Column: Innocent blood for innocent blood is no just response to terror

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 10, 2002

A blessing on anyone

Who treats you as you treated us,

A blessing on anyone who seizes your babies

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And smashes them against a rock!

&045;Psalm 137: The song of the exiles

Scripture, it is said, contains the Word of God. I believe this to be most certainly true. But its words were also written by human hands, and I suspect that sometimes the human context is more obvious than the divine.

The writer of this psalm is bitter and filled with hatred toward his enemies. What isn’t clear to me is whether God endorses this position as one believers should follow or if it means that being a person of faith requires honesty about the way we feel &045; even when it comes to our anger and hatred.

Over the past year, as I have watched our government and our society respond to the terrorist threats of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, I found myself thinking about this psalm. Frequently, it has appeared as though we are consumed by our hatred, and interested primarily in revenge and security. Only we’re not being honest about it. We hide our vengeance behind reasonable words like &uot;justice&uot; and &uot;peace.&uot; We ask children to raise money for relief projects, but use tax money for more weapons.

While we haven’t actually seized our enemies’ babies and smashed them against rocks, our words and actions have been harsh and unforgiving. We have shown ourselves willing to shoot first and ask questions later. Innocent people have been hurt or imprisoned because of us, and we have offered excuses. Children have been killed in their beds by our Israeli allies, and while we have complained loudly in public, quietly we keep providing the billions of dollars that help pay for Israel’s military machine.

The lessons we learned from the attacks a year ago seem to involve how to hurt people more than heal them. The people of Afghanistan suffered at the hands of the Taliban and al-Qaeda largely because of us. We helped them when they were attacking the Soviet occupiers. They were our allies, just as Saddam Hussein was our ally while he was at war with Iran. Once the Soviets had been defeated, we walked away. Have we learned anything from that mistake? Where are the billions needed to heal Afghanistan, to help rebuild housing, provide medical care and improve nutrition?

Obsessed with revenge, we’ve also missed some other important lessons of Sept. 11.

– Wall Street was shut down for a whole week without it being a major catastrophe for our economy.

– After a few days of grieving, we forgot that people are more important than the way they earn money.

– We lost a stronger, healthier connection to the rest of the world, as we quickly turned from cooperation to unilateral action.

The Bible is the best source for guidance in these dark times, but I also find wisdom in a passage from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, when Gandalf the wizard is offering some advice to Frodo, the bearer of the ring. He points out nobody chooses to live in times of great danger, when evil seems to be gaining ground everywhere. But the wizard goes on to offer advice that applies to our situation in the real world. &uot;All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us,&uot; Gandalf says.

We are not forced to react only in certain ways when we respond to terrorism. We are capable of deciding what to do, and the choice we make reveals the true content of our characters, just as the choices made by terrorists reveal theirs.

There is still time to choose a better way to deal with these most recent outbreaks of violence in the world, but that window of opportunity gets narrower and narrower every day. We close it a little further every time we hurt another innocent person who gets in our way. We get no closer to justice and peace by following the path of vengeance, whether we react out of blind rage or bide our time until our enemies let down their guard.

We need to choose life, and stop relying on death and destruction as we respond to the actions of those who are trying to destroy us or we are no better than they.

David Rask Behling is a rural Albert Lea resident. His column appears Tuesdays.