September 11 Remembered: New Twin Towers – Justice And Development

Reprinted from The Common Good, no. 25, Spring 2002
Jim Consedine

Nothing has impacted so dramatically in the minds of western nations these past 12 months as the sight of the twin towers at the World Trade Centre in New York crumbling under the assault of the suicide planes on 11 September 2001. To watch it happen live on television brought a surreal dimension to the horror of the occasion.

The twin towers were huge symbols of both western power and the fruits of capitalism. The towers dominated the skyline in a bold, almost arrogant, display, looking down upon their more sedate older neighbours with a brashness that captured modern American economic values at a glance.

The bombing was an unspeakable crime against humanity, a mass public execution of nearly 4000 innocent people. It was spectacular in its planning and its accomplishment, leaving an imprint upon the US soul greater possibly than anything previously experienced in their history, including the surprise bombing of Pearl Harbour in 1941.

The first comment made by Jane Sammon of the Catholic Worker in Manhattan to the CW in Christchurch after the event was ‘how they must hate us’. She was referring to the suicide bombers and their backers in terrorism. Sadly, she is right of course. A country like the US can’t expect to exploit and control millions of foreign nationals through economic policies which impoverish and often enslave whole peoples, without earning the bitter acrimony of some of those peoples. For example, the US can’t enforce sanctions against Muslim countries like Iraq and fuel a war against Palestine without creating hatred. More than 500 000 children have died in Iraq since the end of the Gulf war from preventable disease. How are their parents left feeling? And their cousins and aunties and grandparents? In addition, every week US and British planes bomb parts of Iraq. Why wouldn’t the people become embittered? Why wouldn’t they plan revenge? The annual multi-billion dollar US support for Israel and Zionist policy in the Middle East has led to Israel being perceived as an adjunct of US foreign policy. The effects on Palestine are obvious to all – a country in virtual captivity. Why wouldn’t some people get bitter?

Colin Powell, US Secretary of State, made the observation that the suicide bombings constituted ‘part of the dark side of globalisation’. His remark provides an accurate assessment and for him a rare insight into the shadow side of power at work in the whole globalisation process. There are other dark pieces of the global economy not as immediately apparent as the bombing. But Powell is right. There is always a price to pay when mass exploitation and oppression occur, be it global or the more localised version. And globalisation represents just that as the US seeks to become the dominant player in the world economy and is prepared to elbow everyone else out of the way in the process.

There is a widespread perception that US foreign policy over the past few decades has contributed to a world order enhancing rich nations and creating poor ones. US business interests, especially its banking systems including the World Bank and the IMF, have driven the Third World into deeper poverty and despair. Arundhati Roy, a British commentator, says that ‘the September 11 attacks were a monstrous calling card for a world gone horribly wrong’. In a comprehensive list, she cites all the terrorists, dictators and genocidists from Somalia, Haiti and Chile to Nicaragua, El Salvador and Angola whom the US have supported, bankrolled, trained and supplied with arms.

This US legacy of misery is unimaginable. Such misery has become a spawning ground for new forms of terrorism. September 11 was spawned from such misery, as are the suicide bombers of Palestine. More war will not change that. It will only further enflame a tinder-dry situation. People driven to desperation by being denied human respect and a voice in their own affairs and destiny will eventually make their own response.


New twin towers need to be built from the material rubble of the old. But they need to be built not from bricks and mortar but from spirit and truth, based on a genuine appreciation of Creation and love for the world’s peoples. They require justice and peace as their cornerstones. If the 6 billion people in the world are going to live safely in the foreseeable future, we need a complete change of thinking. We need to get out of the mindset that says ‘might is right’ and only the strong should survive. We need to recognise that war can never resolve injustice but can only further embitter the losers and de-humanise the winners. We need to recognise that everyone has a right to live peaceably in this world with enough resources for a reasonable lifestyle – enough food, water, supplies. There are enough to go around but currently only one in four people gets a fair share. The rest go without.

In his seminal pastoral letter ‘On the Development of Peoples’ (1966), Pope Paul VI called development the new way towards peace. In that phrase, he crystallised what has become more obvious with every passing year. Peace does not exist in a vacuum. We cannot have lasting peace without building just social structures. The wall of lasting peace can only be built on the foundations of just social structures. It is as simple but as radical as that.

There are steps that can be taken to build these new twin towers. The first requires visionary faith (not necessarily Christian) that peace built on justice is possible. The Gospel of Jesus offers Christians and others of good will a clear pathway forward to achieve these goals, to move away from the horrific violence, war and bloodshed that is so prevalent in modern society to the building of the peaceable kingdom.

Jesus taught, ‘Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Walk the extra mile. Give away the second coat off your back. Forgive seventy seven times seven.’ He blessed those who work for peace, those who hungered for justice. In the modern nuclear armed age, ravaged by violence and war and bloodshed that is indiscriminate in its fallout, these teachings translate into the practice of non-violence. The non-violent Christ provides the heartbeat for the peaceable kingdom. Even Gandhi recognised the non-violent Christ. He often lamented, ‘The only people on earth who do not see Christ and his teachings as non-violent are Christians’. Christ’s teachings translate into the practice of personalism, a respect for the divine within every person. They translate into the practice of justice, every day, in season and out of season. They translate into a hunger to develop the common good over and above sectional interests and individualism. They translate into a new way of being and a new way of relating.

This is a vision shared by all the world’s major religions in their basic teachings. Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and Christians all share similar visions of such a world. They also share similar understandings of the sin that prevents these things coming about. In western countries where Christian tradition has played such an formative role, the Churches need to take a far more responsible role in educating both its members and the wider community to issues of justice. We need witness better to the teachings of Jesus. Justice and peace groups in every parish should now be a norm rather than a rarity. How can people learn and be challenged by these teachings if they are not being taught?

In the Book of Deuteronomy, God places before the people a challenge – choose life not death. It is a call that has echoed down through the centuries, especially in times of crisis. The world is once again in a state of crisis. More war is being promised. Nuclear weapons are being taken out of mothballs. Sooner rather than later, someone will use nuclear weapons to help ‘win’ their war. The US is on a ‘first strike’ footing with its nuclear arsenal. India and Pakistan are both nuclear capable. The Pentagon predicts that twelve million people could die in an initial strike! Iraq is looking down the barrel at an invasion and a devastating war.

These events need never happen. They should never happen. Let’s learn the underlying lessons of September 11. Let’s attack the causes of bitterness and extremism before they fester too long. Let’s deal to injustice, both structural and personal, at home and abroad. There’s enough food produced. Let’s feed the world’s peoples. Give them the shelter and water and medical supplies they need. Let’s stop selling them weapons.

New Zealand clings to the coattails of US foreign policy. We too are still at war in Afghanistan. We are in the process of selling a proud tradition of independence to the highest bidder. Soon the pressure will be on us to help destroy Iraq. That would be unconscionable. The New Zealand Government has no mandate from the people to go to war anywhere. We should not be in Afghanistan. Nor should we succumb to pressure from the US to go into Iraq under any circumstances.

Let’s give a lead to the world. Let’s create new twin towers – ones that no suicide bomber can ever destroy. From the rubble of Manhattan, let’s build in every country towers of peace out of the solid foundations of constructive development and justice. Let these be our lasting bequest to future generations.

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