“Attacking innocent people is not courageous, it is stupid and will be punished on the day of judgment.” Sheikh Mohammed Sayyid al-Tantawi, Al Azhar
The Sheikh Sayyid quote is plucked from a Sep 15-16, 2001 weekend issue of the International Herald Tribune following the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Towers. It appears in an article under the sub-head “Mourning: Silent Demonstrations of Solidarity and Grief Around the World.”
Going through my stash of articles saved for one reason or another over the years, this 13 year old newspaper extract reads at times like a report of the global outcry at the killings in Gaza.
A brief letter from Ira Purgalin in Barcelona published in the same 2001 paper describes being “overwhelmed by a sense of powerlessness and disbelief. Perhaps as we all get older we actually become more innocent, and are struck dumb by what one human being is capable of doing to another.”
He ends by asking, “What could be next?”
We have seen what came next. And it has not made us feel any better about our understanding of what it means to be human. Or people of faith. One of the mysteries of organized religion is that so much of the worst of what we have done, and continue to do to each other is in supposed fidelity to our professed faith. The different faith traditions foster a sense of exceptionalism, of being the Chosen Ones, of offering the one true path to salvation, of having the keys to the kingdom.
Believers lay claim to having a covenant with God that makes them special, deserving of being more equal than others, even if all are “God’s children.”
In a few short months, in department stores and churches, we will hum along or stop to sing lustily about peace on earth and goodwill to all men. We will wax sentimental about the babe in the manger and how he came to save the world. Many of us will sing our allegiance to the Prince of Peace.
But the covenantal relationship we most need to tend is the one we have with each other simply by virtue of being fellow inhabitants on this fragile planet. Our path to peace lies not in how zealously we cling to chapter and verse from the Torah or Bible or Koran. The only sure path to peace lies in how faithfully we acknowledge our connectedness to each other. The only sure path to peace lies not in bending over in prayer or lighting candles or in evangelizing. The surest path to peace lies in how we respond to the covenantal call to be generous and just and do all we can to build lasting stability and health in mind and body in our communities. Wreaking violence on others, especially the innocent, has never been a solution and it will never be.
We don’t need more martyrs to the cause. We do need to get better at seeing ourselves in each other.
This weekend, with the Elders in town to meet with people in Hawaii about their vision of a just, inclusive world, Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s words resonate:
“You cannot be human on your own. You are human through relationships. . . . We are really made for this delicate network of inter-dependence. . . The completely self-sufficient person is in fact sub-human. I need you in order for me to be me. I need you to be you to the fullest. We are made for complementarity. . . . Ubuntu says not you are human because you think. You are human because you participate in relationships. It says a person is a person through other persons. That’s what we say. But that is what the Bible says. It’s what our human experience teaches us.”
Join the Hawaii Coalition for Justice in Palestine to call for a just peace in solidarity with the message of the visiting Elders, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Gro Brundtland and Hina Jilani. Sunday Aug 31 from 2-4p.m. at the Hawai`i Convention Center. https://www.facebook.com/events/691712377585296/