Last week, a 52-year-old Englishman, ex-con Khalid Masood, deliberately drove a rental car through a crowd of pedestrians before crashing into the wrought-iron fence that surrounds London’s Westminster Palace, known as the Houses of Parliament, killing three people and injuring dozens.
After crashing his car he fatally stabbed a police officer before he himself was shot.
“Whilst the attack lasted only 82 seconds it will remain in the memories of many forever,” said Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, senior national coordinator for UK Counter Terrorism Policing.
While the reports and photos of the terror were compelling, and indeed will remain fixed in the minds of many forever, the image that seared my mind, that remains fixed in my memory, was the picture of medics and police trying to save the life of the man who had just murderously attacked their colleagues.
Despite their unselfish efforts Masood died.
Yet that moment, I believe, was an existential moment for those yearning for a sign of beauty and grace amidst the carnage.
At that moment we were taught a lesson.
I believe that those responders trying to save Masood’s life were, on all our behalf, struggling to revive within us the need to connect with our fundamental Goodness.
To breathe life into our communal soul.
At times like these, when I witness medics trying to save Khalid Masood, first responders running toward the collapsing Twin Towers or volunteers called the “White Helmets” struggling to rescue children amidst Aleppo’s ruins I’m reminded:
“… if anyone slays a human being … it shall be as though he had slain all mankind; whereas, if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind…” Qur’an 5:32 (Asad)
On our behalf, to confirm our oneness, those medics and responders in London, in the shadow of the Houses of Parliament, instinctively knew that this is how one saves all humankind.
Killers and terrorists like Khalid Masood – petty criminals who all too often appear in our nightmares – envision worlds not filled with love and beauty but with death and destruction.
Perhaps marginalized and disenfranchised, perhaps simply petty criminals and drug users – perhaps envious of those who have – they, in rage and ignorance, lash out with acts of violence and terror against the innocent.
They rage in Orlando, London, Paris, Istanbul, Beirut, and Baghdad.
They rage, too, in Québec City, New York, Charleston, Colorado Springs and Utøya, Finland.
They rage among us and knowing that the crimes they commit are unsanctioned by any theology they try to root their criminality in false beliefs as did so many before them – as others will do that follow.
Yet, knowing all that, if humanity is called upon to condemn, as it must, the barbarity of terrorism whether waged by lone wolves or by organized criminal conspiracies like the KKK, Al-Qaeda and ISIS, what must we say of the violence committed in our name that contributes to these relentless asymmetrical cycles of violence?
What must we say when, in 1998, journalist Lesley Stahl asks “We have heard that half a million children have died [in Iraq since Desert Storm]. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”
And Ambassador Madeleine Albright answers,”I think this is a very hard choice, but the price, we think the price is worth it.”
Half a million dead children: “Worth it.”
What must we say when both US Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens and an 8-year-old Yemeni-American girl is killed during an American raid in Yemen?
What must we say when an air strike led by the United States kills over 200 in Mosul, Iraq – when a mosque and school in Syria are bombed?
Will results justify President Trump relaxing the counterterrorism strike rules originally designed to avoid civilian casualties in Somalia?
What will the children think of us?
Is it worth it?
We’re familiar with freedom, reason, faith and justice, and to protect those values we must ask how me must confront this dystopian increase in hostility, radicalization and jihadism.
We must ask how we can discern a path through this violence – whether in London, Mosul, or Mogadishu – toward peace and justice?
Today, we live in a world where believers in violent solutions – militarists, fanatics, terrorists, nihilists – are bound together by a common belief that only violence can defeat violence.
We know better.
We know violence only begets violence.
We know, through decades of experience, debate, diplomacy and negotiation – even through the coldest days of the Cold War – that it is “Smart Power,” that synergistic combination of Soft Power; foreign aid, education, diplomacy, and empathy for the plight of the Other, and Hard Power; military might, that has kept America safe.
Stupid Power is doing otherwise; stupid is cutting the State Department budget by 28% while increasing the defense budget by $54 billion.
Is all this worth it when so many children grow up in hunger, poverty and fear – without any education – amidst violence that comes from both the far and near enemy?
This month, as a people struggling for liberation crosses Sinai, as a donkey quietly pads its way on palm-strewn streets toward Jerusalem, how will we, their children, honor the sacrifices and truth bestowed upon us?
How do we honor the gift that the medics, working to save a dying terrorist, gave us as they struggled to save all of mankind?