By Makrand Deshpande
Hatred cannot be cured by hatred, only by love. We can end terrorism only by transforming people and the conditions that create it
At 9:00 a.m. (US Standard Time) on September 11, 2001, I was preparing to leave home for my nearby office at the Department of English, Ball State University in Muncie, a town situated northeast of Indianapolis in mid-Western USA.
As I was shutting the door, I saw workmen listening to a loud radio broadcast from a truck parked near the opposite house. As soon as I reached my office, a student called to ask if I was still going to hold class. She added that her roommate had been crying because her uncle was in the one of the towers of the World Trade Center that had been struck. I quickly switched on the TV news channels to find out what was going on. Even as I was desperately trying to get the news, the second tower was hit. Then a third plane struck the Pentagon. A fourth had gone missing, but later crashed into a field outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Every classroom at the university had CNN blaring out various aspects of the unfolding tragedy. All passengers on the four planes had been killed; thousands more, trapped in and around the World Trade Center complex, were feared dead. There was such incredible carnage and destruction all within a matter of a few minutes. Not just the USA, but the world had changed forever.
I decided to hold my classes as scheduled. The students who came in were shocked and bewildered. None of us, in fact, knew how to deal with the tragedy, especially because an accurate account of what actually happened was still unavailable. I let the class watch the news on CNN for a while, before turning off the TV. ”We must carry on doing what we’re supposed to, as best as we can under the circumstances, otherwise they will have succeeded,” I suggested. My students agreed. Before we began, we observed a minute’s silence to pray for those who had lost their lives and for their families.
The full impact of the tragic events has not yet emerged. More than 6,000 people are dead. The stock market has had one of its worst plunges in history. Several businesses have been badly hit. Of course, the sale of USA flags has gone up spectacularly, as has the demand for gas masks and guns. The USA has marshaled its supporters around the world and select targets in Afghanistan have been hit. There has already been an unfortunate nationalistic backlash against Arabs and other minorities in the USA.
But the real question for all spiritually oriented people is, how to respond to these events? How to make sense of them? The first thing to do is to send good thoughts and wishes to all those who have lost their lives or suffered in this tragedy. Why is this so important? Because these people were plucked from our midst suddenly. Their souls therefore need all the solace they can get from those of us who are alive and can feel their pain.
It is important to understand that events like these reflect deep contradictions, not just in the global system, but in human consciousness. These contradictions result not only in uneven development or political oppression, but also in fanatical and irrational ideologies, which become the only means of solace for unhappy and deprived souls. Inequalities and inequities in power, wealth and privilege generate enormous discontent all over the world. The root causes of terrorism, then, are these contradictions and flaws in human consciousness.
Hatred cannot be cured by hatred, only by love. By killing a terrorist, we cannot end terrorism. Only by transforming the conditions that create terrorism and by transforming people who might turn to terrorism can this menace be contained. This means disallowing and discrediting those ideologies and systems that promote terrorism. Several economic, political, social and religious institutions are involved, as also countries. All these have to share the responsibility of ending terrorism. But what is more important is that we nurture and promote peace and non-violence.
The law must, of course, take its course, otherwise society, as we know it, would cease to exist. But those who wish to retaliate should do so not with hatred in their hearts, but with a quiet resolve and minimum use of force. From the spiritual point of view, there is no absolute evil, only lack of knowledge, no sin, only ignorance. September 11 has shown that we are all interconnected. There is no safe haven in this world that can be totally shielded and untouched by events happening anywhere in the world. So, it is all the more necessary that we work together to make this planet secure for all of us. Last, but not the least, religious and spiritual leaders must clearly speak out against such acts of terror regardless of whoever carries them out.
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