Remarks to Open the "Speak Out for Peace"

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Thursday, September 20, 2001

Ulrich Center, Lehigh University Campus: 20 September 2001
Lloyd Steffen, University Chaplain, Professor of Religion Studies and Chair, Department of Religion Studies

A group of concerned students, clearly upset yet wanting to respond meaningfully to the events of Tuesday, September 11, have invited us all here today.  We gather under their "Call for Humane Understanding and Action."  I am pleased to be here to support the effort they are making to urge us into reflection on issues of justice, in the effort they will certainly make in the next two hours to help us distinguish between patriotism and nationalism, to expose the distorting effects of religious fundamentalism in whatever faith tradition, and to advocate, as I assume speakers today here will advocate-for reasoned and multi-dimensional political solutions rather than sole reliance on military response.

In opening today's event, I want to express a couple of concerns. Let it not be overlooked that in coming here today, we continue to share with all persons of good will a deep moral outrage over the terrorist attacks that on September 11 killed thousands of innocent persons.  These acts cannot be morally justified, and we are aware today that all persons of good will-not just Americans but all persons of good will-share membership in a common moral community.  That community transcends national boundaries and binds us together, across difference in language, culture, national and religious identity, with a common moral vision of respect for persons and affirmation of the goodness of life and the need to live together in peace.  There is a deep unity among us-all of us are concerned for the victims of violence and hatred, all of us are concerned for the security of our nation and our loved ones; all of are joined by a passion for justice and, I hope, a quest for understanding.  And all of us extend condolences and sympathy to the families and loved ones of victims, some of whom are right here in the Lehigh community.

So we mourn the dead.  We offer our sympathy and comfort to the loved one's of victims.  We also reach out in love and friendship to our Muslim brothers and sisters, as well as people of all faith traditions, since it is only through interfaith understanding and solidarity that true peace can be established.  This past week we have been aware of all that unites us.

But we are united in freedom and under a cherished form of government that protect questioning, disagreement and dissent.  Our grief is universal, but how we should act in response to last week's acts of violence is not self-evident.  Whatever is done must be argued for, debated and questioned.  And disagreements may arise.  Those disagreements are not about the moral meaning of what happened but about what to do in response, and rather than springing from un-American impulses, these questions and disagreements go to the heart of our constitutionally protected liberties and all that our flag symbolizes.  This is complimented here at Lehigh in our educational mission, since integral to that mission is the development of critical, analytic abilities, and the fostering of what Martha Nussbaum has called "cosmopolitan citizenship"-to be educated means to be able to step into the world in all of its complexity with some understanding of that world and with critical acumen.

Speakers today are going to recommend to you action.  Here are a few I would recommend.

Learn more about Islam and the Middle East so that you might be an enlightened and compassionate voice in an increasing climate of religious hostility and racial prejudice.  Read a book about Islam.  Take a course.

Consider long and hard what retaliation will mean and whether justice can be served if the effect of proposed actions is to harm even more innocent persons.  President Kennedy once said that we should not seek the victory of might but the vindication of right-might and right may be tied together more tightly in the days ahead than is wise.  Be a good cosmopolitan citizen and urge that innocent persons be shielded from harm even as action to counter terroism is mounted.

Be voice in your community against hate crimes, and join in efforts to show support to Muslims and persons of Arabic background among us.  Make sure Lehigh is a safe haven for all persons and that you-we-show hospitality and appreciation for our international students.

And finally, resist any movement that seeks to use this tragedy as the mechanism to promote racial hatred or to blame or scapegoat any group of people-or that seeks to advance opportunistic political agendas that unnecessarily escalate militarism and violence while ignoring other needs of people in this country and around the world.

Let us express our hope that we shall pursue as a nation and as a moral community that transcends national boundaries both justice and peace in the days ahead.  And let us work together to affirm all that unites us, both in sadness, and in hope for a better, and more just world.