The weekend before the massacre, I was in Washington, D.C., attending an academic conference. On Saturday, I visited the sites. I strolled by the White House and walked around the Capitol. For the first time, I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and felt the awesome, palpable sorrow that emanates from its wall of names. I trekked on the Mall from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, my favorite. The Gettysburg Address, which is inscribed on its the walls, was the first thing I memorized in school when I came to the United States as a fifth grader.
This time, I read carefully Lincoln's second inaugural address. It, too, is inscribed on the wall. Lincoln reflects on the enormous toll of the Civil War. He wonders why God would allow such a tragic fate to befall this nation.
I had no premonition then that, in a mere three days, several of these places would become targets, that a catastrophe of epic proportions would be visited on this nation and that Lincoln's question once again would be asked. Religious doubt is only one of the vast and complex set of reverberations set off by Sept. 11.
At the very center, of course, there is death, destruction, pain, suffering, grief, revulsion and rage on a scale not seen in this country in many generations. Radiating outward from this ground zero of the soul are consequences we may never grasp.
All the talk about globalization did not prepare us for how really intertwined our world is. Who imagined, on Sept. 10, that the cold-blooded hatred of zealots in Afghanistan would erase 6,000 American dreams in a New York minute?
From the state of the world economy to the outcome of the coming French election, everything has been touched. In my neighborhood, in Little Havana, like in the rest of the country, the flags have come out in force. And there is only one flag flown: the American flag. The divisions of the past seem a distant memory, overwhelmed by a unity borne of common hurt, pride and patriotism.
What will we do with this newfound unity? The first task is to bring to justice all those responsible for an unspeakable crime. Yet we should heed what the Palestinian-American intellectual Edward Said, a professor at Columbia University, wrote about the recent attacks: ``No cause, no God, no abstract idea can justify the mass slaughter of innocents.'' And that includes the righteous cause of punishing the mass murderers who plotted the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. If injustice reigns in the world, all the anti-terrorist campaigns
won't do much good.
As we bask in the warm embrace and support of the nations of the world, we also cannot afford to forget that there is a larger task: to pursue justice in the broadest sense. If injustice reigns, and we are compliant or complicit in it, all the anti-terrorist campaigns won't do much good.
We need to look honestly at our policy in the Middle East and ask whether it is really fair and balanced. In our pain, we need to connect with a world full of avoidable death and suffering. Each year, millions of children die of malnutrition and treatable diseases. In the next few decades, AIDS threatens to hit the poor nations with a death toll that could exceed the combined total for the Holocaust, the slave trade and the Black Death.
Too often in recent years, our country has looked to the rest of humanity as more intent on protecting its power, privileges and patents than on responding to the cries of suffering around it. Never again.
The first war of the 21st Century, which I hope will be the last, too, should not be a war only against the injustice of terror that hurt us so viciously. It should also be against all the forms of injustice that kill and hurt our fellow human beings on this fragile, shrinking planet.
Copyright 2001 Miami Herald