Were the Islamic terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attacks crazed fanatics, or were they simply religious men who were deeply devoted to a destructive and deadly cause?
The night before these jihadists committed their ghastly acts, they read a letter written in Arabic giving them their final instructions, including these lines: “Purify your soul from all unclean things. Completely forget something called “this world” [or, “this life”]. The time for play is over and the serious time is upon us. How much time have we wasted in our lives? Shouldn’t we take advantage of these last hours to offer good deeds and obedience?”
In another context, many of us could say “Amen” to these words, but in this context it reminds us of a sad reality: These men were more committed to evil than most of us are committed to good, more serious about their faith (in an unhealthy way) than most of us are about our faith (in healthy way). What would happen if we were as devoted to restoration as they were to destruction, as committed to saving lives as they were to destroying lives?
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “A reformer has to sail not with the current. Very often he has to go against it even though it may cost him his life.” Yet some of us aren’t willing to stand up for what is right if it might cost us our reputation, let alone our lives. (Our soldiers, of course, are a notable exception to this, as they risk their lives for freedom.)
Perhaps we find it too difficult to compare our commitment to good to the jihadists’ commitment to evil? Then let’s consider something far more mundane. In 2001, after Minnesota Viking’s player Korey Stringer died in practice, NFL star Grant Wistrom commented, “We play a rough game, and none of us in the NFL got this far by being cautious with our bodies. One reason I do what I do is that I'm willing to sacrifice and work when things are hard -- whether I'm hot, hurt or fatigued. I take pride in my ability to plow through discomfort; that's what makes me a football player.”
So, a football player dies of complications related to heat stroke, and another player explains, “Hey, we didn’t get this far by being cautious with our bodies.” In other words, “It’s possible we might get hurt or even die, but that’s what makes us football players.” And we cheer them for their courage. For what? For a football game! Can we stir ourselves to rise higher? Can we make a determination to swim against the tide, to go against the grain, and to accept discomfort and even hardship for doing what is right and good?
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.
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