Like most Americans, I was mad on 9/11, and with good reason. Before coming to LaGrange College, I worked as a researcher for a consulting firm that was contracted out to the Pentagon. Even after I arrived at LaGrange College, I continued to work for them through that fateful day.
It was very emotional standing outside the Pentagon weeks later, the building clearly hit, and survivors feeling that familiar guilt of “why them… and why me.” I have pictures, if there are any conspiracy theorists out there who claim it was a hoax. It must have been like Pearl Harbor.
Angry folks look for someone to blame. And Islam is an easy target. Al-Qaeda terrorists came from Saudi Arabia Egypt, UAE, Lebanon… our allies in some kind of blowback. It all gets kind of complicated. Targeting a different religion is easy, though.
But something in me stopped. I remembered a Christian comic book I got when I was a kid, possibly drawn by Marvel artists. It was about Pearl Harbor too, and my grandfather fought in World War II. It was called “Attack!”
It told the story of Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, the leader of the air assault on Pearl Harbor. He was a national hero for this and other attacks but was wounded at the Battle of Midway and knocked out of flight duty. As a staff officer, he joined others to fly to Hiroshima to assess the immediate bomb damage at Ground Zero. He was the only one on that mission to survive.
After the war, he met Staff Sergeant Jacob DeShazer, who enlisted right after Pearl Harbor “to get even with those Japs!” DeShazer flew with Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle’s bombing raid, until his plane ran out of gas. Three fellow crewmen were executed for their bomb attack, and another starved to death in prison. He was almost completely consumed with rage against his captors.
Then a guard gave DeShazer a Bible. It changed his life. He read it, and prayed all the time, even while being beaten. He had been liberated from his POW camp, patched up by nurses, and returned with his wife to be a Methodist Missionary in Japan for more than 30 years. Fuchida also learned that his flying buddy was saved and treated by an American nurse (Peggy Covell), whose missionary parents were beheaded by Japanese forces during WWII. DeShazer’s story and Covell’s kindness converted Fuchida to Christianity, and the Japanese pilot also became a missionary. DeShazer built a church in the town he bombed.
I thought to myself that if these three could get past hatreds from World War II, relying on Christianity, couldn’t I do the same after 9/11? I’ll always be a Christian, of course, but couldn’t I do something to build ties with Muslims, even as inciting hatred seemed much easier (and less Christian)? I sought to learn more about Islam and the importance key Christian figures play in it. I got to meet, and be the guest, of followers of a liberal Muslim cleric from Turkey, where I learned that not all Muslims have the same beliefs. He has taken out expensive ads to denounce 9/11 hijackers and Charlie Hebdo terrorists, pointing out how these attackers violate Islam with their deeds.
I also returned to my old neighborhood on one of my trips back to Washington, D.C., where I learned how several neighbors (an NRA couple, a retired U.S. Marine, and an ex-football player) banded together to protect a fellow neighbor and friend, a Muslim originally from Yemen, who was convinced that he and his wife and child would be slaughtered on 9/11. Such kindness prompted the Yemeni to display a giant American flag outside his apartment, in gratitude to his protectors. It seems others displayed Christian kindness, whatever their thoughts were on 9/11.
It’s easy to hate. It’s harder to do what’s called for in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 5, Verse 44. “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” It’s what we are called to do on 9/11, and every 9/11 since.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.