As we hurry forward toward the tenth anniversary of 9/11/2001, all sorts of discussions are popping up, and many of them have an interfaith perspective. I am a huge fan and proponent of, and participator in interreligious dialogue. But, I honestly don’t see what the actions of fanatics on 9/11 has to do with an interreligious encounter. In fact, I propose that there may not even be an interreligious dimension to the terroristic events of that day. Why not? Because fanaticism is not religion. And we do a disservice to our world community when we dignify fanaticism as religion. And when we conflate fanaticism with religion we empower those who critique religion, and abstain from religion, and find themselves to be agnostics and atheists. And those critics are right: if fanaticism is religion, if the fanatical God is really God, then by all means this should be the end of religion, and the end of God.
What we need are intense sensitivities that notice and immediately root out fanaticism from religious institutions. We also need sensitivity and commitment to notice and immediately root out fanaticisms from our political institutions, economic institutions, and all dimensions of our public life. When we allow fanatics to occupy a place of equal footing with legitimate perspectives, we create monsters and endow them with a legitimacy that is a legal fiction. For instance, we may notice the appearance of legitimacy that is regrettably granted to fanatical climate-change-denier-so-called-scientists serves only to postpone the efforts which are immediately needed to avert the worst aspects of the creeping and increasing climate catastrophe.
It is not zealotry or intolerance to take a stand against intolerant, fanatical zealots. To take such a stand is a means of ensuring thoughtful, heartful, mindful conversation, and exchange of ideas in the approach to overcoming problems, and in the mutual transformation of those engaging in that kind of conversation. It is my hope that the consistent marginalization of fanaticism by not elevating its status by such means as affording it the same number of column inches, television broadcast minutes, etc., will remove the false legitimacy and dismantle its heretofore undue influence in our collective life.
We do a tragic disservice to Islam and Christianity on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of 9/11 if we remember it as an interfaith encounter between Muslims who submit to the One God Allah, and Christians who worship the Trinitarian God they have known in the incarnation of the divine Logos/Word/Wisdom in the person of Jesus the Christ. It was not. Any such debates provide a false frame of legitimation to the fanatical elements (whether the terroristic actions that murdered thousands, or the explicitly crusading response of the previous President that launched 2 wars and murdered untold thousands as a result). The legitimating of the fanaticism of the terrorists lends itself to the conflation of their fanaticism with Islam. The legitimating of the fanaticism of the response lends itself to the conflation of crusader-warring with Christianity (i.e., it is not a Christian response to unleash a decade of war when the Afghan-Taliban government in 2001 offered to release Osama bin Lade...).
But let me finish by saying that it seems I do see how the anniversary of 9/11 can provoke a meaningful interreligious encounter. In short, Islam and Christianity—and all religions— have a common purpose to exclude the impact of fanatical elements that may arise in their midst. This common purpose can be the occasion of fruitful interreligious dialogue. But that does not mean that the fanatics, or the actions of fanatics, should be elevated to the status of legitimate dialogue partners. They are not.