A double orphanhood

by Archbishop Stylianos of Australia

Before the first year of the third Christian millennium had even finished, humanity in its entirety was shaken to its foundations by the act of terrorism on September 11, which struck at the heart, not only of the prestige, but also of the socio-economic superpower of the USA.

No matter how one measures the losses and the resulting consequences - which came so unexpectedly - of that frightful attack, that which stands out in a balanced evaluation of the event is of course not the numbers involved, but the limitless astonishment at the sensation created.

In other words, no matter how many people are estimated to have died (together with their murderers!), and no matter how many other 'values' were consumed in record time, we must admit that the power of the given impression does not depend so much upon the extent of human or material loss, as on the manner of its execution and the shock that this created. And while these two aspects appear at first glance to be related and very much interconnected, they are nonetheless not identical.

The manner relates first of all to the methods that were employed to stage the whole operation, from its conception to its fulfilment and execution. The shock came from the diabolical 'success' with which the complex mechanism of massive death occurred, and the immediate terror it caused, like lightning out of nowhere.

Regardless, however, of where one places the emphasis of the sensation and terror caused by the evil act and the innocent victims, it is certain that there would not be a thinking or honest person, whether or not a friend of the Americans and their allies, who would not condemn unreservedly these and other similar actions.

Condemnation should be considered self-evident, even for those who are not necessarily prepared to call the occurrence an abominable act of 'terrorism' (if they assume that its causes and its immediate or long-term goals had or have - for the physical or moral instigators - any so-called 'humanitarian' or naively 'heroic' motives). For it is as clear as the sun that there cannot be a trace of humanitarian sentiment or heroism in an act which occurs 'blindly', that is to say without any apparent logical cause, and without an 'identity' of the culprits or the victims, even if only by approximation.

We always consider the uncontrolled natural forces of the universe to be 'blind', which is why we cannot ascribe to them even the slightest trace of moral responsibility.

Human actions, on the other hand, whether individual or collective, are always judged on the basis of their moral value, or lack of it, according to the accountability of both the culprit and the adjudicator. The tragedy damaged not only the United States and its interests, but humanity as a whole, which after September 11 is in a state of unprecedented turmoil that can dangerously develop into hysteria of panic. Therefore, to condemn this does not mean that we are not justified in putting forward some implacable questions concerning what occurred both before and after the event.

If we begin with the simple thought and experience that in nature and history there is nothing which does not have presuppositions and consequences, we should look as carefully and impartially as possible for the likely 'causes', at least, that could lead to phenomena of such scale and brutality.

This is even more imperative when we consider that this inconceivable act did not only automatically spread fear throughout the world. It also spread unlimited grief over the uncertain present and future of humanity which, whether we like it or not, has been for some time 'globalized' in both good and bad ways.

It is now a common secret that, at this painful time, humanity feels not only that it is exposed to unforeseen or already visible dangers. Even though some countries - such as the Arabic nations, USA, England etc. - are considered to be in 'higher danger', there is still no spot on earth in which people do not feel completely abandoned. Not abandoned to the 'mercy of God' as we once used to say, but left to uncertainty and chance, without shelter and a hearth, which means without basic 'security'.

This feeling of general insecurity can only be expressed by the term 'orphanhood'. The etymology of this word derived from the Greek is worthy of mention. Even from the time of Homer, and earlier still, the adjective 'orphnos' (which has today become 'orphan') means dark and black. How, then, could one better describe the current gloomy situation on the world scene than with the word 'orphanhood'?

Yet, as we shall see below, this horrific and gloomy atmosphere did not come out of nowhere! Today's extraordinary and painful orphanhood was preceded by unacceptably insensitive and barbaric situations in different parts of the world, which led, almost inevitably, to today's impressive decomposition. Precisely these situations, which were never able to make a sufficient impression on the powerful, will be described below. We will see them as causes not only of a single and generalized orphanhood, but rather of a double and 'specialised' orphanhood, which by definition makes all the downcast people of our planet feel in solidarity with each other.

It certainly appears to be unreliable, if not even hypocritical, to 'dig up' painful references to the past, at a time when the world landscape is so electrified, due to the recent tragedy that took place in the U.S., with all its consequences. The past referred to here has from long ago become insensitively entrenched, yet we shall attempt to throw light, even if only faintly, on the inhuman enigma of 'meaningless occurrences'.

Yet, if indeed a humane breath of fresh air does arise out of the asphyxiating situation that has arisen on the world level, this will be a humbling experience, even if unspoken, ­which both the perpetrators and the victims will feel at some point, so that the pain and joy of the indivisible perennial person may finally be measured according to a just standard.

Without in any way wanting an economic, political or ideological 'conscription', we should look at some striking features which are initially irrelevant to, and axiomatically independent of, the panic which was created for all of humanity after September 11, 2001.

