Twelve years ago, I began my day by feeding my son while my wife went for a walk with some friends and neighbors. A poor parsonage family, we didn’t have cable back then. But we did have an arial antenna that picked up the local NBC affiliate. The Today Show was providing background noise.
While my son finished his breakfast and my daughter was making sounds like she was finally waking up, I saw what I thought was a movie trailer. The scene on television looked like special effects.
No, that’s not right. My brain wanted it to be CGI or models, but I knew it was all too real as soon as I looked at it.
I watched the video of the planes striking the towers all morning. Just before my wife returned, I looked on as the first tower fell. She got home in time for the second tower’s collapse.
We had been planning to go to the circus in Memphis that weekend. Instead, I sent the family ahead on Saturday and stayed to preach one of the most important sermons I thought I would ever preach. I acknowledged our grief. I underlined our anger. And I asked people to think as Jesus would and not with the passion of patriotism.
I had a few people ask me why I wasn’t pushing patriotic fervor like so many of my colleagues.
Keep in mind that I was barely in my thirties, and not known for my wisdom. But I was already acutely aware that this attack was not motivated by a desire to terrify us. I was sure that there was an ulterior motive. And I said so.
Let me make something clear: I’m not a Truther. I don’t think that the destruction of the World Trade Center twin towers was an inside job. I think that the Al Qaeda operatives were exactly who the subsequent investigation purported them to be.
But there was a larger plan in Osama Bin Ladin‘s mind when he set the events of that day into motion.
Bin Ladin wanted to bait our country into a global war with the muslim faith. He had rightly assessed that the U.S. response would be overwhelmingly negative towards all Muslims. He had banked on the idea that a cowboy president would turn this into a military operation that would embroil much of the resources and attention of the Western Hemisphere.
So how does a rural pastor know something like this? Because Bin Ladin told the world that this was his goal.
He published videos that outlined his plan and called upon the Muslim world to ignite its passions against the United States. He wanted to see us bankrupt. He wanted to see us overcommitted. He wanted to see us throwing our best and brightest young men into the machines of war to be mangled and maimed.
He wanted U.S. citizens to hate Muslims and he wanted Muslims to despise “The Great Satan,” as he called the United States.
So, today, as I watch flags flying and vows to never forget, I am remembering.
I am remembering how much of our patriotic fervor was, intentionally or not, funneled into a national hatred for Muslims and Middle Easterners.
I am remembering that the plans of a dead man are being carried out, not so much by foreign nationals sneaking into our country as by well-meaning patriots who would never consciously consider supporting a campaign of terror.
I am remembering the words of Jesus that teach us to love our neighbor.
I am remembering that his story of the Good Samaritan was a tale of two men who were from countries that despised each other.
I am remembering that the one who showed compassion would have been viewed as a foreigner by Jesus’s listeners.
I am remembering that the greatest evil of Osama Bin Ladin’s plan was his faith in human nature to despise the stranger and hate the foreigner.
Though I will never forget the suffering that was initiated that day, I will also never forget that we have been playing into the master plan of a hate-filled terrorist for more than a decade.
If you really want to strike a blow against Osama Bin Ladin’s legacy of hatred, choose today to reach out to a person of the Muslim faith or Middle Eastern descent. The odds are that you will find them to be good people, opposed to terrorism, and even eager to build bridges of understanding.
We do not judge Christians by the likes of David Koresh. We do not judge Methodists by the likes of Rev. Jim Jones. There is no reason to conflate the beliefs of Mohamed Atta with those of mainstream moderate Muslims. In the following video, you will likely discover that your opinions on Islam are colored by the same patriotic fervor against muslim terrorists.
If you want to beat Osama once and for all, then don’t fall into his trap.
Offer the stranger words of friendship. Offer your enemies words of peace. Decline the opportunity to stereotype all Muslims and all Middle Easterners because of the actions of a scant few.
You won’t restore international peace with this effort. But, together, we can resist the tide of hatred that Bin Ladin’s sick mind devised and nurtured.
Author: Joey Reed
Joey is married to his best friend and they live in Kentucky. Joey serves Mayfield First United Methodist Church, the Purchase District, the Memphis Annual Conference, and the world is his parish.