The Endless War on Terror: Remembering 9/11 and Knowing Our Neighbors

The following post, written by The Rev. Robert A. Franek, is a part of Politicus Policy Discussion, in which writers draw connections between real lives and public policy.

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the terrible terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It is a day of much remembering and giving thanks for the sacrifice of many on that dreadful day and over these many years.  Today is also a time for contemplating all that has happened since that awful awakening.

One of the questions I’ve had for more than a decade now is: How will we know when the war on terror is won? What will be the sign of the end of this war? Or to say it differently: How do we defeat a feeling? Will bombing various parts of the world back to the Dark Ages really make our country, our world safer? Is this the best path to assure our national security and bring peace to countries plagued with conflict?

Wars and threats persist. As a nation we feel less safe than ever. And as the world is on our doorsteps, because their cities and towns have been destroyed by war, we seem to have forgotten the words penned by Emma Lazarus and affixed to the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

In the midst of our tributes to the first responders of then and now, in our gratefulness for those who serve in our nation’s military and for those who have given their lives in this service, and in our hope for tomorrow, can we also make room again to ponder the call to welcome the world’s exhausted, suffering, homeless ones for whom this nation’s welcome light shines?

As much as today is about remembering, looking back, and giving gratitude to all who have sacrificed so much in the fight for the values of this nation, today is also about looking to the future and the continued struggle to uphold our nation’s security and values, while working peace among the nations of the world so deeply mired in conflict and war.

I was heartsick over the Islamophobia that arose following the terrorist attacks. In a country of religious freedom, why could Muslims not build their mosques? More, why were Christians, who are supposed to embody the love of every neighbor, so strong in opposition? I am grateful for the interreligious dialog that has begun and continues in many communities across the country and the partnerships that are being forged. Still, this strong opposition contradicts both our nation’s founding principles and the heart of Christian witness.

This irrational fear persists today and is being normalized by the Donald Trump campaign. It seems to matter not that the global community is now being represented in schools and throughout communities across the country. Our nation’s value of religious freedom is guaranteed to all but xenophobia betrays this fundamental commitment.

In the quest for national security, peace in our country, and peace throughout terror stricken parts of the world, I wonder if we have become so afraid of the other that we have forgotten one of the things that makes this country so great: its welcome of diversity in ethnicity, culture, and religion. We must know our neighbors better and cultivate a curiosity that seeks understanding.

I think we will come along way towards winning this war on terror when we follow the witness of Malala Yousafzai and work towards making sure every girl receives a free, safe, and quality education as a fundamental right. It is in schools around the world that I believe the war on terror will finally be won. It is through education and understanding and recognizing our shared humanity and common dreams for peace in our lives and world that fears will give way to friendships. Perhaps this will be the sign the war is done. Perhaps this is how we defeat a feeling, not by destroying it but rather by transforming it though listening, learning and the cultivation of new relationships.

Working to end sexism and misogyny in this country and around the world not only in schools, but all areas of life, will go along way to end the war on terror and do more good for our shared humanity in the end. We may all learn to get along in the process and as the prophet Isaiah envisions turn our weapons into instruments of cultivating life. Imagine if we worked collectively at this for the next 15 years. If we don’t I imagine we will continue to fight this endless war on terror.