9/11 Again: Taking Time to Reflect on War, Terror, Etc.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 7/27/2003

Dear Friends,

Can the spiritual-political practice of reflection address the political-spiritual disaster of war?

We propose that Americans set aside times for national reflection this September to assess the last two years of war that began on 9/11/01, and to examine the possibilities of walking another path to address the real dangers of the world we live in.

Three specifics:

1. The Shalom Center itself is sponsoring a retreat on the weekend of September 12-14 to bring the best resources of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity to bear on reflection and self-assessment. We hope you will come. See our Home Page at www.theshalomcenter.org for details. The retreat is called "Abraham's Children: Renewing & Reconciling the 3 Abrahamic Faiths."

2. "September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows," made up of families of those who were killed on 9/11, are bringing together "Circles of Hope" on the evening of September 10, at the World Trade Center site in NYC and in many communities around the country. See below for more details. We urge communities of Jews, of Christians, of Muslims — and where possible, multispiritual alliances — to take part.

3. On our Website, there are materials we gathered for "Eleven Days in September" last year — meditations, information reports, and liturgies — that will continue to be useful as the anniversary of 9/11 approaches again.

See on our Website the section "Pursuing Peace." Especially relevant are these subsections:

More below on these efforts. But first, let us take some time for reflection of our own, about the importance of reflection.

One of the deepest of all spiritual teachings is that we human beings need time to catch our breath, reflect upon our work and our lives, assess where we have been, and "correct course" by turning away from our mis-takes and toward a more harmonious path. In Judaism, this pause to reflect is embodied in Shabbat (the sabbath) and in the ten days of Awe and Turning from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur; in Christianity, somewhat in the Sabbath and in Lent; in Islam, in the month of Ramadan.

Yet large parts of American society are addicted to rushing always forward to Work and Control, to Do and to Make, to Produce and Consume, never pausing to reflect or to deepen our sense of community, family, cooperation. Never pausing to Be or to Love. War is the ultimate version of Doing and Control, depriving us of self-reflection and narrowing our circles of community and love. After 9/11, American and the world needed time to reflect and connect: Why did this murderous act take place? What are the most effective as well as the most ethical ways of dealing with terrorists?

What are the most effective and ethical ways of addressing the swamps of despair, humiliation, and rage that breed the malaria of terrorism? What are the most effective and ethical ways of dealing with weapons of mass destruction and violations of human rights? What was the real history of relationships between America and the Arab and Muslim worlds, between the West and the South of the world?

That kind of reflection did not happen in 2001. In 2002, one year ago, The Shalom Center worked closely with the National Council of Churches, Sojourners magazine, the Unitarian Universalist Association, and Pax Christi to organize "Eleven Days in September" --- an effort to reflect deeply on the events of 9/11, rather than just react. As the anniversary approached last year, there were already signs that the Bush Administration might pump up the time of mourning into a Screaming Eagle march toward another war --- and that is exactly what they did. Now the American public has a great deal of food for thought and reflection on that Rush into Action:

    1. We know a great deal more than we did a year ago about how much of that pumping up was based on erroneous or deceitful claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, aid to Al Qaeda, etc.

    2. And we know a great deal more now than we did then of the stunning failures of US intelligence organizations before 9/11 to address evidence of impending terrorist attacks.

    3. We are learning much more about the startling efforts of the Bush Administration, even after 9/11, to cover over the evidence of Saudi entanglement in Al Qaeda and the attack. (Even now, the Bush Administration has prevented publication of a crucial chapter on the Saudi connection in the Congressional report on intelligence failures before 9/11.)

    4. And we are realizing that in all its boasts about the instantaneous and unanimous welcome the Iraqi people would give to an American occupation and the ease of democratizing Iraqi society, the Bush Administration had no concept of how bloody, complex, and difficult an occupation would be and how crucial would be the cooperation of other nations and of the UN that the Bush Administration had contemptuously spurned in deciding on war.

