Jürgen Moltmann on September 11th as Apocalyptic Terrorism

9-11-moltmannToday is the fourteenth anniversary of the September 11th 2001 attacks. I remember studying in the Media Union on the University of Michigan's North Campus in Ann Arbor when it happened. There was a network outage in the computer lab, and I remember that the news websites would not load. I went down to the lower lobby where people were crowding around the televisions and that was when I first saw the images of the planes flying into the World Trade Center towers. I remember watching those horrifying events but unable to understand why or how this could happen.

Jürgen Moltmann labels the events of September 11th as "apocalyptic terrorism" in his book In the End, the Beginning: The Life of Hope, and these events were beyond the comprehension of so many people because they were apocalyptic, and not rational. In remembrance of the suicidal mass murders on September 11th, I've provided the following quotation to help understand these events that were beyond comprehension:

The scenario of the crime committed on 11 September 2001 in the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington was beyond the comprehension of so many people because the script it followed was apocalyptic, not rational. If we look at it again: there the World Trade Center, symbol of the globalized progress of the modern world, and the Pentagon, the symbol of America, the superpower—here in the kidnapped aircraft the anonymous mass murderers, executing, as they believed, the judgment of a supernatural power. Rational purposes and goals behind the assassinations cannot be discerned. The voices of Bin Laden and Mullah Omar talk about retribution for the humiliations suffered by Islam, about God's vengeance on unbelievers, and about the destruction of America. Have religious energies turned criminal here?

Ever since 11 September 2001 we have been confronted with a new quality in this active apocalyptic terrorism. A man or woman becomes an assassin for money or out of conviction, but a suicidal mass murderer becomes so only out of conviction. The Islamist terrorists evidently feel themselves to be martyrs for their faith, and are highly reverenced by the like-minded. For what conviction do they murder? For decades, fanatical masses on the streets of the Middle East have denounced the United States as 'the great Satan', and the Western world has been condemned as the corrupt 'world of unbelievers'. Materialism, pornography, the break-up of the family, and the liberation of women are only some of the accusations. Out of ignorance or self-complacency people in the West failed to take this seriously; it was ridiculed as crude and half-baked. But 'the great Satan' is nothing other than the apocalyptic 'enemy of God'. Anyone who weakens him and humiliates him is on God's side, and earns paradise. The idée fixe of fighting together with God in the final struggle against the godless evidently does away with every normal human inhibition about killing, heightens the ecstasy of power, and transforms suicide into an act of worship. The suicidal mass murderers of New York and Washington will have felt themselves to be as God, who in the end annihilates the godless. If they feel that they are divine executioners, they do not need a rational justification for the mass murder. The meaning of terrorism is—terror. The meaning of murder is death. After that nothing more is to follow.

No Jewish or Christian apocalyptist believed that such a destruction of other people and oneself would be followed by a new beginning, a reconstruction, or even a redemption.

Moltmann, Jürgen. In the End, the Beginning: The Life of Hope. Trans. M. Kohl. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2004. 50-51. Print.

Header Image Source: "September 11th Tribute in Light from Bayonne, New Jersey" by Anthony Quintano - https://www.flickr.com/photos/quintanomedia/15071865580. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.

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  1. The remarkable book introduced via this reference was essentially written in response to the Sept 11 incident – and the signs of the times altogether. http:/www.dabase.org/not2p1.htm
    Its initial outline was in the form of The Peace Law Open Letter which was first written in response to the Kosovo crisis – at the request of a high-ranking UNHCR diplomat. The Peace Law was subsequently reworked in response to Sept 11. The Letter is available via the readings section of a website titled aboutadidam


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