If the conflict in which the U.S. is now engaged is not one of the storied “clashes of civilizations” predicted by Samuel Huntington, it does involve a potentially deadly clash of perceptions. Those in the West who have joined the war on terrorism view Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda terrorist network as self-professed agents of the mayhem that has struck the U.S.
When the U.S. declared war on global terrorism after September 11, Osama bin Laden “must have had a sense of relief when America came attacking” in Afghanistan a month later, says the author of a suddenly popular book on the rise of religious violence.
Anyone who has done much hospital calling knows about the awakening that often accompanies serious illness or injury. All of a sudden, someone who ran a small business (or a large household) cannot walk to the bathroom unassisted. Sitting upright in a chair for two hours becomes a full day’s work, and tomorrow’s goal includes eating solid food.
After leading the West to a victory over Iraq in the gulf war, President George Bush boldly promised a new world order for the 21st century. That hope received a major blow on September 11. In response, his son George W. Bush launched a military assault on Afghanistan.
Campus chaplains are reporting that special worship services have been filling their sanctuaries these days. Pews that often gather dust have been crowded with students who usually pass the churches by. They meditate, cry, pray.
We want a word from God. When, before our eyes, hijacked airplanes crash into buildings, and the towers of the World Trade Center plunge to the ground snuffing out thousands of lives, when evil suddenly and irrevocably transcends the limits of what we have assumed is possible, we desperately seek to know what God intends for us.
Our response to human horror and tragedy moves inexorably outward as if through concentric circles, beginning in the gut and the heart, moving to the head, and finally taking shape in the form of shared social responses.
After the twin towers collapsed, Washington Square United Methodist Church in Greenwich Village opened its doors and telephone lines to crying, shaken passersby. “Then the walking wounded began appearing—folks who had walked out of the ‘ground zero’ area,” reported Jacquelyn Moore in a widely circulated e-mail message.
At noon on September 11 the chapel of the Interchurch Center at 475 Riverside Drive was filled with people who didn’t know the fate of loved ones, and people who could not get home, as Manhattan was sealed off.
These past days the church has been open. People have come flowing in bearing pictures of “the disappeared,” sent by St. Vincent’s Hospital two blocks away, where the chapel was overwhelmed and the need had become too taxing for a staff readying for the arrival of the victims—victims who never came in anything like the expected numbers.