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Finding Faith in Faith

This blog is dedicated to exploring the intersections of faith and politics, the intricacies of religious culture and the struggle to balance devotion to a higher being and to one’s culture.

Friday, September 21, 2001

Comments on Our President's Sept. 20th Comments

I thought the best way for me to comment was to go ahead and bold the portions I found interesting and put my comments in red italics.

I included the entire transcript, though I only addressed a few parts of it.

Now, let me start off by saying that I thought the speech was very well-written and well-delivered. It did what it was supposed to do, which was to let us know that our government has direction and is taking action.

"Fret not, America. We are going to fix the problem."

Note: Some of the things I say are pretty insensitive. If you are easily upset or emotional about all this right now, please don't read this right now.

Seriously. I'm not trying to upset anyone, I am simply frustrated with a few things I heard last night.

I want to remind everyone that I did vote for Bush, that I am an American and love both the country and the privileges of its citizenship. However, it is because of those privileges that I feel I need to exercise my freedom of expression and point out a few things rumbling around in my head.


Transcript of President Bush's address to a joint session of Congress on Thursday night, September 20, 2001.

Mr. Speaker, Mr. President Pro Tempore, members of Congress, and fellow Americans, in the normal course of events, presidents come to this chamber to report on the state of the union. Tonight, no such report is needed; it has already been delivered by the American people.

We have seen it in the courage of passengers who rushed terrorists to save others on the ground. Passengers like an exceptional man named Todd Beamer. And would you please help me welcome his wife Lisa Beamer here tonight?


We have seen the state of our union in the endurance of rescuers working past exhaustion.

We've seen the unfurling of flags, the lighting of candles, the giving of blood, the saying of prayers in English, Hebrew and Arabic.

We have seen the decency of a loving and giving people who have made the grief of strangers their own.

My fellow citizens, for the last nine days, the entire world has seen for itself the state of union, and it is strong.


Tonight, we are a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom. Our grief has turned to anger and anger to resolution. Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done.

I find this interesting because it immediately begs the question: Whose justice? How do we define it? How do we know when we have achieved it?



I thank the Congress for its leadership at such an important time.

All of America was touched on the evening of the tragedy to see Republicans and Democrats joined together on the steps of this Capitol singing "God Bless America."

And you did more than sing. You acted, by delivering $40 billion to rebuild our communities and meet the needs of our military. Speaker Hastert, Minority Leader Gephardt, Majority Leader Daschle and Senator Lott, I thank you for your friendship, for your leadership and for your service to our country.


And on behalf of the American people, I thank the world for its outpouring of support.

America will never forget the sounds of our national anthem playing at Buckingham Palace, on the streets of Paris and at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate.

We will not forget South Korean children gathering to pray outside our embassy in Seoul, or the prayers of sympathy offered at a mosque in Cairo.

We will not forget moments of silence and days of mourning in Australia and Africa and Latin America.

Nor will we forget the citizens of 80 other nations who died with our own. Dozens of Pakistanis, more than 130 Israelis, more than 250 citizens of India, men and women from El Salvador, Iran, Mexico and Japan, and hundreds of British citizens.

America has no truer friend than Great Britain. (APPLAUSE) Once again, we are joined together in a great cause.

I'm so honored the British prime minister has crossed an ocean to show his unity with America.

Thank you for coming, friend.


On September the 11th, enemies of freedom committed an act of war against our country. Americans have known wars, but for the past 136 years they have been wars on foreign soil, except for one Sunday in 1941. Americans have known the casualties of war, but not at the center of a great city on a peaceful morning.

A few things here. "Enemies of Freedom"?, "Act of War"? He must know a lot I don't. My impression of this particular breed of terrorist is that they ARE SEEKING FREEDOM from American economic policies and cultural influences.

Second, Americans have known the casualties of war in the center of great city on a peaceful morning. It was called Hiroshima. It was called Nagasaki. We have known these casualties, we've just never been on the receiving end.

And again, if you view American economic policy as offensive (which we do not, but many of these groups do), then this situation is no different from thousands of other incidents in other lands at other times.


Americans have known surprise attacks, but never before on thousands of civilians. All of this was brought upon us in a single day, and night fell on a different world, a world where freedom itself is under attack.

Americans have many questions tonight. Americans are asking, "Who attacked our country?"

The evidence we have gathered all points to a collection of loosely affiliated terrorist organizations
known as al Qaeda. They are some of the murderers indicted for bombing American embassies in
Tanzania and Kenya and responsible for bombing the USS Cole.

Al Qaeda is to terror what the Mafia is to crime. But its goal is not making money, its goal is remaking the world and imposing its radical beliefs on people everywhere.

As opposed to the American ideal, which is to remake the world and impose its conservative and capitalistic beliefs on people everywhere.


The terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics; a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam.

