Since the evil events of Sept. 11, the religious community has
been clear and consistent in condemning the terrorists who brought
violence to our shores. We have also said that a morally rooted
response to this terror must focus on bringing the perpetrators to
justice, rather than military reprisals that do harm to more
innocents. A broad spectrum of religious leaders has expressed a
strong determination to protect both the innocent lives threatened
by further terrorist attacks and the innocent civilians jeopardized
by military retaliation.
We believe there was wisdom in the restraint shown for almost a
month by the U.S. government, in the building of an international
coalition against terrorism, and in the fact that the developing
strategy to root out terrorism included not just military but many
other fronts. Now that the air strikes have begun, that
multifaceted approach must not be lost in a widening war. We cannot
simply wish away the questions to be answered and problems to be
solved -- we must punish those responsible for the mass murders and
prevent further terrorist violence. But we are now at a critical
moral turning point between pursuing justice or waging a wider war.
The central importance of the defense of innocent lives must be
made clear and compelling in the midst of the air strikes now
underway. Already, we've seen tragic unintended results of U.S.
bombing in the deaths of Afghan civilians. Despite clear efforts
to avoid civilian casualties and apologies from the Pentagon for
bombs that have missed their targets, experience shows us that
bombing always results in the suffering of the innocent -- both
through "collateral damage" and through civilian dislocation. The
human crisis in Afghanistan of enormous refugee dislocation has
been made worse by the bombings, and relief agencies are warning of
a massive humanitarian disaster in the making unless ground
shipments of aid are restored.
Now that the Taliban's "command and communication" centers and
its military capabilities have been greatly diminished by the air
strikes, it is time to shift strategies. The most effective and
morally defensible strategy would be one focused clearly on
bringing the terrorists to justice, fully utilizing the rule of law
and international forces, and employing multiple tactics. We should
undertake a police operation with special forces from many
countries to vanquish the terrorist networks, instead of the
widening war that continued bombing will bring. The U.S. should
also urge the U.N. Security Council to establish a special
international tribunal to try those responsible.
Such a focused and international campaign would not only be
morally superior to an escalating U.S.-led war against the states
that sponsor terrorism (with a heavy cost to their people), it
would also be far less dangerous, and ultimately more effective in
actually defeating the terrorist threat. It is imperative to
prevent the scenario of an expanding American war in the Arab
world, increasing the danger of more terrorist attacks in America
and Europe, prompting more escalation, and thereby risking a cycle
of violence that becomes more and more difficult to stop.
This strategy may take more time. But applying discipline,
patience, and perseverance to cripple the networks, assets, and
capabilities of violent terrorists is more likely to produce
lasting results than massive military actions whose targets and
consequences are increasingly unclear. President Bush's best action
now would be to follow his own words of "patient justice."
Rev. Jim Wallis is the editor-in chief of Sojourners. Rev. Wallis is an initiator of the statement "Deny Them Their
Victory: A Religious Response to Terrorism," now signed by over
3,500 religious leaders.