At 9:58:59 the South Tower collapsed in ten seconds, killing all civilians and emergency personnel inside… The building collapsed into inself, causing a ferocious windstorm and creating a massive debris cloud. (The 9/11 Commission Report, pages 305-306)
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks were split. (Gospel of Matthew 27: 51)
Homeland security — the concept and its institutional manifestations — emerged from our response to the death of innocents. “September 11, 2001 was a day of unprecedented shock and suffering in the history of the United States. The nation was unprepared. How did this happen, and how can we avoid such tragedy again?” (The 9/11 Commission Report, preface xv)
Many core notions of homeland security are rooted in our understanding of 9/11’s cause. “We learned about an enemy who is sophisticated, patient, disciplined, and lethal… it’s hostility toward us and our values is limitless.” (The 9/11 Commission Report, preface xv)
This enemy had long been active. Al-Qaeda had previously attacked the USS Cole and our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Hundreds of innocents were killed and mutilated in these and other prior attacks.
The crucial differences on September 11 were scale and proximity. Attacks on New York and Washington, the televised collapse of both towers, the Pentagon’s gaping wound, the weaponization of passenger planes, these claimed our attention in a way death and mayhem elsewhere had not. We responded with anger, confusion, denial, fear, courage, generosity, care, aggression, and much more.
Homeland security still reflects these contradictory motivations.
How do we protect the innocent without ourselves killing the innocent? How do we preserve freedom without betraying freedom? How do we connect dots without in the process creating dots (or worse)?
At sundown tonight the Jewish festival of Passover begins. These are the last hours to remove any chametz — yeasty, leavened products — from observant households. There are several origins for this tradition. For many it has become a disciplined practice for eliminating prideful attitudes from worship and relationships. During Passover the puffy chametz is replaced by unleavened matzah.
Rabbi Menachem Posner writes, “Chametz is pride and conceit. The flat matzah, on the other hand, represents humility. Usually, it is easy to tell the difference. But sometimes things are not so clear and the difference between the two is hard to see… Before Passover, we search our homes and our hearts for the… almost indiscernible bits of pride which we have yet to identify.”
Today in many Christian traditions the crucifixion of Jesus is remembered. The gospel accounts overflow with anger, confusion, denial, fear, courage, generosity, care, aggression and much more. Fear is especially prevalent.
The most ancient ending of Mark closes with, “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Matthew’s gospel has both an angel and the resurrected Jesus tell those at the tomb, “Do not be afraid.” The instruction does not persuade.
Pride or fear are each troublesome enough, combine them and the outcome can be murderous. In recent weeks there has seemed to be one example after another of this terrible nexus. Men (mostly) have exploded in a collision of fear and pride.
The affective — often religious — dimension of homeland security is treacherous. It is also ubiquitous.
Each Friday is the Islamic Day of Assembly or Jumu’ah. Today in Jerusalem even as Christians retrace the way of the cross through the narrow streets of the Old City, the adhan echoes from Al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock.God is great. I proclaim there is no God but God. I proclaim that Muhammad is the Messenger of God. Come to prayer. Come to success. God is Great. There is no God but God.
Come to success: come to falah in Arabic. Come to happiness, well-being, fulfillment. A Muslim friend tells me it is derived from the same Arabic for tilling the soil and suggests breaking open any hardness to allow intrinsic potential to unfold.
There are social science principles, psycho-social explanations, and even biological bases for pride, fear, and religious faith. Homeland security should avail itself of every source of wisdom. Even religious wisdom.
Religions know something of paradox, hypocrisy, failed idealism, profound doubt, and death of both innocents and innocence. Religions have experience with self-righteous rage, healing forgiveness, evil, transcendence, violence and love. Religions can tell us something of struggling with unresolved — irreconcilable? — tensions between first principles.
Put aside pride. Do not be afraid. Be vulnerable to relationships that can break open rocky soil and release abundance.