The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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October 26, 2001 Issue

God summons us to choose wisely

Since the terrorist attacks on the U.S., some have used this freedom wrong

By Fr. Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem.

The first piece I wrote after Sept. 11, I cautioned against reacting, revenge, racial-scapegoating. I wish that when I fear about something, it would not come to pass.

Since Sept. 11, many things have occurred that are too predictable, and speak to the dark side of the American soul. Soon after the attack, a motorist in Southwest Chicago tried to run down an Arab woman in traditional dress, who was pushing her baby carriage across the street.

Throughout the country it got worse. People "looking like terrorists" were refused seats on airplanes or were asked to leave after being seated.

A columnist wrote about growing up among Arab American families, and how absurd this rash of abuse has become. I, too, can share similar, warm accounts of enjoying delightful Arab food with Iraqi friends whom I have known for years.

Personal accounts of healthy cross-cultural relationships have no influence with perpetrators of racial and ethnic abuse.

As this "unprecedented war" takes on a character of its own, the events of Sept. 11 have given free rein to ancient American character flaws of racial profiling, simple dualistic explanations of horrific complicated events, finding somebody weak to blame, and persecuting them.

The media has depicted Osama bin Laden as the Devil Incarnate. That plays into his terrorist strategy. We are responding to unbelievable evil, human actions. These were born in the minds of humans. All humans -- even Americans -- can hatch the same kind of evil. We have done it before.

To maintain the moral high ground, Americans must not stoop to the same level as terrorists. To scapegoat and discriminate against anybody who "looks like..." is racism. There is no excuse for that. To desecrate Muslim holy places, is to desecrate religion. People who do that, in the Christian lexicon, commit sacrilege. They sin against their own religion. There is no justification for that.

It is going on. People are using the horror of Sept. 11 as an excuse to destroy good relations that have been established with people from other lands -- good American citizens. People are using the justified need for improved security, as an excuse to attack immigrants, make it difficult for them to educate their children or to find gainful employment.

The combined events and responses to them are permitting negative, un-American, racist, xenophobic, down right unjust and illegal actions to be directed toward our most vulnerable groups. That is wrong. It does not address the problem. It aids the terrorists' goal of destroying America.

As this national response gathers momentum, we have a duty to remind ourselves of what we learned before, and not to commit the same errors. As this new racism gathers steam, let us remember that the first horrific act of terrorism on American soil was committed in Oklahoma by a homegrown, Caucasian American. Evil does not have a monopoly on any racial or ethnic group.

This is a time to stress what our national unity really is. We are many colors, many religions. We have many languages, and infinite ways to perceive and interpret human events.

This country has become a beacon of hope and freedom. It is in the continuous national dialogue with fellow Americans of every racial, ethnic and religious group that we grow in the understanding of what freedom means.

Many of us are children of Abraham: Jewish, Christian and Muslim. Our common religious tradition says we are born to praise God, we are called to be heralds of peace and justice, we are called to defend the weak and the poor. If you don't believe me, check the Bible and the Qu'ran. It is all there.

God is ever present to deliver us even from ourselves, but he gives us permission to self destruct. Now we must choose.

(Fr. Tobin is a member of St. Norbert Abbey, De Pere. He lives at St. Moses the Black Priory in Jackson, Miss., where he is associate pastor of Christ the King and St. Mary parishes.)

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