Terrorism, Divine Right, and Our Times

Until yesterday afternoon, I was quite myopic in my thinking about the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. on September 11, 2001.  I had put the crime too narrowly in a very parochial American context, limiting its implications for our global community.

As I understand it, the terrorists claimed to act in place of a God who governs all of us when they intentionally killed people innocent of all crimes in any court of law anywhere.  The terrorists were self-appointed agents of divine justice on earth.

Those who had given them a base of operations in Afghanistan, the Taliban, similarly then and now, claim justification for their use of power to kill and oppress others in that same divine mission of making humanity righteous.

When thinking of such intolerant religious and ideological extremists, I am reminded of the old phrase fiat justicia, ruat coelum – “Let there be justice though the Heavens may fall.”

This begs the question of who among us truly knows the will of God or the purpose of the cosmos?  Such conceit flies in the face of nihilism, but nonetheless champions a narcissism that purports to unite us with the divine in a pagan fashion.

This way of looking at how best to work for justice presents a problem for all of us, no matter what nationality, ethnicity, class, gender or religion.

The Caux Round Table asserts no such justification in promoting its ethical principles for business and government.  Our arguments are more failable and humane, subject to debate and seeking to avoid hubris.

A few years ago, I was invited to share some thoughts on religion and terrorism at Qatar University, College of Sharia and Islamic Studies.  I offered, as a non-Muslim, some observations on the text of Quran.  I was most humbled by the warm reception given to my approach by the audience.

My point was to apply to terrorists the Qur’anic guidance on seeking to be God’s equal, the making of ourselves a partner of God.  It is God, in his power and majesty over creation, who decides all things, Qur’an tells us.  It is God, not us, who decides who is righteous, who falls short; who lives and who dies.  God may ever show mercy and compassion.

Assuming to so elevate ourselves to have the power of deciding on life and death might just possibly be a great sin in Islam.  It would be Shirk.

Those who planned and executed the 9/11 attacks committed Shirk, in my judgment.  If so, they will be punished by the God who stands behind Qur’anic revelations.  But who am I to know?

You may read my paper on religion and terrorism, written about five years ago, here.