Ah, so there goes the religious justification. I understand why he has to do this (he needs support from other Muslim leaders), but this statement drives me crazy. It's like saying that if the Pope rejects my faith as Christian extremism, my faith is no longer to be held as valuable or significant in the eyes of the political world. And I certainly can't be allowed to use it as a justification for my actions.

Maybe we should all convert to the "acceptable" strains of our faith which are supported by the recognized religious leaders and scholars. Whoops, there goes the Church of Christ. Guess I ought to start brushing up on the catechism.

And I find it amusing that George Bush is an authority on Islam. I don't know whether to read into his statement that he sees the teachings of Islam as completely peaceful or whether he is suggesting that "only the peaceful teachings" are the important ones.

All I know if that Islam (like Christianity) has been taught in a variety of ways throughout history. And like our own faith, it has peaceful elements to it, but I would not characterize all of its teachings as peaceful.

And I certainly don't know that we can mediate whose beliefs are valid and whose are not based on the writings of particular scholars living in our country.


The terrorists' directive commands them to kill Christians and Jews, to kill all Americans and make no distinctions among military and civilians, including women and children. This group and its leader, a person named Osama bin Laden, are linked to many other organizations in different countries, including the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

There are thousands of these terrorists in more than 60 countries.

They are recruited from their own nations and neighborhoods and brought to camps in places like Afghanistan where they are trained in the tactics of terror. They are sent back to their homes or sent to hide in countries around the world to plot evil and destruction. The leadership of al Qaeda has great influence in Afghanistan and supports the Taliban regime in controlling most of that country. In Afghanistan we see al Qaeda's vision for the world. Afghanistan's people have been brutalized, many are starving and many have fled.

Women are not allowed to attend school. You can be jailed for owning a television. Religion can be practiced only as their leaders dictate. A man can be jailed in Afghanistan if his beard is not long enough. The United States respects the people of Afghanistan -- after all, we are currently its largest source of humanitarian aid -- but we condemn the Taliban regime.

I don't even know what to highlight here. Certainly we're not ready to get into the business of imposing cultural values on other cultures, are we?

And condemning the regime? We put that regime on the map! We needed them to hold off the soviet expansion and we encouraged them to become the people that they are.

And if we're in the business of condemning regimes, how about we start looking around at the genocide in Rwanda. Or the conflict between the IRA and the British.

Please. This is just another case of us making policy that meets our own best interest and then retroactively pointing out that we made "the moral choice."



It is not only repressing its own people, it is threatening people everywhere by sponsoring and sheltering and supplying terrorists.

By aiding and abetting murder, the Taliban regime is committing murder. And tonight the United States of America makes the following demands on the Taliban:

-- Deliver to United States authorities all of the leaders of Al Qaeda who hide in your land.

-- Release all foreign nationals, including American citizens you have unjustly imprisoned.

-- Protect foreign journalists, diplomats and aid workers in your country.

-- Close immediately and permanently every terrorist training camp in Afghanistan. And hand over every terrorist and every person and their support structure to appropriate authorities.

OK, how do you determine whose a terrorist and who is not? What's the litmus test? Who gets to make this judgement?

Who are the "appropriate authorities"? The U.S.? Are you kidding me?


-- Give the United States full access to terrorist training camps, so we can make sure they are no longer operating.


Whoa. Full access? For how long? Are we assuming that the government has control over these training camps? Didn't Bush imply earlier in the speech that this was not the case?

This infers an ongoing police action regulating informally organized subcells. Can you say Viet Nam?


These demands are not open to negotiation or discussion.


Rick's unfair interpretation: "In short, if you don't understand the scope of what we're demanding, don't agree with us, or if everyone in the entire country does not immediately bow to your whims at once, don't bother asking for clarification, we're going to kill you anyway.



The Taliban must act and act immediately.

They will hand over the terrorists or they will share in their fate.


I am still in utter shock over this. It would be like another government demanding we turn over David Koresh immediately or they would wipe out our civilization. Never mind that David Koresh didn't exactly prove himself the most cooperative person to the government's demands.


I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It's practiced freely by many millions of Americans and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah.


Maybe I'm not being fair here, but it seems like the president just said that we respect Islam BECAUSE IT'S TEACHINGS ARE PEACEFUL. Either that, or you could also read that we respect it only because millions of Americans practice it.

Either way, he just implied a litmus test for religious judgement by our government's policies.



The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself.


Actually, that's what they accuse us of doing. It's our cultural and economic influence on their culture and religion that they hate. Again, who are we to say what Islam is?

Are we suggesting that so long as Islam develops and progresses in a way that is consistent with Western civilization, it is a valid religious belief system? And that if it doesn't, then its adherents are betraying their faith?


The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends. It is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them.


Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there.

It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.


Wow. The whole world? Does this include the IRA? CIA? NSA? The Foreign Legion?

How will we know when "defeated" is accomplished?



