Tom Bender

Anger and rage from last week's terrorism acts have brought repeated calls for vengeance - not only against the terrorists, but against anyone who might have "harbored" them.

We need to seek compassionate justice for the 9/11 bombings, not vengeance. Vengeance creates only greater pain and suffering. Vengeance generates counter-violence - for endless generations. We've seen the result in Northern Ireland, in the Middle East. And we can, intentionally or accidentally, be wrong, as in Oklahoma City or the FBI attack on the Branch Daviaians. Our intelligence system is not infallible. Is our justice through the gun rather than the courts? Vengeance is not the answer.

Vengeance does not come of wisdom, nor of strength, nor of leadership. In its blindness, we would compound the grief and pain we have all felt. Having experienced its hell, have we the right to wish that on others? Having felt the pain of terrorism on innocent people ourselves, how can we write off the similar effects of our potential military retribution on other innocent civilians as "collateral damage"? If, in ignorance or arrogance, we directed it into an Islamic culture where ummah or community is held sacrosanct, we also, as the terrorists may hope, risk loosening jihad or holy war against us. And if we cause war abroad, we will have war in the streets at home. Our children will not be led blindly to another Vietnam.

Where are the values we claim to honor? Do unto others . . . Turn the other cheek . . . Father, forgive them; for they do know not what they do . . . . let those who are without sin cast the first stone . . .

The roots of terrorism touch us all. It is rare that any party to any disagreement is totally innocent. The CIA trained Osama Bin Laden, and continues to train terrorists in Georgia. The US has funded death squads in Central America and Colombia, and loosed sanctions and air strikes against civilians in Iraq. This nation is the largest supplier of "conventional weapons" in the world - weapons which fuel the starkest kind of terrorism from Indonesia to Africa. Should we be surprised when it finally returns to our own doorstep? US pilot-training schools unknowingly trained Tuesday's suicide-pilots - should we bomb the innocent people of Florida as well as those of Afghanistan? We all wonder today what we could have done which might have prevented Tuesday's devastation. Looking at our own actions, not seeking vengeance, is a vital first step.

Violent forms of religious fundamentalism have arisen in every culture and every religion and every country in response to the fundamental violence, lack of compassion. and sense of the sacred in modern culture. They have arisen as a fight for personal, cultural, religious and spiritual survival; from deep and justified fears of the exclusion of the divine from public life; and as a desperate attempt to make spiritual values prevail in the modern world. They have arisen in response to a culture which is rightfully seen as having no light, no heart and no spirituality. We have repeatedly and violently destroyed other cultures, other religions, other people. We have created economic slavery in other countries and even our own, as demeaning and destructive as any in history. We all have profited from child-labor and abusive sweatshops abroad, giving marginally lower prices in our wasteful consumer goods. We have profited from foreign doctors, desperately needed in their own countries, lured to our hospitals through higher wages. We all have responsibility to seek understanding and righting of grievances, not revenge.

Tuesday's bombings were a cry for help. We need to listen to what they were saying. Nobody risks their lives through terrorism without despair of being heard any other way.

Terrorism cannot be prevented through enhanced airport security, retaliation, or invasion of personal freedom. Any claims that it can are a delusion. Industrialized society is frighteningly complex, and vulnerable to terrorism in a million ways. Anyone who has looked at it can make up a list in five minutes that would make our hair stand on end. We've seen - in Oklahoma City, at the Pentagon, and twice now at the World Trade Center - that it doesn't take ICBMs and nuclear bombs. All it needs is powerful desperation, fear, and anger.

Terrorism can be prevented. Not by military might (a form of terrorism in its own). It can be prevented by listening to the grievances, anger, frustration, unhappiness, desperation of others, finding the true and fundamental injustices which underlie them, and acting to resolve those injustices. I think we will find that equity, security, freedom, sustainability, forgiveness, responsibility, sacredness, and giving are the kinds of keys we need to give us all the inner peace needed to prevent terrorism.

Interestingly, we have recently discovered ways to increase the productivity of our economic system by an order-of-magnitude. By sharing that equitably, we have the power to ensure the health and well-being of everyone on earth - to erase poverty, eliminate starvation, end battles over resources. In the process, we might surprisingly discover a new meaningfulness and purpose which can transform our lives and our culture.

The greatest poverty today is a poverty of the spirit - the absence of the sacred in our lives; the fullness that comes only from openness and connection with the world of spirit; the absence of meaningful and rewarding work for everyone which develops our skills, nurtures us, lets us feel of value to our communities.

We have the opportunity to transform last week's terrorism into an upwelling of the human spirit - an outpouring of compassion for those affected by the bombings, and for all people and all life, which has already begun. An opening of our hearts to seek the deep roots in our own culture and lives which has helped create terrorism worldwide as a fundamental element of modern culture. And a transformation of our lives, our institutions, and our beliefs to ones that nurture, embrace, support and enhance the lives and beliefs of others as well as ourselves.


We did not have control of what caused Tuesday's terror. But we do have control of what, in the end, results from it. Let us turn tragedy into triumph, revenge into reconciliation, hatred into compassion!

© Tom Bender
15 September 2001
38755 Reed Rd.
Nehalem OR 97131