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Home > Home Articles > Features > 'To help heal the world after 9/11, we all need to change,' says Dean

"To help heal the world after 9/11, we all need to change," says Dean

Monday 12th September 2011

On Sunday, the Very Revd John Clarke, Dean of Wells Cathedral addressed a special service of remembrance, sorrow and hope to mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Read the Dean's sermon in full below:

Sermon preached by the Dean of Wells in Wells Cathedral at a service of Remembrance, Sorrow and Hope to mark the 10th anniversary of September 11th 2001

September 11th 2001 is one of those dates that will figure large in tomorrow’s history books. Like the day when President Kennedy was shot people will remember what they were doing when they heard the news of what had happened. I can recall vividly going upstairs to the Bursar’s office in the college where I worked at the time to ask an everyday question about finance, and remaining there transfixed, watching the television pictures on his computer, not sure whether this was reality or invention.

The collapse of the towers, the indescribable long roar and the quiet that Rowan Williams described is perhaps the defining image of the early part of the 21st century. Terrorism had come to the shores of America and the global landscape would never be the same again. For those of you who were quite young at the time it may have been the first shocking, public event that engraved itself in your memory.

Shock, sorrow, courage, anger, disbelief were the conflicting emotions of the moment. Survivors emerging from the smoke, firemen searching through the rubble, politicians, reporters and community leaders struggled to describe what was happening, let alone explain why it had taken place and what were the causes that may have lain behind it.

But the candles we have lit this evening remind us that even if this was the most dramatic act of terrorism of this still new millennium, acts of indiscriminate violence against civilians have spread across the globe during these last 10 years. The more violent the outrage, the greater the oxygen of publicity and so the greater the chance of the voice of the terrorists being heard. But much more difficult to discern are the messages that the voices and actions of the terrorists are giving, giving in such a grotesque and distorted way.

The initial reaction though is to say that these voices should be ignored, excluded, because of the abhorrent methods that have been used, methods that run contrary to the ethics of any civilized society. Whatever the aim, the deliberate killing of civilian men, women and children cannot be the way to attain it. Legitimate, democratically elected governments should not give into bullies. History suggests that the consequences of being too soft and understanding in the face of violence were all too apparent in the failure to stop Hitler in the years leading up to the second world war.

And so the response from the United States and other western governments has been to hunt for the perpetrators of terrorism, to catch them dead or alive, and to declare a war on terror. Terror was thought to be localized in Al Qaeda, the network of Osama bin Laden, a network that found a home in Afghanistan or perhaps Pakistan. But this network did not stand alone. It was encouraged and perhaps armed by other rogue states such as Iran or North Korea which Western nations declared to be outlaws, outside the international community of nations.

Such a policy of heightened security, of punishment and exclusion has had some success. The number of terrorist acts has decreased over the past five years. Osama Bin Laden has been killed. And yet it seems that there are still disaffected Muslims in this country and throughout the Islamic world who are willing to be trained to attack targets in western countries.

At the same time there are states that are increasingly ungovernable – states such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Libya. Somalia – states where the government cannot impose its power, or where its power is refused by a large section of the population, who opt for non-cooperation or local or tribal rule. This year there has been much talk and hopes of an ‘Arab Spring’, a mass movement from below in Arab nations which will lead to regimes that reflect the will of the people and permit the smooth transition of power after free elections. And yet I, for one, am not sure that this is not just wishful thinking by western powers hoping that democratic government like Westminster or the United States Congress will somehow emerge, out of very different social contexts and histories.

Over the Summer I read the Qur’an. As I read it I began slowly to become more aware of some of the roots of the distaste of many Muslims for what they perceive as the corruption and decadence of western societies. The cult of the glamorous individual responsible to no-one, runs counter to the family networks of the Islamic world; consumer culture appears obscene when television transmits pictures of affluence to nations where people struggle to find enough to eat; the sexualisation of the west challenge the values of modesty and honour that govern the relationships of men and women in the Muslim world.

For the Qur’an virtue is found in obedience, in following the prescribed teachings of God. A verse from the second Sura or Chapter of the Qur’an illustrates this. It runs ‘Those who believe, do good deeds, keep up the prayer and pay the prescribed alms will have their reward with their Lord: no fear for them, nor will they grieve.’ (Sura 2:277)

If we want to be part of the healing of the world after 9/11 we will need to change. Western nations have immense economic and military power, power that can bomb other nations into submission, power that, in spite of the recession, can ensure the economic comfort of the majority of our people. But in using that power without regard for the cultures and voices of other societies we are endangering our own souls. Even within the terrible actions of the terrorist there is a cry of pain that we need to hear, and to which we must respond. The world cannot, in the end, be made to fit the agenda of western nations alone. There are patterns of behaviour in other cultures that should not be dismissed as backward, patterns that we need to understand, to appreciate and to respect.

I was struck this week by the words of the Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who out of the wisdom of the religious traditions of Judaism spoke of the west as a civilization grown old. He said ‘Whenever Me takes precedence over We, and pleasure today over viability tomorrow, a society is in trouble. If so, then the enemy is not radical Islam, it is us and our now unsustainable self-indulgence’.

In religious terms we need to learn to repent, to recognize our share in the suffering of the world, to turn back to God and to learn again to act justly for the good of all. The reading from the gospel of John spoke of Jesus coming amongst his disciples on the evening of the first day of the week. This was the risen Jesus, the One who had been crucified and whose body was marked by suffering. His words of greeting were simply ‘Peace be with you’. They are a reminder of the particular quality of God’s peace, a peace that is inseparable from suffering, a peace that requires a solidarity with our neighbours in the trials and joys of life that they face.

Today, in this small world our neighbours are no longer distant. They live all around us. How we act as nations, the values we embrace as individual human beings have implications across the globe. A line from WH Auden’s poem September 1st 1939 has been quoted by many people this week as indicative of the state of the world after 9/11 ‘We must love one another or die’.

‘We must love one another or die’. In the final stanza of the poem Auden develops these words into a kind of prayer. They were written 70 years ago in New York at the outbreak of the second world war. They remain words for all of us this September 11th 2011.

‘Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies
Yet, dotted everywhere
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same,
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

May the lighted candles placed this evening on the altar of this cathedral be for each of us an affirming flame in the dark night of humanity.


Article from: Diocese of Bath and Wells website