Twelve years after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on America, we are engaged in a jihad within ourselves as persons, as a people, and as a nation.
I promise to keep this post brief because I want to invite TSW readers to visit anew the events of September 11, 2001 from a most unusual vantage point. On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, These Stone Walls posted “September 11, 2001: An Account of that Day You Haven’t Heard.”
What prompted me to write it was a letter to the editor from the wife of a prison guard published in a prominent Catholic newspaper. The letter claimed that prisoners in U.S. prisons cheered for the 9/11 terrorists on that terrible day in 2001. That was far from the truth.
But there is another reason why I’m bringing that post up again on the twelfth anniversary of 9/11. It has to do with the Islamic concept of “jihad.” The prosecution of a jihad, when summoned, is described as a sacred duty in the Koran and in Islamic tradition. A jihad is traditionally undertaken to defend Islam against perceived external threats. On September 11, 2001, a fundamentalist and radical Islamic culture commenced a jihad against the United States and its allies, forever changing the notion of America as an open society.
In Arabic, “jihad” usually refers to a Holy War, but it also has another meaning: “struggle.” It is defined as a struggle within one’s self, a struggle with the cause of God, or a struggle with self against resistance to the rule of divine law. In the Book of Genesis, the name “Israel” means “one who struggles with God.” The name was bestowed on Jacob, son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, after a night of struggle with a divine presence: “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have struggled with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:28)
Humankind has been struggling with God ever since, and the struggles of this post-9/11 world are with hopelessness, despair, and – far more dangerous – secularism. Our cultural plunge toward secularism has taken on the tone of a jihad, dismissing religion and faith as social ills rather than as pillars of our culture.
As I sat down to type this post today, the news media is covering the story of a Massachusetts couple who have filed a lawsuit to end the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in local schools. At issue are the words, “one nation under God.” Those words were added to the Pledge of Allegiance by decree of a joint session of Congress in 1954. In their lawsuit, the couple claims that the words “under God” are a violation of their children’s First Amendment right to freedom from religion.
News stories like this define America for the Islamic world as the infidels we are already suspected to be. But far more importantly, they reflect a struggle within ourselves between individual rights and the good of society. The social agendas that have so roiled religion in Western Culture – abortion as a “reproductive right,” same sex marriage, the airbrushing of God from the face of culture – all stem from a reading of individual “rights” that trump the rights of the many and take precedence over the collective social good.
THE FLAG AND THE CROSS
Not all liberals are having it. In a remarkable column in The Wall Street Journal (“A Liberal Catholic and Staying Put,” August 30, 2013) author and journalism professor, Paul Moses told the world why the secularist trend has failed to lure him from his Catholic faith. Mr. Moses is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam, and Francis of Assisi’s Mission of Peace (Doubleday 2009).
A self-professed “liberal Catholic,” Paul Moses cited a full-page ad in The New York Times last year that was aimed at persuading left-leaning Catholics to “quit the Catholic Church.” The ad was sponsored by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the same people trumpeting the removal of “under God” from the American Pledge of Allegiance. Paul Moses also cited columnist Bill Keller who wrote a column for The New York Times urging liberal-minded Catholics to “Summon your fortitude and just go.”
Paul Moses went on in his column to make a case for how the abandonment of religion and faith are not only contrary to the best interests of Catholics, but contrary to the interests of culture and society as well. Our jihad – our struggle with God and the rules of divine law within ourselves – is not resolved by abandoning our faith.
On September 4 last week, CNN aired a fascinating 90-minute broadcast of “The Flag,” about the fate of one of the enduring symbols of 9/11. Nancy Dewolf Smith had an excellent review of it entitled “Where Is That 9/11 Flag Now?” (The Wall Street Journal, August 30, 2013) I was surprised to see when revisiting my post, “September 11, 2001: An Account of That Day You Haven’t Heard” that it had a photograph of that very flag hoisted above the rubble on 9/11.
It wasn’t the only symbol of that day to become what Nancy Dewolf Smith calls “A classic cultural mystery.” Two sections of iron support beam appeared in the rubble in the form of a cross. We all remember seeing it. We all remember holding onto its meaning, reaching deeply into our well of faith to give it meaning, and impart some of that meaning to the national disaster that unfolded before our eyes. All of America seemed to turn to faith in a personal jihad – a struggle – to make sense of this, and to calm the fear to which it gave birth. Even the Freedom From Religion Foundation had the good sense to wait for the nation to catch its breath before demanding the removal of that “accidental” cross.
After considering the above, I went to my TSW post published on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 jihad on America. I realized that as I described that day from my own unusual vantage point – from inside prison walls – I arrived at the very same points made by Paul Moses. Secularization is our surrender to jihad. It marks the end of our struggle with God, and it writes the epitaph for America.
Sometime this week, as we mark the twelfth anniversary of the terrorist attack upon America, please read anew: “September 11, 2001: An Account of That Day You Haven’t Heard.”