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We must not give in to our fear, hatred

Friday, September 14, 2001

Because Tuesday morning began on such an apocalyptic note, my thoughts naturally turned toward an obscure verse in Revelations, a passage that begins ominously with "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great."

Watching live footage of the smoke billowing from the ruins of the World Trade Center, I couldn't remember the entire passage, only the drift of it. The image that came to mind revolved around merchants at sea staring in disbelief as Babylon's skyline burned in the distance.

Watching the catastrophe from their ships, the mariners, money-lenders and kings of the Earth chanted, "Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon. For in one hour, your judgment has come."

The literal-minded may think it unpatriotic and even blasphemous of me to compare the ancient capital of sin and commerce to modern Manhattan. But it was a dark thought that quickly passed, once the horror of what had occurred to America at the hands of terrorists sunk in. No metaphor in the Bible could prepare us for the sight of the World Trade Center collapsing except, perhaps, Judgment Day.

Still, I've been struck by the free rein to hatred expressed by many of my fellow Americans since Tuesday's horrific events. It's hard not to notice and be ashamed of the percolating rage rising against Muslims here and abroad. To hear callers on talk radio tell it, Islam and its practitioners are the sole locus of evil in the modern world.

According to many who'd be at a loss to find any Islamic country on a map, Afghanistan and other countries may have to be bombed "back into the Stone Age" if that's what it takes to "get" terrorist Osama bin Laden.

In trying to outdo the jingoist at the next stool, even so-called Christians have jumped on this evil bandwagon, as if righteous indignation could be legitimately expressed through death delivered from the sky in the form of missiles.

The Taliban, Afghanistan's antediluvian rulers, may be the only regime in the world to openly worship death and material deprivation. They'll bury their dead and keep shooting because they have nothing to lose.

Since Tuesday, American military enlistment is up. Young men incensed by this week's terror attacks are volunteering for duty guaranteed to put them in touch with the bloodiest parts of reality. But long after flag-waving and bloodlust are swallowed by complacency, American soldiers will need more than patriotism to remember why marching toward Kabul in some future winter of darkness really matters.

If only the ranks of our diplomatic corps could swell as quickly with ferociously intelligent and principled peacemakers. Since anyone can become cannon fodder, the world needs a generation of leaders willing to question the dubious wisdom of imams, priests, rabbis, generals and presidents whose first priority is "doing unto others" with escalating waves of violence.

Some consider hatred of Arabs a reasonable prejudice, but it smells like demonology to me. It can echo the anti-Semitism that has scarred Western history for two millennia.

Some insist that striking Afghanistan while the blood still boils will bring about security, but this is the patriotism of the grave. It's the same logic that has maintained the hatred between the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael, rival sons of Abraham by different mothers, since the opening chapters of Genesis. How can sibling rivalry this bloody spill over the pages of history for 5,000 years and the world not weary of it?

Perhaps Plato, flawed man that he was, said it better than anyone who ever lived: "Only the dead know the end of war." Despite the propaganda circling the Arab world, Americans aren't demons. We don't deserve to be called the Great Satan, yet. But if we succumb to irrational hatreds that would bring this unholy war to America, we'll find that in reacting to it, we're a lot closer in spirit to Babylon than we ever imagined.

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