This week, we commemorate the 16th anniversary of the horrific terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. As we drew near that date, numerous commentators published their thoughts on this massacre. The most eccentric analysis I read was that by Rev. Matt Malone, a Jesuit priest who writes for the magazine America. Quoting Sirach in the Old Testament, “Wrath and Anger are hateful things” (Sir. 27:30 – 28-7), Reverend Malone states God has commanded us to forgive the terrorists. Despite my Catholic faith and my years at the Jesuit School of Theology, I profoundly disagree with the Reverend.
The attack on 9/11 was the deadliest in the world history of terrorism. Approximately 3,000 people were killed instantly in this 21st century massacre of innocents. Well over 1,000 others, including firefighters, paramedics, and police officers later died from cancer and other diseases inflicted by the fire, smoke, chemicals, fumes, and debris. The number continues to rise.
We believe in a kind, merciful, forgiving God and, ordinarily, we should strive to live our own lives in the same manner. But not all willful and deliberate evil conduct is forgivable. There are limits. (See Mt. 12:31).
First, we should contemplate 800-year-old British common law, the basis of our own system of law, with the principle that the first and foremost duty of government is to protect its people. What will the next step of the aggressor be if the victim government does not retaliate in response to the monstrous mass slaughter of thousands of defenseless civilians?
Second, we need to understand the meaning of the term “forgive.” We could learn something on this subject from the Jewish faith. Jewish tradition provides that a person cannot expect forgiveness unless he undergoes a sincere effort to perform “teshuvah.”
“Teshuvah” means “repentance.”
Teshuvah requires the wrongdoer to engage with the victim, express regret, and genuinely endeavor to right the wrong committed. The essence of teshuvah and forgiveness is that, in light of the wrongdoer’s remorse and attempt to make amends, the forgiver allows for his relationship with the forgiven to be healed. In effect, the forgiver says, “I cannot accept the wrongs you committed but, despite all that, I can accept you and I can still have a relationship with you.”
Have we heard from any terrorist even a single word of sorrow, shame, contrition, or of any effort to make amends? Accordingly, would not forgiveness dishonor the victims of 9/11? Yes it would. And it would debase our own moral compass.
Should Jewish people forgive the Nazis? Same answer.