In so doing, we will perhaps find a starting point to untangle the great 'mess' of known and unknown factors, which have destabilized everything around us at this tragic hour.

Let us first of all remember that, at least since the time the 'balance of power' ceased on the world scene (following the well-known fall of the iron curtain at the end of the 1980s), the proclaimed 'world superpower' status of the USA started to become an increasingly large source of anxiety, not only for its silent opponents, but also for the weaker peoples. For it was not only the established 'international organisations' of economic and political control and design (the UN with the Security Council, the International Monetary Fund etc.) which American capital, cynically extended throughout the world, could utilize almost in a monopolistic way. It was, in addition to communications technology, the promotion of economic and political power, under the highly uncertain and unclear configuration called 'globalization'.

No one could ignore that all these almost secret occurrences, spread over the last decade of the 20th century, were day by day turning into a network that appeared to many to be increasingly gloomy on the horizon. But not one official authority or Government dared to denounce this unreservedly. Yet, throughout this period, there were the prophetic voices of brave intellectuals or artists, often led by distinguished American citizens who sent out warning signals through heroic interventions. Also other international organisations of great repute and special social and moral sensitivity - such as UNESCO, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders and others - gave reports and testimonies which shall remain an irremovable blot on the whole history of humanity. For, they tragically relate and point to unprecedented numbers of victims of poverty, to the point of starvation, incurable diseases, illiteracy and various other crimes, at the expense of children, the elderly and the disabled.

The anonymous victims everywhere, then, are the innocent, unarmed or disarmed people of each country, regardless of whether they belong to the so-called 'first' or 'third' world.

For those at least who follow the 'signs of the times' with objective criteria, there can therefore be no doubt that the worldwide misery and sorrow which is continually sowed by the insensitivity of extremely few people, who are also extremely powerful, would eventually break out in all kinds of 'protest'.

History also does not overlook that 'acts of terrorism' were almost always the only weapon of the weaker party. The degree of 'logic' or 'justice' of a particular attack, or the extent of its destruction or victims, was initially of no significance. The primary objective was not always blind revenge. The primary objective went mostly beyond the statistics to the 'message' given, even when this came from an act of 'pure madness' or 'complete desperation'.

This, then, is how we should see the tragic events of September 11 in America. They were, however, not the only ones, nor were they the first, even though they surpassed all previous events in terms of worldwide impact. In the same 'emblematic' area of the Twin Towers of world economic and political dominance, just a few years earlier, a similar act of terrorism had taken place. But it was not given sufficient attention by international opinion and, above all, it was not appreciated correctly by the relevant authorities, especially in the US. What does it matter if it was not so impressive? The 'message' was still the same. One could perhaps articulate, with some discernment, the following cry of the anonymous victims, 'Stop provoking us. Our stomachs and our nerves cannot bear it any longer!'

One should not of course respond to this cry with war of any kind. Even if such a war eventually caught 'dead or alive' the most likely, in this instance, terrorist of recent years, Osama Bin Laden, or any other suspects. Before any war reaches a dubious goal, no matter how 'clever' the weapons used may be, it is certain that it will unavoidably make countless victims of totally innocent people.

Furthermore, it is highly indicative that relevant announcements are not made. So is the absence of a responsible account, following the persistent questions of Amnesty International in October concerning an honest report on the victims involved. So what is more than apparent is the crime which popular wisdom describes through the saying: 'in order to kill the flea we burn the mattress'.

It is greatly disappointing that a leading philosopher and sociologist of modern European thought, the German Jurgen Habermas, evaluates the continued military operation of the US in Afghanistan with unacceptable apathy, if not with outrageous bias (see the 'KATHIMERIN' newspaper of November 4, 2001). He does so in complete disagreement with other intellectuals of his calibre around the world, including some in America itself.

If the terrorist acts of mainly the last decade of the 20th century, of which the climax of course took place on September 11 in the USA, were correctly understood through all that has been mentioned above, then we can undoubtedly speak of a double orphanhood. Helpless people increasingly feel that this has been overshadowing them for years, like a black cloud. The orphanhood which gives rise to illiteracy and misery on the one hand, and the orphanhood of fanaticism and every form of fundamentalism on the other. And we should not forget that fanaticism and fundamentalism are not very different to militant atheism, no matter how much faith they claim in a God of revenge. For of course, the true God of Revelation has declared to people from long ago, “vengeance is mine, I will repay” (Deut 32:35).

All of these things, however, do not of course mean that every faithful, conscientious and responsible person should remain with arms folded. What each of us in our own way, and as a collective body, could and should do, will be made apparent from fundamental ‘anatomy’ of this double orphanhood, which we will await however in a subsequent article.

from Voice of Orthodoxy, v. 23(9-10), October-November 2001
the official publication of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia

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