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News ::
Respond to Terror with a Revolution of the Heart
14 Sep 2001

Respond to Terror with a Revolution of the Heart

by Between The Lines' Executive Producer Scott Harris

As I sat in a restaurant eating lunch the day after the terrorist attacks, I was trying to comprehend the enormity of what had happened. I read a newspaper and glanced at the TV in the corner of the room and could hear my fellow diners converse about the horrifying events of the last two days.

Comments on the death and destruction ranged from disbelief at the nightmarish images seen all day long on TV, to recounting stories of friends and relatives who were in New York City and witnessed the catastrophic assault on the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

But as I continued to listen and engage in conversation with a man sitting next to me, the predictable demand for vengeance and more death could be heard coming from the lips of many of those in the room including the kitchen staff. Several of those speaking within earshot, described their hope that nuclear bombs would be exploded over this or that Middle Eastern capital. “Kill them all, wipe them out” was a phrase I heard repeated over and over again throughout the day.

While I understand the visceral reaction many Americans have to the shocking terror strikes, I found myself feeling frightened at the hurricane of revenge blowing through the country.

I'm frightened because it is this very cycle of attack and counter-attack that has created the culture of violence and death which has characterized much of human history and pervades virtually every corner of our world today.

People living in the United States have, for the most part, been spared direct personal experience with senseless politically or religiously motivated violence. This, I firmly believe, has contributed to the general lack of empathy from Americans toward intended or unintended victims of violence perpetrated by the U.S. military and their allies in conflict zones during and after the Cold War.

Whether many of the U.S. citizens now crying out for retribution know it or not, they are sharing an emotional bond with Palestinian parents who cannot stop crying after their 8-year-old son was killed by rockets fired from a U.S.-supplied Israeli helicopter; a Jewish mother who lies overwhelmed by grief in a hospital bed after seeing her infant daughter killed by an Islamic extremist suicide bomber in Jerusalem; civilians traumatized by the brutality of Russian troops invading a small town in Chechnya; the despair of the people of Tibet who continue to suffer through decades of vicious suppression of their culture by the Chinese military; the parents of one of the half-million Iraqi children who were powerless to prevent the death of their child who perished as a direct result of merciless United Nations economic sanctions; the anguish of friends and relatives of a TV cameraman killed in the NATO bombing of a civilian television studio in Belgrade and the Nicaraguan teenager who watched helplessly as a Contra guerilla fighter financed by Washington raped and slit his sister's throat.

This toxic emotion can be found in millions of people across the globe whose lives have been shattered by injustice, violence and loss. Countless individuals in nations such as Guatemala, El Salvador, Chile, Grenada, Vietnam, Korea, Kosovo, Bosnia, Iran, Lebanon, South Africa, Somalia, Angola, Mozambique and Sierra Leone—just to name a few—have experienced the raw and destructive passion that consumes victims of repression and violence.

While rescue workers comb through the debris of the twin towers and the Pentagon, it's ironic that this feeling of hatred and lust for blood that many of us now experience is the very same irrational emotion that drove a small group of extremists to commit mass murder on Sept. 11th—which by their own twisted logic was payback for all the wrongs they perceive America has perpetrated against them.

Our nation now stands at a dangerous crossroads. Will U.S. decisionmakers yield to the mob's demand for more blood—the blood of innocent civilians—men, women and children who live in cities in faraway places, whose people practice unfamiliar religions, speak languages we do not understand? Or will we confine our nation's reaction to this horror by carefully conducting an investigation in order to apprehend and punish only those individuals responsible for this terror? I'm convinced we must go far beyond this measured response by doing all we can as individuals and in our communities to work for peace and justice in this world.

If we are to make progress as a civilization—or, more critically, survive as a species—we face the stark choice of either building a new global culture of compassion or continuing to ignore or support our current system's cultivation of inequality, militarism and the degradation of human life where economic and social decisions are guided only by market values. Without fundamental change, the forces who see violence as the only method to address legitimate grievances, symbolized in the carnage of lower Manhattan and along the Potomoc, will inevitably grow and become more destructive in this noxious environment.

If we choose to participate in this revolution of the heart, I believe constant and serious reflection is required as to how our personal actions, and those carried out in our name by our government, affect millions of nameless, faceless human beings who suffer out of the range of television cameras and out of sight of our collective consciousness.

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