Preventing Another 9/11 Through Religious Pluralism

Today, the 16th anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the United States (U.S.), is a fitting day to discuss Eboo Patel’s Acts of Faith. Could the attacks have been prevented? Of course.

While it could be argued better intelligence and domestic security measures could have prevented them, it would be unrealistic to expect a perfect system that prevents every malicious-minded person from slipping through the cracks. So how else could the attacks have been prevented?

Not through an act of war, but through an act of faith. This is where author and activist Eboo Patel comes in.

Eboo Patel and ‘Acts of Faith’

Patel, a past member of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, is the founder and director of the Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based organization that encourages young people around the world to respect each other’s religions and work together on service projects.

Acts of Faith (2007) is one of the most inspirational books I’ve read. I will not write a full review or summary here (check out this link for a good review). Instead, below I provide a quick synopsis.

In the book, Patel discusses the importance of youth movements, and makes the chilling and accurate conclusion that terrorist and totalitarian leaders, such as Osama bin Laden and Hitler, served as excellent youth leaders. Patel asserts that young people often have big passions and want to be a part of something important. However, when those young people have nowhere to turn to and nobody to acknowledge their passions, they are taken advantage of and brainwashed by people like Osama bin Laden, who give them a purpose and a sense of belonging. In fact, even Osama bin Laden was influenced in his youth by people who took advantage of his intellect and strong passions (the book describes this history in detail).

The point Patel brilliantly elaborates upon is a simple one; to prevent many of the biggest problems in the world today we have to stop the creation of religious extremists, and to stop the creation of religious extremists we have to create alternatives for the youth who are usually prone to their tactics; thus keeping them away from religious fundamentalists. Throughout the book Patel gives a plethora of examples describing Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Hindu extremists and how each of these faiths has been used by extremists to brainwash youth into killing each other.

Religious Pluralism

Organizations like the Interfaith Youth Core that Patel started work to ensure that a message of religious pluralism reaches youth before a message of religious fundamentalism does. Some religious people may fear that teaching young people about pluralism would result in them having less faith in their own respective religions. Patel addresses this and says the point of pluralism is not to lose our current faiths or belief systems, but to make them stronger by learning how our values actually relate to the religious values of others. