I’ve been thinking about the attacks to our embassies all across the Islamic world. Like the rogue character Gaston in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, me thinking is a frightening prospect, I know. But I cannot help but do it, as I served in Cairo, Egypt and Kuala Lumpur Malaysia as a Marine Security Guard (MSG) at our embassies located in those two capital cities of predominantly Muslim countries.
I spent 15 months or so in both of these countries fairly soon after a barracks of Marines was blown up in Lebanon (1983), and the U.S. Embassy in Beirut was blown to kingdom come (1984). Under President Reagan, and his State Department, which at the time of my service as an MSG was under the leadership of George P. Schultz (who as a Marine Corps artillery officer, saw combat on Peleliu in WWII), the rules of engagement were a bit more straight forward than they seem today.
No one would be allowed to breach our walls and come into the embassy compound uninvited. Ever. Too many had died horribly in our recent collective memory to ever allow such an event to happen again.
Sustaining this resolve is the other awful memory of the American Embassy in Tehran having been sacked, and hostages held for 444 days, from November 04, 1979 until President Reagan was sworn into office on January 20, 1980.
Suffice it to say that when I served, it was a different time, under different leaders, who had a different background of experiences than what is the case today. Their idea that our embassies should be protected, and strongly, has merit. Actions approaching anything less courts disaster, and perceived weakness invites boarding parties to play “capture the flag” with impunity, as we are witnessing these days.
Shocking to no one with a brain, these latest acts of violence occurred on the eleventh anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. September 11, 2001 is seared on our memories and the memories of those abroad. But as Hilare Belloc argued in 1938, this date has significance from a long time ago when the West held the line against Islamic armies bent on crushing Christendom. He writes,
Vienna, as we saw, was almost taken and only saved by the Christian army under the command of the King of Poland on a date that ought to be among the most famous in history: September 11, 1683.
Which conveniently plays into the simple narrative that the reasons for this conflict is a war between incompatible religions. Islam vs. Christianity. I’m not saying there isn’t something to this idea, but as is true in much of world history, there is more to the story.
In the background of all this recent violence, as many of you know, the Holy Father is in Beirut, Lebanon right now, on an apostolic visit. He signed and delivered an Apostolic Exhortation yesterday, and I’ve started to read it. I’ve only gotten through a few pages so far, but already I can tell that it is something worth reading time, and time again.
Beirut Lebanon, formerly referred to wistfully as the “Paris of the Levant,” has a rich history of Christians, Muslims, Druze, Jews, etc., living together in communities on a small piece of real estate. Not always peacefully, truth be told, and with bloody civil wars and sectarian violence that has shattered the Parisian-like reputation for generations. To love Lebanon, you would have to be from there, as our love for our native land always holds an allure for us, no matter where we hail from, nor how corrupt the governments are that rule us therefrom.
Here is something our Pope said in his letter that I know is true beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Only by beginning with conversion to God, and by showing forgiveness to those close at hand and in the wider community, will the just respond to Christ’s invitation to become “children of God” (cf. Mt 5:9). Only the meek will delight in boundless peace (cf. Ps 37:11). In offering us a life of communion with God, Jesus creates true fraternity, not the fraternity marred by sin. “For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph 2:14). Christians know that the earthly politics of peace will only be effective if justice in God and justice among men and women are its authentic basis, and if this same justice battles against the sin which is at the origin of division. For this reason, the Church wishes to overcome every difference of race, sex and social condition (cf. Gal 3:28 and Col 3:11) in the knowledge that all are one in Christ, who is all in all. This too is why the Church supports and encourages every peace initiative throughout the world and particularly in the Middle East.
Which brings me to the part of this post where you may decide to stop reading altogether, either in disgust, or in despair, and hang me up virtually as a traitor to Madison Avenue’s idea of the American Way.
Honestly, it’s taken me close to three decades, out of my near five on the planet, to see the truth as il Papa makes clear in that succinct paragraph above, and I sudder at its import and implications to life as we in the developed world know it. Facts of life that, as a Christian, I have turned a blind eye to for far to long.
Where words fail me, a song, edited along with motion pictures, and still photographs, will help bring to light the true culprit of the violence being projected towards us. Hint: it’s not really about religion, but about “the sin which is at the origin of division.”
Pink Floyd, whose work I’ve showcased in this space before, provides the song from their aptly titled album, Dark Side of the Moon. And a fellow calling himself “JoeVideo66” provides the images, and editing.
The real culprit behind the disquiet, violence, and death? Why— isn’t it obvious?
And how we treat “them.” Even though “God only knows it’s not what we would choose to do,” and yet, this is what “we” do to “them.”
With. Without. And who denies it’s what the fighting’s all about?
Said the artist.
“I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!”
Said God himself, with an exclamation point, when he pitched his tent among us.
Forgive us Father, for we know what we are doing, and we continue to do it anyway.
Father Dwight Longenecker has similar thoughts regarding Why Are the Muslims so Angry?
John Allen in Beirut: Pope tackles elephant in the room of Christian exodus.
Mark Shea: I Went to My Neighbors House…