Americans are asking "Why do they hate us?"

They hate what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.


Maybe they hate us because we cripple their economies. Maybe they hate us because we destroy their cultural distinctiveness.

Maybe they hate Nike, Microsoft and McDonald's.


They want to overthrow existing governments in many Muslim countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. They want to drive Israel out of the Middle East. They want to drive Christians and Jews out of vast regions of Asia and Africa.

These terrorists kill not merely to end lives, but to disrupt and end a way of life. With every atrocity, they hope that America grows fearful, retreating from the world and forsaking our friends. They stand against us because we stand in their way.


They say they do want this. They say they want us to leave them alone. They say they want to be able to hold to their traditional values without worrying about garnering our support to do it.

Now, I'm not defending their actions or even their way of life. But if they do want to be left alone, we have certainly not been especially good at that.

We had a hand in organizing the political structure of many of those countries through our economics and military policies. We, in effect, changed their way of life, which is what they are reacting to.


We're not deceived by their pretenses to piety.


Nor they by ours.


We have seen their kind before. They're the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century. By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions, by abandoning every value except the will to power, they follow in the path of fascism, Nazism and totalitarianism.


You might even add us in there. We've pushed a lot of countries in ways that benefited us. But we did it not in the name of political power, but economic power.

I guess that makes all the difference?


And they will follow that path all the way to where it ends in history's unmarked grave of discarded lies. Americans are asking, "How will we fight and win this war?"

We will direct every resource at our command -- every means of diplomacy, every tool of intelligence, every instrument of law enforcement, every financial influence, and every necessary weapon of war -- to the destruction and to the defeat of the global terror network.

Now, this war will not be like the war against Iraq a decade ago, with a decisive liberation of territory and a swift conclusion. It will not look like the air war above Kosovo two years ago, where no ground troops were used and not a single American was lost in combat.

Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes visible on TV and covert operations secret even in success.

Rick's unfair translation: "We're going to punish them for being terrorists through terrorist tactics."

There's already been a bill sent to Congress asking for a repeal of the laws that restrict the CIA from assassinating foreign threats.

If these tactics are wrong, they're wrong. We shouldn't engage in illegal or immoral tactics.


We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place until there is no refuge or no rest.


Again, our president seems to be advocating terrorism.


And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation in every region now has a decision to make: Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.


So we dictate morality for the world? Might makes right? You see things our way or face our wrath?


From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime. Our nation has been put on notice, we're not immune from attack. We will take defensive measures against terrorism to protect Americans. Today, dozens of federal departments and agencies, as well as state and local governments, have responsibilities affecting homeland security.

These efforts must be coordinated at the highest level. So tonight, I announce the creation of a Cabinet-level position reporting directly to me, the Office of Homeland Security. And tonight, I also announce a distinguished American to lead this effort, to strengthen American security: a military veteran, an effective governor, a true patriot, a trusted friend, Pennsylvania's Tom Ridge.

He will lead, oversee and coordinate a comprehensive national strategy to safeguard our country against terrorism and respond to any attacks that may come. These measures are essential. The only way to defeat terrorism as a threat to our way of life is to stop it, eliminate it and destroy it where it grows.

Many will be involved in this effort, from FBI agents, to intelligence operatives, to the reservists we have called to active duty. All deserve our thanks, and all have our prayers. And tonight a few miles from the damaged Pentagon, I have a message for our military: Be ready. I have called the armed forces to alert, and there is a reason.

The hour is coming when America will act, and you will make us proud.

This is not, however, just America's fight. And what is at stake is not just America's freedom. This is the world's fight. This is civilization's fight. This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom.


Ah. Here the other shoe drops. Here are the virtues we value. Not our faith, not our place in this world. You will honor progress, pluralism, tolerance and freedom as the new commandments for our social world.

Here is where I have some serious beef. These are the value we're going to war over. It has nothing to do with our values of our religion. Those things are simple rhetorical window-dressing.

I'm just not sure the tenants of our faith include any of these things.


We ask every nation to join us.

We will ask and we will need the help of police forces, intelligence service and banking systems around the world. The United States is grateful that many nations and many international organizations have already responded with sympathy and with support -- nations from Latin America to Asia to Africa to Europe to the Islamic world.

Perhaps the NATO charter reflects best the attitude of the world: An attack on one is an attack on all. The civilized world is rallying to America's side.


Rick's unfair interpretation: "If you aren't joining our side, you aren't civilized. And if you aren't civilized, you don't matter."

And when did "civilized" become synonymous with "supports American policy." Is this going to lead us to classify the French uncivilized?


They understand that if this terror goes unpunished, their own cities, their own citizens may be next. Terror unanswered can not only bring down buildings, it can threaten the stability of legitimate governments.


Ah, so it's the legitimate governments we are worried about, is it? And who gets to decide which governments are legitimate and which are illegitimate?

