I am writing this after a night (morning in USA) of agony as I was concerned for my brother who works in the World Trade Center (he is safe) and sorrowful for the nation I deeply love and from which I have received so many blessings. I write when I am sad! Though I have never considered living in America, some of the happiest times in my life have been when I was there. I love that nation! I hate to see it enter a terrible state of being under the threat of terrorism, which is something we have lived with in Sri Lanka for many years.
The events of September 11 showed us the power of terrorism. Given the capacity for evil that humans are capable of, I really think that we should oppose all forms of terrorism. This is not the way to get the legitimate rights of people. Because majority groups are often so insensitive to the rights of minorities, many minorities are opting for the terrorism option these days. And much of the funding for this comes from people now living in the West. I think what happened this week shows how dangerous it is to give room for this means of fighting for legitimate causes.
Of course, majority communities and other powerful groups are usually very slow to respond to the needs of minorities and weaker groups. Therefore in battling for the rights of these people there may be times when we have to apply much pressure through non-violent means. I think the example of people like Martin Luther King encourages us here. Those committed to non-violence cannot afford to be apathetic in the face of injustice.
I am hearing a lot about retaliation on TV. If so, let it be through a legal means, rather than through bombing like what happened in Africa when probably the wrong place was bombed (a pharmaceutical factory). Such attacks provoke retaliatory attacks from which one can never have a totally secure environment. Not with terrorism!
In July 1983 our government allowed the people to go berserk for just a short time when they acted in retaliation to the killings of 13 soldiers by militants. For just a short time the government ignored the unruly expressions of people’s anger. But that helped unleash an orgy of violence whose bitter harvest is still being reaped by Sri Lanka. That violence caused the violated to respond with more violence, and many in the minority community joined militant groups that use terrorism to achieve their ends. Ever since July 1983 our nation has been on a downward spiral of destruction. More than 70,000 have died, many more are permanently maimed and our economy is in ruins. And it was precipitated after the government allowed the people to retaliate when hurt!
Today in Sri Lanka there are many people who, because of the slow progress for a resolution of our ethnic problem, say that the only way to solve it is through military means. On my last trip to the States, I met people who were exulting over the supposed victory resulting from a recent devastating attack on our airport. The idea is that if you hit the enemy hard the problems will be stopped. But that is not what is happening. If the enemies are terrorists, they will hit back in ways that are very difficult to predict and therefore impossible to prevent.
I just want to cry out that this is not the way to solve problems. I think our activist and violent generation wants quick solutions when there is frustration, and our response is to resort to things like bombing.
Our country has been brought to the brink of destruction by war and prejudice and the refusal to take bold steps for peace. We feel helpless as we see our nation deteriorating at a rate that is difficult to comprehend. We feel like fools when we talk about peace and negotiation. I think there should be a groundswell of opinion from around the world saying that enough is enough. Legitimate rights must be won using legitimate means. The best response to terrorism may not be bombing. Violence begets violence. You may win some short term victories through it, but you may end up destroying the world!
I believe that this is a time for the Christians to be different and to really practice our radical Christian principles. Christian leaders should be publicly appealing to Americans not to associate all Muslims with this event, just like we would not associate all Christians with what happens in Bosnia and Northern Ireland. In fact I feel Christians should be proactive in making Muslims feel welcome and secure in the United States. That is one way we can love our neighbors. Since first writing this piece I have heard a lot more talk about retaliation. I think this is a time for Christians to point to the other side of the coin.
Appeals must be made to Christian leaders to think on these lines and to instruct the church. Politicians will look for appropriate responses to this display of inhuman barbarism, and they must. During this time Christians could be active on the local level expressing the Christian distinctive of protecting and caring for the weak and vulnerable. At the moment Muslims in American belong to that category.
Many people in the poorer nations assume that Americans think that they are superior to the rest of the world and that therefore the world must bow down to their agenda. This is eliciting much anger and we are also recipients of that anger because we Christians in the third world are often associated with America. This is a time for the church to rise up and show a different picture: a picture of the Christians as humble servants who forgive like Christ did, who listen to the rest of the world, and care about its aspirations and grievances. It is in times of greatest tragedy that true character expresses itself in all its beauty. May the church rise to the occasion.