Last September, our "Eleven Days" project helped create networks of people who saw the dangers in the Rush to War. They were able to slow down the Bush Administration leap into the precipice, able to give the Pope and 450 rabbis and other Jewish leaders and every mainstream American Protestant church time to learn what was wrong and protest. They helped create what the New York Times called "the second great superpower," world-wide public opinion.

This fall, let us go further, to seed a profound reassessment of the American domestic and foreign policy that has been pointing toward concentration of top- down power in fewer and fewer hands. For the Rush into Action has supported and been supported by Pyramids of Power:

    1. Overseas, the vision of a new American empire resting on bombs and bayonets, together with free rein to global corporations devoid of any democratic accountability.

    2. At home, the turnover of huge amounts of our national resources and of political power to those who are already the richest and most powerful people, through tax breaks for the super-rich and starvation of environmental protections, state and local schools, hospitals, and police and fire departments, together with new high walls of governmental secrecy and new deep invasions of civil liberties.

Finally, we need to realize that this Rush Into Action pervades many aspects of our national life:

    3. It is involved with our national addiction to oil and gasoline, with all its threats of Global Scorching and all its pressure to conquer oil-rich nations and all its ties to terrorist organizations and all its big-money dangers to small-"d" democratic politics in America.

    4. It is involved in our disastrous level of overwork and hyperwork, separating us from our families, our neighbors, our religious congregations, our own deep selves — and spawning a growing epidemic of depression, exhaustion, and burnout.

    5. It is at the root of our voracious gobble-up of the very earth we live in.

At the root of our concerns in The Shalom Center concerns over war, over depredation of the earth, over social injustice and invasions of freedom, over the new drive to solidify top-down Pyramids of Power to dominate the world and the American people is our belief that the Modern addiction to Making and Doing endangers the world in all these ways.

And our belief that Judaism, together with other spiritual paths, must be working to renew the rhythm of sacred work and sacred rest, sacred Doing and sacred Being to renew our times for reflection, contemplation, times to Be and times to Love.

It is a theme we will be exploring, in all its variations. Now, below, please see some more details on some efforts this September.




"September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows" writes: We need your help to create Circles of Hope to commemorate the anniversary of September 11. Plans are already in the works for Circles of Hope in New York, San Francisco, and a host of other cities and towns.

Please forward this to your lists and get involved!

We plan to encircle the World Trade Center site with a candlelight vigil on the night of September 10, 2003. Gather with us in New York City or create a Circle of Hope candlelight vigil in your own community and register it on our website:


We will also be providing materials on our website for discussion circles to explore the psychological and political impact of 9/11 on ourselves, our communities and our world.

Why Circles of Hope?

In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy of September 11th, 2001, expressions of sympathy and solidarity with the victims poured in from people all over the world. As the victims' family members, we witnessed and received extraordinary acts of compassion. Many visualized a phoenix of peace arising from the ashes of the crash sites.

But at the same time, a climate of fear emerged, preventing deep discussion of issues surrounding the tragedy, and driving apart people with diverging visions of how to respond to 9/11. We can overcome this fear and rekindle the hope by recognizing that real security comes through our common desire for healing in our fragmented world.

Components of the Circles of Hope:

Join us in New York, or create a Circle of Hope candlelight vigil in your community on the night of September 10, 2003.

Create a discussion circle in your community to explore issues surrounding September 11. A discussion circle guide and materials will be available on our website by August 1, 2003.

Join Us in Creating Circles of Hope

1. Register your circle at http://www.peacefultomorrows.org.

2. Spread the word! Please forward this email to your lists.


Beginning September 22, buses filled with immigrant workers and their community allies, sponsored by Immigrant Workers Freedom Rides, will cross the United States to arrive in New York on October 3. The AFL-CIO and many religious organizations, including Jewish communities, are deeply involved in making the Rides happen. Jews are working through JERICO: Jews for Equal Rights in Immigrant Communities.

For more information on issues of overwork and freeing time, see the "Free Time/Free People" section on this website. In addition, plans are under way for "Take Back Your Time Day" on Friday, October 24.

More on that in another E-message.