Where were you on the morning of September 11, 2001?” asked Kenneth Lee at the panel on “Interreligious Dialogue and the Challenge of Peace in (a) Post 9/11 Era.”
Lee, who will be teaching at CSUN this coming fall, said he was driving to school in Florida to teach his class on Buddhism on Sept. 11 and as he arrived, professors and students were hovered around the television as the attacks unfolded over the east coast.
As one of six panelists who discussed religious challenges at the forum held May 9 at the Oviatt Library, Lee connected the Buddhist perspective to the 9/11 attacks.
The panel also included Gilbran Bouayad, Aaron Tapper, Kathleen Garces-Foley, Awo Falokun Fasegun and Mutombo Nkulu-N’Sengha, who all believed that through various religions, an individual has the power to open dialogue about how religion could help people through hardship, such as in the case of 9/11. They also believed that “planting the seeds” for younger generations to understand different religions is vital for a better and safer world.
“This tragedy affected people all over the world,” Lee said, speaking of the 9/11 attacks. “It is not just an American tragedy, it is not only a tragedy for Christians or Muslims, rich or poor but it is a tragedy for all humankind.”
Lee said one of the most important factors in the aftermath of 9/11 was trying to understand the reasons why the attacks occurred.
Lee discussed several central Buddhist concepts which include “impermanence,” “karma” and “cause and effect.”
Impermanence is the direct consequence of a human conditioned state made of components that are physical and non-physical, Lee said.
“In spite of the steel girders, the towers of the World Trade Center could not escape impermanence,” Lee said. “People who are unfamiliar with the Buddhist teachings tend to think such an argument is pessimistic. However, the concept is not pessimistic nor optimistic, it is just merely a fact.”
Lee said the events of Sept. 11 have shown our nation the real world concepts that change is always constant.
He said causal events in history have lead to several results in the present moment.
“After Sept. 11, the government and the media told us who they believed the culprits were and how they had done it,” he said. “But what was left unclearly articulated was why did these events happen.”
Lee also said people tend to believe that those who attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11 were jealous of this nation’s wealth and power.
He said, however, that Osama bin Laden is a wealthy, well-educated and sophisticated man. The terrorists were able to turn an aircraft into a deadly weapon that was more powerful than any kind of missile, Lee said.
“These were modern men who knew what they were doing,” Lee said. “I’m not trying to make any political statements but Buddhism looks at some of the causes that may lead up to the effect.”
Lee said the U.S. involvement in the Gulf War, U.S. support of Saddam Hussein during the Iran/Iraq war of 1980-1988, U.S. disengagement after the Soviet Army pulled out of Afghanistan and the repression of Arabic regimes were four reasons why 9/11 might have happened.
“Buddhism does not offer easy solutions or emotional imperatives,” Lee said. “It demands that we do something about it. It does so with compassion and with recognition that we are far from perfect.”
Bouayad, another panelist at the event, recalled where he was when the 9/11 attacks took place.
Bouayad, a native of Los Angeles who was raised in the Jewish and Christian tradition, said he was in Morocco getting a health check-up when the attacks happened. Later, when he walked in the Peace Corps. to speak to his director, she told him what had happened at World Trade Center.
“Everywhere in Morocco, there was an outpouring of sympathy and solidarity,” Bouayad said. “Sept. 11 was a changing point for a lot of people.”
Bouayad urged for more religious dialogue and identification.
“In order for us to strive down the path of peace between religions and races, all forms are key,” he said. “According to one statistic, 16 percent of the world’s population does not identify with religion. I really believe that Interfaith dialogue is the key.”
Another panelist examined the Jewish perspective of 9/11 by using the biblical story of Cain and Abel.
Tapper, a CSUN faculty member, said 9/11 was a watershed moment in the history of humankind. He also discussed the traditions of violence and non-violence throughout history.
“Judaism has both violent and non-violent traditions within its culture,” Tapper said. “This phenomenon of the yin and yang of Judaism predates 9/11 by thousands of years.”
He suggested that humanity could have been off to a rocky start if a person had taken the literal meanings of biblical scriptures, such as the story of Cain and Abel, in which murder and rage were thematic.
“In the case of the Genesis story of Cain and Abel, it is most important to Judaism to not take the literal meaning of the Hebrew Bible,” Tapper said. “The current post-9/11 Jewish world is entirely reflective of tradition.”
Tapper ended with a metaphorical conclusion.
“For every Job, there is an Isaiah,” he said. “It is my hope that one day, the wolf will indeed lie down with the lamb.”