My wife and I had been trying to get pregnant, but I awoke that day with blood on my stomach and the phone ringing. The call was from one of my sources, who had dialed my number to tell me that the World Trade Towers had collapsed after being struck by hijacked commercial airliners. The blood on my stomach was from where I held my wife in bed the night before. Her period, marking the death of yet one more egg, one more potential human life, had begun at almost the exact time as the NY terror.
As I watched the news, heard accounts of bodies falling from the towers and hitting the pavement, I was reminded that men generally fear blood. And that fear of blood, of the blood of our relatives, of our own blood, being spilled while we are innocently at work in our offices, creates complex feelings of defensiveness and grieving. Both of which pull at the heart for swift, brutal retaliation. Over the next few days I read and heard endless news reports decrying the terrorist actions as cowardly, and promising a horrific and total annihilation for those responsible.
I am a reverend of the sacramental-marijuana smoking Church of the Universe, and a practicing pacifist. Still there have been confusing moments when I have been tempted to use physical violence to defend myself or my family. Even Gandhi experienced this tension. ?I could not kill a cobra without violating two of my vows,? the great Mahatma once said, ?fearlessness and non-killing. I would rather try inwardly to calm the snake with vibrations of love.? But, added Gandhi: ?I must confess that I could not serenely carry on this conversation if faced by a cobra.? As I watched the towers collapsed, I wrestled with the cobra of anger that twisted within me as thousands of innocent people died before my very eyes.
Looking back, I reflect on Marvin Taylor, a relief worker who selflessly tended to the sick in Afghanistan. Taylor and his wife Elizabeth, a medical doctor, founded Health Emergent International Services, a Christian non-profit group that provides medical care to developing countries. He and his wife evacuated from Afghanistan last week, and he had the following words for the Seattle Times that illustrates the sense of confusion that I am trying to describe: ?There comes a point if you don’t stop what happened at the trade center, you’re enabling terrorism,? he said. ?I’m absolutely crying inside and also praying that no innocents get hurt.?
A large number of Americans, stuck in Canada in the days following the attack, sought out local hotsprings to relieve their anxieties. With visions of World War III awakening me from sleep the next day, I smoked a joint and sought out the healing waters as well. The hotsprings provide an atmosphere of relaxed friendliness, and open conversations naturally arise in the hottest and smallest pool, with its bench seat that wraps in a circle, creating a naturally intimate climate. An American woman across from me struck up a conversation about the World Trade Centre attacks, seeking my opinion as a Canadian about the coming war with Afghanistan.
?What are we supposed to do?? She asked, genuinely frustrated. ?What can I do to change the world??
She was a Christian, but she was convinced that the only choice was to retaliate with military aggression against the terrorists. From others present, I heard the words ?cowardly act? and ?protect our families.? I even heard these words come out of my own mouth. But I stopped short of supporting military retaliation, and the warm eyes of my newfound friends turned suspicious and cold.
It gives me pause that, to date, the FBI is seeking over 400 people for questioning, and the US has no proof of who was actually behind the attacks, I said. Warmongers picked convenient targets for their blame. Targets that everyone can easily hate: the Talibans and their chief terrorist, Osama bin Laden. We can hate the Talibans for burying widows in mass graves, for cutting off the hands of emaciated wretches stealing for a crumb of bread to feed their starving children, for producing 73% of the world?s opium. But none of this mattered to the US last Spring when they gave the Talibans $43 million in US aid in return for promising to start a drug war.
We can hate bin Laden for unproven allegations that he bombed US embassies or that he may have been behind the World Trade Center attacks, and forget that the US CIA trained bin Laden and empowered militant Islamic groups in order to displace Russian power in the area. While the lack of proof concerning bin Laden?s guilt is disturbing to Muslims and even to Israelis, it seems a trifling detail to most North Americans. Everyone seems to have missed the fact that the Talibans have offered to hand over bin Laden as requested ? if the US can provide even the tiniest shred of evidence that he was responsible for the attacks. But the US can?t, and is attacking Afghanistan anyway.
Even if US investigators eventually find proof of bin Laden?s involvement, it will not be forgotten that the US government started a war, hung the accused and all of his brothers and sisters, before the trial had even begun. Will this make militant Muslims less bent on terrorism? I doubt it, and no one in the middle east believes it either. It is a strictly American myopia.
When I pointed this out to my heated American friends in the pool, some of them got up and left. In their minds, bin Laden?s guilt had already been decided. Although the shockwave of exploding jet fuel, rubble and scattered body parts passed days ago, a slower, more deadly shockwave was now radiating from New York. A shockwave of fear. The same fear that propels wars everywhere; the fear generated by the ?if your not with us your against us? consciousness; the fear that created first the red scare, then the pinko scare and now the brown Arab scare. Speak out, look even the slightest bit suspicious, and you may be targeted for searches, arrests, and perhaps even thrown in jail for ?sympathizing with the enemy.? In Congress, in the news and on the streets, a mad rush to ?get behind the president? has left all rational discussion behind.
The American woman who began the conversation sat calmly,smiling at me from across the pool. ?You look like Jesus,? she said, referring to my long hair and beard, and I wondered if they didn?t make me look a little like an Arab, too, and if I wouldn?t be profiled by over-eager cops, my pleas of injustice ignored by suits and ties who would dismiss my cries with the thought that I was ?getting what I deserved? for not looking exactly like them.
Isn’t this the kind of prejudice that gives police powers to search arbitrarily, regardless of civil rights, not just those they suspect of terrorism, but anyone they suspect of carrying a gram, a joint, or even a roach?
The tower terror has already led to a significant decrease in the value of BC buds in Canada, and an increase in the value of BC buds in the US: a reflection of tighter customs securities that target terrorists and cross-border cannabis traders alike, creating a mini-recession in the pot economy of several small canadian towns during the crucial harvest season when cannabis is at its freshest and most valuable.
?What are we supposed to do?? the American woman asked me again.
The advice of countless holy men welled up in me at that moment. ?If we set about trying to change the world, but don?t change ourselves,? I responded, ?we will never be successful. We will always be projecting our own imperfections into the world. If you want to kill terrorists, then kill the terror in your own heart.?
She looked at me gratefully before she got up from the pool. ?Thanks,? she said. ?I needed to hear a voice of balance.?
While we examine the terrorism of recent weeks, we should also reflect on the forms of terrorism that have become so common in our lives that we are no longer astounded by them. The terrorism of cannabis prohibition, for example, in which police are the terrorists and millions of pot smokers around the world are imprisoned, tortured or executed. There is no “nation grieving” about this loss, no military expeditions to reap vengence for their sufferings, despite the fact that their numbers and tribulations many times outmatch the recent attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon.
?Resort to force in the Great War [WWI] failed to bring tranquility. Victory and defeat were alike sterile. That lesson the world should have learned.? -Franklin D Roosevelt
?The more weapons of violence, the more misery for mankind. The triumph of violence ends in a festival of mourning.? -Lao Tzu
?Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, that ye resist not evil with evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on they right cheek, turn to him the other also.? -Jesus the Christ
?If loss of life becomes necessary in a righteous battle, one should be prepared like Jesus, to shed his own, not others? blood. Eventually there will be less blood spilt in the world.? ?Gandhi
?One should forgive under any injury. It hath been said that the continuation of the species is due to man?s being forgiving. Forgiveness is holiness; by forgiveness the universe is held together. Forgiveness is the might of the mighty; forgiveness is sacrifice; forgiveness is quiet of mind. Forgiveness and gentleness are the qualities of the self-possessed. They represent eternal virtue.? ?Gandhi