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September 2006 Archives
September 11 is a day of remembrance that evokes a sense of utter empathy for the suffering of individuals and families, a natural outrage toward the perpetrators, and a wide spectrum of feelings toward our government's response on our behalf these past five years. President Bush responded to our grief by waging two wars, doubling expenditures on our military, and significantly sharpening public perceptions of the danger of the modern world. Remembrance of 9/11 has been the rallying cry for war, high end tax breaks, and the election of conservatives.
But the word "remembrance" means something very special to Catholics. At each Mass the priest repeats, not once but twice, Jesus' essential words, "Do this in remembrance of me." He was speaking specifically about body broken, and blood spilled, for the wellbeing of others. Contrast his words with new reports suggesting that a minimum of 62,000 people have been killed by both sides directly as a result of our American "war on terror," and probably closer to an upper estimate of 180,000. Refugees are now estimated at 4.5 million people. The newest war appropriation this past week by the US Congress has pushed funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan past $500 billion--money that might have been used to develop new energy technology to end dependence on Mideast oil, eliminate global poverty, or provide health security for all Americans. Is all this death and displacement what Jesus had in mind, when he commanded us, "Do this in remembrance of me?"
On the domestic front in the United States, life has taken a significant turn for the worse on several fronts. Three recent polls by the Pew Research Center, Peter D. Hart Research, and Lake Research Partners found evidence of deep pessimism among American workers about the likelihood that their wages would keep up with inflation or that their children would do better economically than had they. The Pew poll found that 69% of workers said they suffered more job stress than a decade ago, 62% felt less job security, and 59% said Americans had to work harder just to stay even. The economic response of some in Congress has been to aggressively pursue extension of tax cuts for America's wealthiest, with a devotion to the idea of trickle down economics that will "lift all boats." Is this what Jesus meant, when he said, "Do this in remembrance of me?"
Violent crime in the United States has increased sharply this past year, according to new FBI statistics showing the murder rate up almost 5% over 2004. Robberies and assaults have also risen around the country. Meeting in August, mayors and police officials from around the country cited the escalating number of weapons on the streets and looser firearms laws as the principal reasons for the new surge in violence. But no fewer than five bills are currently under consideration in Congress to weaken existing gun laws, all being aggressively pushed by the gun lobby and conservative lawmakers who otherwise promote themselves as advocates of "family values." Is weakening our gun laws, and contributing to increased violent crime what Jesus sought when he said, "Do this in remembrance of me?"
As Catholics, we understand that Jesus set an example for us, indeed one which is virtually impossible to achieve-he allowed himself to be tortured to death in defense of those on earth who have no voice. He identified strictly with the victims of the world, and he responded solely with love. "Do this in remembrance of me," he said. Now as we gather to console one another about what we've been through over the past five years as a nation, will we continue to fool ourselves into thinking that more violence can end the current violence? That a greater disparity of wealth in the United States can create a more widespread sense of economic security? That more guns will make anyone safer on our streets?
When Jesus said, "Do this in remembrance of me," he was calling us to selflessness like his, to creativity like his, and to love like his. Catholics and people of true faith will increasingly see that we can only make progress in our injured world if we seek the kind of self-sacrificing remembrance to which Jesus himself called us, when before long the tenth anniversary of September 11 comes around.
Jesus knew and cherished the meaning of the word "Freedom." Yet in the last moments of freedom before his torturers dragged him to his trial and execution, he uttered his prophetic words in Matthew's account, "All who take the sword will perish by the sword."
Apologists for the Bush Administration are suddenly shocked, shocked (!) to learn in the opening sentences of the newly reported National Intelligence Estimate that "the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse," according to one official quoted by the New York Times. Senator Edward Kennedy responded on the Senate floor, "Despite the conclusion of the intelligence community that the war has been a recruitment tool for a new generation of extremists, on numerous occasions since the document was prepared (five months ago), President Bush has claimed that the war has made America safer." This compilation of the views of 16 intelligence agencies, entitled "Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States," apparently undercuts the repeated assurances by the Bush Administration that the Iraq War was making America safer, arguing in detail that exactly the opposite was true. Although these findings were approved in April by his Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, Mr Bush has knowingly contradicted the report's central assertions in numerous speeches ever since.
