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A World Out of Touch With Itself: Where the Violence Comes From
There is never any justification for acts of terror against innocent
civilians-it is the quintessential act of dehumanization and not
recognizing the sanctity of others, and a visible symbol of a world
increasingly out of control.

It's understandable why many of us, after grieving and consoling the
mourners, will feel anger.  Demagogues will try to direct that anger at
various "target groups" (Muslims are in particular danger, though Yassir
Arafat and other Islamic leaders have unequivocally denounced these
terrorist acts).  The militarists will use this as a moment to call for
increased defense spending at the expense of the needy,. Right wing may even
seek to limit civil liberties, end restraints on spying, and move us toward
a militarized society.  President Bush will feel pressure to look "decisive"
and take "strong" action-phrases that can be manipulated toward irrational
responses to an irrational attack.
To counter that potential manipulation of our fear and anger  for narrow
political ends,  a well-meaning media will instead try to narrow our focus
solely on the task of finding and punishing the perpetrators. These people,
of course, should be caught and punished. But in some ways this exclusive
focus allows us to avoid dealing with the underlying issues. When violence
becomes so prevalent throughout the planet, it's too easy to simply talk of
"deranged minds." We need to ask ourselves, "What is it in the way that we
are living, organizing our societies, and treating each other that makes
violence seem plausible to so many people?"  We in the spiritual world will
see this as a growing global incapacity to recognize the spirit of God in
each other-what we call the sanctity of each human being.  But even if you
reject religious language, you can see that the willingness of people to
hurt each other to advance their own interests has become a global problem,
and its only the dramatic level of this particular attack which
distinguishes it from the violence and insensitivity to each other that is
part of our daily lives.  We may tell ourselves that the current violence
has "nothing to do" with the way that we've learned to close our ears when
told that one out of every three people on this planet does not have enough
food, and that one billion are literally starving. We may reassure ourselves
that the hoarding of the world's resources by the richest society in world
history, and our frantic attempts to accelerate globalization with its
attendant inequalities of wealth, has nothing to do with the resentment that
others feel toward us. We may tell ourselves that the suffering of refugees
and the oppressed have nothing to do with us-that that's a different story
that is going on somewhere else.  But we live in one world, increasingly
interconnected with everyone, and the forces that lead people to feel
outrage, anger and desperation eventually impact on our own daily lives.
The same sense of disconnection to the plight of others operates in the
minds of many of these terrorists. Raise children in circumstances where no
one is there to take care of them, or where they must live by begging or
selling their bodies in prostitution, put them in refugee camps and tell
them that they have "no right of return" to their homes, treat them as
though they are less valuable and deserving of respect because they are part
of some despised national or ethnic group, surround them with a media that
extols the rich and makes everyone who is not economically successful and
physically trim and conventionally "beautiful" feel bad about themselves,
offer them jobs whose sole goal is to enrich the "bottom line" of someone
else, and teach them that "looking out for number one" is the only thing
anyone "really" cares about and that anyone who believes in love and social
justice are merely naive idealists who are destined to always remain
powerless, and you will produce a world-wide population of people feeling
depressed, angry, and in various ways dysfunctional.

Luckily most people don't act out in violent ways-they tend to actout more
against themselves, drowning themselves in alcohol or drugs or personal
despair. Others turn toward fundamentalist religions or ultra-nationalist
extremism. Still others find themselves acting out
against people that they love, acting angry or hurtful toward children or
relationship partners.
Most Americans will feel puzzled by any reference to this "larger picture."
It seems baffling to imagine that somehow we are part of a world system
which is slowly destroying the life support system of the planet, and
quickly transferring the wealth of the world into our own pockets.
We don't feel personally responsible when an American corporation runs a
sweat shop in the Philippines or crushes efforts of workers to organize in
Singapore. We don't see ourselves implicated when the U.S. refuses to
consider the plight of Palestinian refugees or uses the excuse of fighting
drugs to support repression in Colombia or other parts of Central America.
We don't even see the symbolism when terrorists attack America's military
center and our trade center-we talk of them as buildings, though others see
them as centers of the forces that are causing the world so much pain.
We have narrowed our own attention to "getting through" or "doing well" in
our own personal lives, and who has time to focus on all the rest of this?
Most of us are leading perfectly reasonable lives within the options that we
have available to us-so why should others be angry at us, much less strike
out against us? And the truth is, our anger is also understandable: the
striking out by others in acts of terror against us is just as irrational as
the world-system that it seeks toconfront. 

When people have learned to treat each other as means to our own ends, to
not feel the pain of those who are suffering, we end up creating a world in
which these kinds of terrible acts of violence become more common. And as
we've learned from the current phase of the Israel-Palestinian struggle ,
responding to terror with more violence, rather than asking ourselves what
we could do to change the conditions that generated it in the first place,
will only ensure more violence in the future. 
This is a world out of touch with itself, filled with people who have
forgotten how to recognize and respond to the sacred in each other because
we are so used to looking at others from the standpoint of what they can do
for us, how we can use them toward our own ends.
We should pray for the victims and the families of those who have been hurt
or murdered in these crazy acts. We should also pray that America does not
return to "business as usual," but rather turns to a period of reflection,
coming back into touch with our common humanity, asking ourselves how our
institutions can best embody our highest values. We may need a global day of
atonement and repentance dedicated to finding a way to turn the direction of
our society at every level, a return to the notion that every human life is
sacred, that "the bottom line" should be the creation of a world of love and
caring, and that the best way to prevent these kinds of acts is not to turn
ourselves into a police state, but turn ourselves into a society in which
social justice, love, and compassion are so prevalent that violence becomes
only a distant memory. 
                                                                     Rabbi Michael Lerner  
This first appeared in Tikkun - click here to find out how you can subscribe to Tikkun