Political Theology Today A forum for interdisciplinary and interreligious dialogue

Ten Years After 9/11, PT 12.5 Published

The editors of Political Theology are pleased to announce that the latest issue is now available on the web.  Below is a brief introduction to the issue’s contents.

Political Theology 12.5 (2011) is a special issue entitled ‘Ten Years After 9/11’, in which twenty-two contributors from across the religious spectrum take stock of the events of September 11, 2001 and their aftermath. Perspectives are offered from theologians, specialists in the study of religion, historians, philosophers, ethicists, anthropologists and political scientists. A number of the contributors are active in the area of interreligious dialogue and interfaith relations. Some are grassroots activists.

9/11 was a world-changing event. For many it was also life-changing. In a guest editorial, Colleen Kelly, who lost her brother in the attacks on the World Trade Center, discusses the work of reconciliation and peace-building carried out by September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, the charitable organisation of which she is a founder member. Ted A. Smith turns to the writings of Walter Benjamin and Gillian Rose to consider how we should mourn the catastrophic loss that 9/11 represents. We can never hope to make sense of such acts or terror; instead humans must work with the fragments of experience and understanding that remain, piecing them together as best we can. Both W. Clark Gilpin and Tina Beattie explore 9/11 through the trope of ‘the fragment’ as a resource for meaning-making.

A number of US-based Muslims- Asma Barlas, Amir Hussain, Irfan A. Omar, Abdulaziz Sachedina and Amina Wadud – offer their assessment of 9/11 and its political aftermath. While some note the challenge posed to Islam by 9/11, there is also criticism of the US and the effects of its ‘war on terror’ on Muslims worldwide. UK-based Reza Pankhurst, a former political prisoner of Mubarak’s regime in Egypt, views the geopolitical events of the last decade as evidence of the widespread failure of US foreign policy. According to Pankhurst, the doctrine of US exceptionalism has been used to justify illegal practices such as torture and prisoner abuse. This has undermined the moral credibility of the US and left its reputation across the Middle East in tatters.

A more positive assessment of the US response to 9/11 is put forward by Jean Bethke Elshtain. In her view, the way forward lies in the hands of Muslims, in the development of a politically and religiously tolerant civic Islam. Lenn E. Goodman detects a failure of leadership on the part of too many Muslim spiritual and political leaders who have been prepared to turn a blind eye to those who bring Islam into disrepute in the Middle East, while at the same time denouncing all things Western. William T. Cavanaugh finds deficient political theologies driving both sides of the so-called ‘war on terror’. Hugh Goddard takes a longer historical perspective, and asks how 9/11 will be remembered in one hundred years from now.

Activist perspectives are provided by Marina Cantacuzino of the Forgiveness Project, authorised Sufi teacher Shaykh Ahmed Abdur Rashid, founder of Legacy International and Rabbi Michael Lerner, who is chair of the interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives. Interfaith collaboration is the subject of David Novak’s essay. Given the difficulties inherent in Jewish-Muslim engagement, Novak proposes that Jews and Muslims should look for issues of mutual interest which could act as a starting point for dialogue and over which they could join forces in a common cause.

Anthropologist, Richard Gauvain, after conducting scores of interviews with groups of Muslims in Dubai, concludes that the alleged sponsor of the terror attacks, Osama bin Laden, represents rather different things to different people. His legacy endures; a figure of hate to some, and a jihadist hero to others. The problem of religious violence is not new. Alan Mittleman offers a close reading of the biblical story of Pinḥas, in which a righteous ‘zealot’ becomes a hero by killing in the name of God (Numbers 25). How should religious communities make sense of the apparent approval of such violent acts within their holy scriptures? In the case of the Pinḥas narrative, subsequent Rabbinic commentary stays faithful to the sacred text while at the same time indicating that such behaviour is to be regarded as an exceptional act, rather than licence to take the law into one’s own hands.

Violence tends to beget violence. Ten years after 9/11, Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik gained worldwide notoriety by bombing the political heart of Oslo and then massacring scores of young people gathered for a political summer camp on a nearby island. Marius Timmann Mjaaland, who teaches philosophy and theology at the University of Oslo, discusses the connections between the terror attacks of 9/11 and Breivik’s actions. According to Mjaaland, both Islamist extremists such as those affiliated with al Qaeda and Islamophobic right-wing extremists such as Brevik are living out their fantasy of holy war. Both groups appeal not to reason to garner support, but to a far more powerful motivator: to a religious myth that can convince their followers to carry out nihilistic deeds that defy all normal conventions of morality. For the militant Islamists it is terrorist jihad; for Breivik it is his crusade of counterjihad. The myth of holy war that has been unleashed is so powerful that it has been able to determine world politics for over a decade.

As this special issue of the journal demonstrates (and as Julie Clague’s essay discusses in more detail), in the post 9/11 context, the field of political theology is being enriched by new multidisciplinary and interreligious forms of engagement, and these are promoting more inclusive conversations on issues that affect us all.

Table of contents, Issue 12.5: ‘Ten Years After 9-11’

Guest editorial:

Colleen Kelly
An Alternative Vision


Julie Clague
Political Theology Ten Years After 9/11

Abdulaziz Sachedina
‘Do Not Despair of God’s Mercy’ Reflections over the Divine Mercy in the Times of Tragedy

W. Clark Gilpin
September 11: Meaning in Fragments

Tina Beattie
Fragments: Reflections in a Shattered Screen

Hugh Goddard
9/11 – 100 Years On

William T. Cavanaugh
The War on Terror: Secular or Sacred?

Jean Bethke Elshtain
The World As We Know It

Amir Hussain
In the Decade After 9/11

Amina Wadud
American by Force, Muslim by Choice

Irfan A. Omar
Keeping Shari‘a and Reclaiming Jihad

Richard Gauvain
‘Usama bin Laden as a Multi-Vocal Symbol

Alan Mittleman
The Problem of Religious Violence

Asma Barlas
September 11, 2001: Remember Forgetting

Reza Pankhurst
The Legacy of 9/11 – A Decade of Denial and Destruction

Lenn E. Goodman
Tragedy and Triumphalism

Shaykh Ahmed Abdur Rashid (J.E. Rash)
The Emerging Phenomena of Post-9/11

Rabbi Michael Lerner
Fighting Terrorism Through Generosity: The Spiritual Approach to Homeland Security

Marina Cantacuzino
The Line Dividing Good and Evil

David Novak
After 9/11: Religion and Politics

Marius Timmann Mjaaland
Collapsing Horizons

Ted A. Smith
Mourning 9/11: Walter Benjamin, Gillian Rose, and the Dual Register of Mourning

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  1. Pingback: The Emerging Phenomena of Post 9-11 | The Circle Group

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