But political leaders beating the drums of "freedom" didn't need the CIA to tell them what Christ foresaw in the closing moments of his own freedom, namely that killing people only fuels a greater will toward retribution and more killing. When it comes to war, the only law that is never broken is the law of unintended consequences. To his great credit, Pope Benedict plainly stated in September 2002, before his election, that the "concept of a 'preventive war' does not appear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church." He went on to say in 2003, shortly after the invasion, "There was not sufficient reason to unleash a war in Iraq...today we should be asking ourselves if it is still reasonable even to admit the existence of such a thing as a 'just war.'" Conservative Catholics like Fr. Richard Neuhaus and Michael Novak jovially overlook pronouncements like these, indefatigably citing traditional (but non-Biblical) Catholic ‘Just War' accomodations that more conveniently support Republican political aims.
As the number of killings in Iraq has surged past 100,000, the Administration's social engineers are busily mounting plans for a "military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities" that could result in vastly greater numbers of dead across Iran. As Catholics, we must immediately and unequivocally condemn any justification offered for the use of mass killing by this Administration to "advance the cause of freedom" in the name of the American people-particularly when, as the new intelligence report asserts, Mr. Bush so grossly miscalculated the consequences of his similarly "preventive" war in Iraq.
Christianity calls us to creative solutions, not violent ones, whenever a mob assembles to stone a seeming outcast like Iran. Jesus led by his example, which tells us pure and simple that we must no longer kill or torture in the name of freedom-as we watch the headlines increasingly chronicle how we are being led toward becoming the evil we once aimed to overcome.
The Senate approved legislation this week entitled the "Military Commissions Act of 2006" that must be viewed as a severe affront to anyone with Catholic sensibilities. The new law allows the president to identify anyone, including an American citizen, as an "enemy combatant"; to imprison them indefinitely; and to torture them if he chooses, without any oversight by any court. The law gives Mr. Bush wide-ranging power to reinterpret the Geneva Conventions, and strips the courts of any jurisdiction to challenge his interpretation. Jesus himself was the victim of this kind of treatment, and people of conscience must stand in opposition to it.
The term "enemy combatant" has now been defined down from someone "captured in battle" to anyone who has "purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States." As William Pitt has pointed out, "One dark-comedy aspect of the legislation is that senators or House members who publicly disagree with Bush, criticize him, or organize investigations into his dealings could be placed under the same designation. In effect, Congress just gave Bush the power to lock them up." The same could apply to anyone who writes a critical letter to a newspaper, protests in public, or advocates Mr. Bush's impeachment.
A very public confrontation between three Republican senators, who refused to allow Mr. Bush to use "waterboarding" on detainees, seemed to be clearly resolved in the final compromise. But many observers expected the White House to reassert in a "signing statement" Mr. Bush's right to do whatever he wants.
The Congress and the Administration essentially ignored calls by the US Bishops' Conference on September 15 "to reject any proposed legislation that would call into question America's commitment to Common Article 3" of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits "cruel treatment and torture" as well as "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment."
Orlando Bishop Thomas Wenski, chairman of the USCCB International Policy Committee, wrote to Senators, "Prisoner mistreatment compromises human dignity. A respect for the dignity of every person, ally or enemy, must serve as the foundation of security, justice and peace. There can be no compromise on the moral imperative to protect the basic human rights of any individual incarcerated for any reason." He went on to say, "In the face of this perilous climate, our nation must not embrace a morality based on an attitude that ‘desperate times call for desperate measures,' or ‘the end justifies the means.' The inherent justice of our cause and the perceived necessities involved in confronting terrorism must not lead to a weakening or disregard of U.S. or international law."
We support our bishops in opposition to any laws that allow our government to violate basic human dignity by depriving our enemies—and indeed even us—of the right to confront our accuser, to expect freedom from torture, and to appeal one's case beyond the authority of politicians whose own professional fortunes are served by appearing "tough on terrorism" at the expense of others. Christ asks us to stand with the victims of the world, but never by becoming victimizers ourselves.
"Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.
"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
"On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics."
First Inaugural Address, President Barack Obama