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September 2011 Issue

Responsively Yours: Lessons from 9/11

By Harriett Jane Olson

Did you know that eyewitness testimony is the least reliable form of evidence? It is not just because humans may not tell the truth; it is also because “believing is seeing.” We are so conditioned to see what we expect to see that we believe that what we expect to see is what we did see. This is the reason “magic” tricks are possible — we see what we expect to see and not what the performer actually does.

Perhaps this helps us understand how people can have such different interpretations of 9/11, an event that so much of the world’s population saw over and over again in the video captured just after 8 a.m. Eastern time 10 years ago.  Some people see a terrorist act of an extremist sect.  Others see an attack by one of the world’s great religions against another. Still others see an attempt to shame the United States by attacking symbols of its financial and military power. 

In an intrafaith conversation in May, I learned that American Muslims see a cataclysm affecting them personally — an act for which they had no responsibility and over which they had no control, but which would shape their lives and the lives of their children, perhaps forever.  Hoping for acceptance in a land founded by people fleeing religious persecution became even more difficult.  Dancing in the street in some cities overseas and taunting video messages from Osama bin Laden added insult to injury in the days and weeks after the attacks. 

Relationships have not returned to their pre-9/11 norm.  Instead, in the United States, even in some of our most diverse communities, there is suspicion of persons who speak with certain accents and women wearing traditional garb are challenged in commercial establishments and on the street. One of our deaconesses shared with me that she no longer wears her birth nation’s  traditional garb on the New York City subway because of what she personally has experienced. All over the country, Muslim communities are experiencing resistance as they try to build mosques and community centers.

How does what we believe to be true affect what we can actually see taking place?

Ten years after the horror of September 11, we have not achieved closure or resolution. Few of us have really learned to “see” each other. As United Methodist Women, on the Journey: Forgiveness, Restorative Justice and Reconciliation through our spiritual growth study, what principles could we learn and share that would strengthen us in the struggle to build new interfaith relationships strong enough to endure  the power struggles and violence that now takes advantage of our fears? Where can we find the strength to decry the fantasy of firepower that blinds us to the fact that war is not the gateway to peace?

Let us turn again to the prophets and to the words of Jesus for reproof and for instruction.  May God grant us new vision — clear vision — to see and act as peacemakers, who are called the children of God. 

Harriett Jane Olson

Women’s Division
Deputy General Secretary
holson@unitedmethodistwomen.org

Last Updated: 03/20/2014
 
 

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