Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search


A Teachable Moment in Debate Over American Values

From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines

Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Sept. 16, 2002


Sept. 11: "A Teachable Moment" in Debate Over American Values

Interview with the Rev. Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine conducted by Scott Harris

Click here to listen! Needs RealPlayer

Americans gathered together in small towns and large cities across the nation on Sept. 11 to remember and mourn the enormous loss of life and destruction wrought by last year's terrorist assaults on New York City and Washington, D.C. But while religious leaders led prayer services and politicians honored the hundreds of fire fighters and police officers who sacrificed their lives to save others, the Bush administration was working hard to shape public opinion in support of a new war against Iraq.

On this first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, people from all walks of life are contemplating the consequences of President Bush's declaration of a "war without end." Many Americans flew flags displaying their patriotism, while others were drawn to hundreds of peace vigils, concerts and educational forums which focused more on reconciliation than retribution. One of the largest of these gatherings was held in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park where more than 20,000 people turned out for the "9-11 Power to the Peaceful Festival."

Between the Lines' Scott Harris spoke with the Rev. Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners Magazine, who reflects on events of the past year since Sept. 11 and the ongoing debate on American values during this time of crisis.

Rev. Jim Wallis: I think Sept. 11 is a teachable moment. I think it could be a doorway to transformation or it could just be an excuse for entrenching us in some of our worst instincts and habits. In many ways, our illusions of invulnerability were shattered on Sept. 11. We joined the world and sadly for most people in the world who live in places like Sarajevo or Jerusalem or El Salvador or Cape Town, South Africa, this kind of unexpected and random, horrible violence that would take loved ones away -- that's not a new experience for many of the world's people. But for us in the U.S., it was.

I live in a terrorist target. I live 20 blocks from the White House. So that would be pretty high on the list of further attacks from al-Qaeda cells or whoever is out there. Every time I leave Washington, I'm aware of my 4-year-old son who I just put to bed and my wife Joy, who if they're not traveling with me, are left behind for a night or two when I'm out speaking somewhere -- and I'm very aware of that. But I don't want to respond to that very real threat in the same way that threatens other people's 4-year-olds.

Between The Lines: There was enormous goodwill around the world, empathy and solidarity for the American people after the incredible loss of life from the Sept. 11 attacks. Many folk's assessment is that solidarity has disappeared, has dried up in the past year. I wanted to get your take on that. Do you think the world views the U.S. the same way it did one year ago?

Rev. Jim Wallis: Well, I just came back from Britain. My wife is English and we were over in London. I think there was tremendous sympathy and real feeling of the pain of the American people during that period, but because of some of what we've done since, particular now, because of this threatened war with Iraq -- which I found very little support for in Britain, actually, even though Tony Blair is supporting George Bush. In England, there is very little support for a war against Iraq. Many of the Cabinet ministers and members of Parliament -- the churches are all against it. The new archbishop of Canterbury is totally opposed; I spent some time with him. He said it well. His name is Rowland Williams. You're going to hear from him. He's 53 years old, the new archbishop of Canterbury. He said it well, he said when all you have are hammers, everything looks like a nail, and America has the biggest and best hammers. That's all we seem to have and know how to use, and we have this illusion by pounding one more

Between The Lines: U.S. foreign policy over the past year has been driven by the idea that we have to prevent future terrorist attacks, hence the war on Afghanistan. What in your view have been the successes and failures of U.S. foreign policies post-Sept. 11?

Rev. Jim Wallis: Well, I often -- when I'm not speaking on this topic -- ask a question of the audience. I say, "If the U.S. and its allies were able to incarcerate or kill every terrorist by the end of the day, today, how many of you think terrorism will end?" You know, no one has ever raised their hand. I think there are cells of trained, ready, committed terrorists in the world -- people who are ready to commit more violence against innocent people. I think that is the threat that somehow we've got to deal with: more the root causes, not the terrorists themselves. Poverty is not the only cause of terrorism, to be sure. But poverty and hopelessness are the best recruiters for terrorism unless we can begin to move toward a kind of multinational effort that really will, what I often call, "drain the swamps of injustice in which the mosquitoes of terrorism breed." We have to really combat that hopelessness and poverty that is the best friend for those who want to commit terrorist violence.

Contact Sojourners by calling (202) 328-8842 or visit their Web site at


Scott Harris is the executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines (, for the week ending Sept. 20, 2002


PRINT INFORMATION: For reprint permission, please email To subscribe to Between The Lines Q&A, e-mail

© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Cheap Grace And Climate Change: Australia And COP26

It was not for everybody, but the shock advertising tactics of the Australian comedian Dan Ilic made an appropriate point. Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a famed coal hugger, has vacillated about whether to even go to the climate conference in Glasgow. Having himself turned the country’s prime ministerial office into an extended advertising agency, Ilic was speaking his language... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Funeral Rites For COVID Zero
It was such a noble public health dream, even if rather hazy to begin with. Run down SARS-CoV-2. Suppress it. Crush it. Or just “flatten the curve”, which could have meant versions of all the above. This created a climate of numerical sensitivity: a few case infections here, a few cases there, would warrant immediate, sharp lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, the closure of all non-vital service outlets... More>>

Dunne Speaks: 25 Years Of MMP - And The Government Wants To Make It Harder For Small Parties
This week marks the 25th anniversary of the New Zealand’s first MMP election. Over the last quarter century, the MMP electoral system has led to our Parliament becoming more socially and ethnically diverse, more gender balanced, and to a wider spread of political opinion gaining representation. Or, as one of my former colleagues observed somewhat ruefully at the time, Parliament starting to look a little more like the rest of New Zealand... More>>

Dunne Speaks: Labour's High Water Mark
If I were still a member of the Labour Party I would be feeling a little concerned after this week’s Colmar Brunton public opinion poll. Not because the poll suggested Labour is going to lose office any time soon – it did not – nor because it showed other parties doing better – they are not... More>>

Our Man In Washington: Morrison’s Tour Of Deception

It was startling and even shocking. Away from the thrust and cut of domestic politics, not to mention noisy discord within his government’s ranks, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison could breathe a sign of relief. Perhaps no one would notice in Washington that Australia remains prehistoric in approaching climate change relative to its counterparts... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Melbourne Quake: Shaken, Not Stirred

It began just after a news interview. Time: a quarter past nine. Morning of September 22, and yet to take a sip from the brewed Turkish coffee, its light thin surface foam inviting. The Australian city of Melbourne in its sixth lockdown, its residents fatigued and ravaged by regulations. Rising COVID-19 numbers, seemingly inexorable... More>>