Well, we do, of course. The legitimate governments are the ones that honor progress, pluralism, tolerance and freedom, no matter what their cultural values or environments cause them to honor.


And you know what? We're not going to allow it.


Americans are asking, "What is expected of us?"

I ask you to live your lives and hug your children. I know many citizens have fears tonight, and I ask you to be calm and resolute, even in the face of a continuing threat.

I ask you to uphold the values of America and remember why so many have come here.

We're in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them. No one should be singled out for unfair treatment or unkind words because of their ethnic background or religious faith.

I ask you to continue to support the victims of this tragedy with your contributions. Those who want to give can go to a central source of information, Libertyunites.org, to find the names of groups providing direct help in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. The thousands of FBI agents who are now at work in this investigation may need your cooperation, and I ask you to give it. I ask for your patience with the delays and inconveniences that may accompany tighter security and for your patience in what will be a long struggle.

I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy. Terrorists attacked a symbol of American prosperity; they did not touch its source.

America is successful because of the hard work and creativity and enterprise of our people. These were the true strengths of our economy before September 11, and they are our strengths today.

And finally, please continue praying for the victims of terror and their families, for those in uniform and for our great country. Prayer has comforted us in sorrow and will help strengthen us for the journey ahead. Tonight I thank my fellow Americans for what you have already done and for what you will do.

And ladies and gentlemen of the Congress, I thank you, their representatives, for what you have already done and for what we will do together.

Tonight we face new and sudden national challenges. We will come together to improve air safety, to dramatically expand the number of air marshals on domestic flights and take new measures to prevent hijacking.

We will come together to promote stability and keep our airlines flying with direct assistance during this emergency.


We will come together to give law enforcement the additional tools it needs to track down terror here at home.

We will come together to strengthen our intelligence capabilities to know the plans of terrorists before they act and to find them before they strike.


We will come together to take active steps that strengthen America's economy and put our people back to work.

Tonight, we welcome two leaders who embody the extraordinary spirit of all New Yorkers, Governor George Pataki and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

As a symbol of America's resolve, my administration will work with Congress and these two leaders to show the world that we will rebuild New York City.

After all that has just passed, all the lives taken and all the possibilities and hopes that died with them, it is natural to wonder if America's future is one of fear.

Some speak of an age of terror. I know there are struggles ahead and dangers to face. But this country will define our times, not be defined by them.


Of course, since we created the regimes we're now attacking, what has changed? We've always defined our times. Now we're just being more deliberate and more above-board with our intentions.


As long as the United States of America is determined and strong, this will not be an age of terror. This will be an age of liberty here and across the world.


This will not be an age of terror FOR US. And for those who grew up in terror, now it's just more of the same anyway, right?

And liberty? Give me a break. That's what they want. The liberty to be free of our influence.


Great harm has been done to us. We have suffered great loss. And in our grief and anger we have found our mission and our moment.


Rick's extremely rude and inappropriate translation : "Whew! Looks like I have a shot at being re-elected after all."


Freedom and fear are at war. The advance of human freedom, the great achievement of our time and the great hope of every time, now depends on us.

Our nation, this generation, will lift the dark threat of violence from our people and our future. We will rally the world to this cause by our efforts, by our courage. We will not tire, we will not falter and we will not fail.


It is my hope that in the months and years ahead life will return almost to normal. We'll go back to our lives and routines and that is good.


Rick's unfair interpretation: "We won't learn. We're Americans! We'll get you back in front of your television and sports quickly, so you can forget again that there are other nations in the world. You can count on your government. We won't encourage thinking."


Even grief recedes with time and grace.


And a significant body count of the people we've told you are responsible ...


But our resolve must not pass. Each of us will remember what happened that day and to whom it happened. We will remember the moment the news came, where we were and what we were doing.

Some will remember an image of a fire or story or rescue. Some will carry memories of a face and a voice gone forever.

And I will carry this. It is the police shield of a man named George Howard who died at the World Trade Center trying to save others.

It was given to me by his mom, Arlene, as a proud memorial to her son. It is my reminder of lives that ended and a task that does not end.

I will not forget the wound to our country and those who inflicted it. I will not yield, I will not rest, I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people. The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them.


I have been trying to decipher what this means all day.

Does he mean that God is sending us to promote one over the other? Does he mean that God wants us to be free? That earthly justice is attainable?

Does he worship the same God that I do?

And have we asked what God's will is in all this? Or are we just assuming that whatever we do, God will bless?

I could rant and rave about turning the other cheek here, but you're probably pretty mad at me if you've read this far. I'll leave our understanding of God and His will out of this for now.



Fellow citizens, we'll meet violence with patient justice, assured of the rightness of our cause and
confident of the victories to come.

In all that lies before us, may God grant us wisdom and may he watch over the United States of
America. Thank you.


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