One of the most disturbing images associated with the attacks on America this Tuesday was the specter of joyous celebration in the streets of so many Middle Eastern cities. "Daddy," my daughter asked, "Why do people hate us so much?"
She poses a good question. And it is not easily answered, at least not satisfactorily. The dimensions of the human tragedy alone should have trumped any political or nationalistic sentiments against our nation, yet we got the impression that these cheering people could have quite happily been surrounded by the carnage in New York and still reveled in the suffering of real people in genuine anguish and excruciating agony. "It's not just our country," Naomi went on to point out, "they actually hate us."
That is a hard one to deal with. We are more used to stories of American and German soldiers sharing a cold night and a Christmas meal with one another in spite of a waging war. Or accounts of British troops enjoying friendly soccer games with the enemy during a short truce. The countless stories of simple humanity overcoming national enmity, the natural tendency of the human spirit to reconciliation.
Frankly, it sends a cold chill up my spine.
There is a mixture of factors at play here. One is the serious burden we bear of "being the good guys."
We are the nation that helps the world. We send food and blankets, aid and advice, volunteer services, missionaries who give their entire lives, educators, health care professionals. In short, America defines generosity, and we export goodness with abandon and selfless love... They hate us for that. Especially the Evil. Evil hates goodness with a studied passion.
Secondly, we are successful.
America is a "have" country. We are blessed with abundant wealth, awesome achievement in every field of human endeavor, and enviable freedom. Our country was born out of a passionate response to tyranny and the rule of fear. We proudly and loudly represent the antithesis of many of the mechanisms that rule this planet.
Unfortunately, we have also abused many in this world to satisfy our own greed.
Not content to be rich, we have also wanted our neighbor's wealth as well. I am reminded of the old Bible story of King Ahab, who had so much, yet he pouted because he did not have his neighbor Naboth's beautiful vineyard. His wife, Jezebel, had the neighbor killed and Ahab was happy. It's hard not to resent a greedy rich person!
Lastly, there are some elemental cultural differences that do not value individual human life as we do.
Our Western ideas developed through Judeo-Christian ethics and mores that have unfolded over two thousand years. On a fundamental level, values and thought processes in many parts of the world operate entirely outside of our way of understanding. It is easier to hate that which we do not comprehend.
This is why discussion, the exchange of ideas, cross-cultural dialogue, travel abroad, international universities, and anything other than isolation and armed conflict is more likely to facilitate world peace. When we really know each other, then it is less possible to hate.
So I told my daughter that these people hate us because they do not know us. Now is not the time to hate back. Now is the time to make new friends, expand intercultural dialogue, build bridges to understanding, and cultivate friendship across these deadly boundaries.
"Blessed are those who mourn," Jesus said, "for they will be comforted."
But he went on to point our this difficult truth: "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth."
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