of three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that, through the incarnation and the paschal mystery, Jesus Christ has opened this divine communion of life to man.
That man should “pretend” to such an intimate relationship with God is blasphemous for Muslims. For us, however, God has done everything that he might have a people made holy in Christ. He created the universe and the human race out of his overflowing love. For the sake of love, he did not destroy Adam and Eve when they sinned. Rather, out of love he sent his Son to become man, so that in the God-man he might have mercy on us.
For love, Jesus Christ, far from using violence to establish his Kingdom, suffered death himself, and a most cruel death. He did so to remove the offense of sin before his Father's eyes and to give those who accept him eternal life. All he asks of man is faith, acceptance of his loving work, love in return and service of his glory.
The terrorists intend to raise ultimate issues. Americans, Christians and all people of good will need to recognize clearly what these issues are. As I see it, some of the issues are these: Which God should a person of good will believe in, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ or Allah? Whose concept of man best promotes his development and dignity, the Christian or the Muslim? What attitude should man adopt, that of hatred for God's enemies or love for one's enemies, even for the terrorists?
And what means are to be used to advance God's cause on earth — doing violence or suffering violence in Jesus’ name?
FATHER JOHN D. DREHER Pawtucket, Rhode Island