In a few short days we will be commemorating the 20th anniversary of ‘9/11’ – the horrific terrorist attacks carried out by al-Qaeda on the USA on that fateful morning of Tuesday 11 September 2001. The impact of that horrendous act has been sewn into our global and personal DNA by now. In the attacks 2,996 people were killed, 25,000 people injured, as well as 18,000 people impacted by the tons of toxic debris that were spread across New York by the collapse of the Twin Towers.
In response to al-Qaeda’s barbarism, the USA and its allies launched its ’War on Terror’ that included the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Syria amongst other places. That in turn led to 800,000 deaths and over 35 million people being displaced. All because of something that 19 men ( with the average age of just 24) did 20 years ago. It was and still is such a huge tragedy.
Most of us I suspect can recall where they were on ‘9/11’. At the time, I was working with the UK Armed Forces that day in a Government building somewhere in London. At the time it took me back 10 years in my mind when a previous office that I worked in was bombed as part of the IRA’s Mortar Bomb attack in February 1991 when they tried to assassinate the then Prime Minister John Major and his entire Cabinet. Although we escaped unscathed, I can tell you that being bombed is not a nice experience and you never, ever forget that feeling of fear and dread, and I guess at some level it lives on in you. ‘9/11’ brought that memory back to us as we stood arm in arm with our American cousins both in thought and deed.
From a Christian perspective how to respond to acts of terrorism and barbarity is never easy. For example, the first public response of President Joe Biden to the recent atrocity at Hamid Karzai Airport in Afghanistan where more than 100 people were murdered was robust and blunt: “We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay”.
As Christians of course we are called to be peacemakers and to forgive (“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” -Matthew 6:14-15). However, the practice of that when it becomes very personal can be a totally different thing.
I think of the ex-Anglican Priest Julie Nicholson whose 24 year old daughter was one of the 56 people murdered by Islamic terrorists as part of the ‘7/7’ bombing in London in 2005. She felt she had to quit her position in the church because she could not forgive the suicide bomber who killed her daughter. She argued that her faith did not measure up when things became so tough. She said: “I could stand up as an Anglican priest, with my dog collar on, and speak those words of forgiveness and reconciliation. And then I would go into my house, close the door and know I didn’t believe them”. So forgiveness is a really tough act to undertake but Jesus does command us to do it as difficult as it can be.
When 11th September comes round I suspect many will sit in silence, to pray for all those affected and we hope we are able to forgive.