Peace-Making as One Response to Terrorist Violence

[1] The three Abrahamic religions all share hope for God’s peace on earth. For Jews, Muslims, and Middle Eastern Christians the word for peace is shared as well: the Hebrew shalom is, in Arabic, salaam. Arabic speakers often greet others with salaam aleik, “peace be with you,” followed by the typical reply, Allah i salmik, “God’s peace to you.” It was as a Lutheran Christian privileged to be in dialogue with Jews and Muslims in the United States and to have lived twice in the Arab Muslim world that I embraced the task of helping to develop the ELCA statement, For Peace in God’s World, from 1992 to 1995.

[2] As all Americans reflect on the tragedy of September 11, I am grateful that this ELCA social statement chose the difficult and courageous path of holding in tension “a strong presumption against all war” and the commitment to the possible use of just force to protect the innocent. To work toward the elimination of war and toward minimizing occasions for military action, the statement advocates such peace-making steps as reconciliation among the earth’s cultures and religious traditions, respect for human rights in all “the human family,” global economic justice, and international political cooperation.

[3] I believe none among the major world religions would legitimately attempt to justify the degree of violence against civilian human life we experienced on September 11. This evil act impels us to seek both a measured response and security from future such harm for all the world’s peoples. Although the recent sad cases of school shooting sprees do not match the September disaster on the matter of scale, the aftermath dynamics bear some similarities. In both cases, American citizens went through the stages of shock, anger, and grief and then began asking questions: how did this happen, who did it, and how can we punish them? And so after Columbine and similar tragedies, Americans worked to increase school safety and to bring to justice those who supplied weapons to the young people murdering their classmates. But school personnel, psychologists, and parents also asked what in the social dynamics of American schools might have been a contributing factor, as they analyzed the multiple underlying causes for this destructive expression of anger and frustration.

[4] In May 1991, soon after the Gulf War and the break-up of the Soviet Union, I was asked to address a community forum in Minneapolis on the topic, “A View of the New World Order from the Arab Middle East.” My now ten-year-old list of this region’s “new world” aspirations still seems ominously relevant: recovery from colonialism and interventionism, economic development, governmental reform (especially in light of the tensions between corrupt autocratic regimes and rising political “Islamism”), correction of the perceived U.S. double standard in the region, revision of the West’s negative images of Islam, and prevention of a potential and dangerous polarization of the capitalist West vs. the Islamic world. Responsibility for accomplishing these worthy goals lies both with the Arab states and with the rest of the world community. However, the United States would do well to re-examine our role in these efforts as part of a comprehensive strategy both to eliminate terrorism globally and to strive for “a culture of peace,” “an economy with justice,” and “a politics of cooperation,” as outlined in the ELCA social statement, For Peace in God’s World.

Carol Schersten LaHurd

Carol Schersten LaHurd is Distinguished Affiliate Professor at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and educational outreach consultant for its Center of Christian-Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice.