Walter H. Wagner Ph.D. Adjunct professor of theology at Moravian College and Theological Seminary, Author of “Opening the Qur’an”
The Worldwide Repercussions of Incitement To Hatred and Violence
The names of those who died are engraved at the Pentagon, Shanksville and the Trade Towers. Yet a decade after 9-11, conferences, conspiracy theories and, of course, law suits continue. We still ask, “Why? What next?” Memories of the explosions, fires and collapsing buildings, of persons leaping to their deaths, and the courage of the first responders are seared into the emotions of millions of Americans and billions around the world. President Bush asserted that 9-11 was an act of war. Soon the term “Global War On Terror” emerged, followed by actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have had Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, shoe and underwear bombers, drones, IEDs, attacks on Bali, subways in London and Madrid, self-detonating martyrs, Post Traumatic Shock Syndrome, nearly 5,000 US and NATO soldiers killed, massive corruption, and colossal expenses. Millions are refugees in neighboring countries and thousands displaced in their own lands. The number of dead, maimed and traumatized Iraqis, Afghans and Pakistanis may never be tallied. Many Americans and Europeans see the so-called Global War on Terror as a Global War on Islam. Zealous patriots and theological ideologues use 9-11 as the match to ignite hatred and violence for and against religions and believers. Indeed, 9-11 has had world-wide repercussions.
The men who turned civilian airplanes into weapons regarded themselves as soldiers in a decades-old conflict. They. their sympathizers and those who hold contrary still violent convictions seek to turn the slogan “Clash of Civilizations” into reality. 9-11 was part of morphing Euro-American Islamophobia into Muslimophobia. Many in the Global South reciprocate by fearing and loathing domineering forms of Westernization. Before the jets were turned into weapons, other weapons were deployed by nations and global conglomerates. These include support for regimes that impoverish and oppress their people, corrupting officials, mocking religious symbols, and media-transmitted seductive representations of so-called modernity. Many Muslims, Hindus and secularists consider their values and societies under attack by new forms of old imperialism. Skirmishes had already taken place in the parking garage of the Trade Center, embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Big power policies in the Iran-Iraq War and the Desert Storm campaign of 1991 set the stage for taking the war to the American home front on 9-11. Are we doomed to a clash of civilizations that uses religion to promote world-wide fear and hatred? I believe we are not doomed but in danger.
As religion is used to foment fury, so religion can engender understanding and cooperation. Yes, the world’s religions are challenged by internal debates over teachings and practices, ethnicity and geography. Still, each has plugs and sockets, points and openings, for connecting to one another in order to transmit divine power and hope to our world. A crucial religious task is to confront and reverse incitements to hatred and violence, then work to replace the clash of civilizations with a dialogue and coalition of civilizations. As a Christian and an American, I think Islam provides a wedge into present dilemmas and opportunities. Islam’s theology of creation and anthropology of spirituality can open ways for believers of all faiths and commitments to begin healing and peacemaking in our world.
As anticipated, I am pointing to Fethullah Gülen and Hizmet as essential leaders within Islam and for carrying forward that wider religious task. It would be presumptuous for me to comment on internal Muslim issues, and I know that Gülen and Hizmet associates are working in that area. In addressing the wider religious task, I suggest briefly 3 Quranic markers that are important for Hoҫaefendi, Hizmet and those of us from other faith commitments.
1. The world. The one God has done more than call the world into existence. Quranically and biblically, this is God’s world no matter how or how long it took to attain its present shape. It is to be handled with reverent care, perhaps even as a living being certainly not as expendable or exploitable. Further, Islamically speaking, God impressed the 99 Beautiful Names into whatever exists. So mercy, compassion, wisdom, justice, patience, judgment, etc. are in the world and can be called forth from it. Hatred, violence, oppression, ignorance and abuse of the creation and its creatures are anti-natural and have destructive consequences within and beyond the present. Gülen’s Quranically–grounded account tells us to pay attention to, learn from, and seek to be in harmony and at peace with the world. God has arranged of the world so that it will yield abundantly. So God wills humans to allocate portions of that abundance where there are needs for food, clothing, shelter, healing, help to any and all regardless of who or where they may be. As the Qur’an’s Opener puts it: “In the name of God most gracious, most merciful, Raab alaamin – Master, Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds…”
In essence Gülen sees the world as the arena of God’s love eagerly waiting to be applied. In action, that is what Hizmet – Service in the Name of God – is called to be and do. That leads to the 2nd point.
2. Gülen’s application of the Qur’an’s view of humans. Made of clay and animated by God’s breath, Adam and all in him – either literally or metaphorically – have the same origin, from the earth yet linked to the Divine. Humans are given the high and holy role of being God’s caliphs – leaders – in caring for the world and one another. The 99 Names are pressed into us. Of special importance in Islam and for us, humans have the abilities, responsibilities and accountabilities to make decisions and to undertake activities. God raises up human guides, and lays out the Straight Way to peace.
The world around us is a network of signs pointing to the 99 Names. The Names within us prompt us to be those Names. Yet, we are hasty, ready– to–be deceived creatures who are often harmfully indifferent to others and cruelly ungrateful. Nevertheless, Islam insists that we are not programmed or fated to be greedy or violent. Within each of us, even in our enemies, is the capacity to change, to return to the Way of Life.
Once I thought that Hoҫaefendi was incredibly, unrealistically optimistic about human nature. Now I begin to understand that he sees a person as both the sculptor and the material to be sculpted. The model is what God has set us to be: intelligent, spiritual flesh and blood beings living on earth, seeking justice, working toward harmony, building the statue of our souls virtually every day. Person by person, group by group, Gülen envisions the formation of a Golden Generation of heroes and heroines from different religious communities and ideals serving the causes of mercy, justice and peace through bringing reason, secular knowledge, and scientific skills into dialogue with ethics and spirituality aimed at achieving peace based on love. Hizmet is the start of that generation of dialoguers and doers.
Now I think that Hoҫaefendi is credibly optimistic because I see the women and men of the Movement in service intellectually and pragmatically. Gülen claims that God wills peace beyond, even through our hesitations, anxieties and fears of the unknown and of one another. The alternative may be more and worse 9–11s.
3. Gülen is a devout Muslim who shares with many Christians and Jews a firm belief in the Hereafter, a time of judgment, accounting and eternal peace. He envisions this world as a field in which we plant the seeds of our deeds. What will we reap? How will we be nourished? Whether one understands the End Times and eternity literally or symbolically, there are plantings and harvesting in the present. What we do now will have consequences long after we are gone. 9–11, what led to it and followed from it into the present cannot the undone. What can be done, is what we do with it from this point on, and what we do in God’s world, with ourselves and for future generations.
Our conference’s title challenges us for a transformation. Try this “Excitement to Justice and Peace on the Basis of Our Religions And Commitments.”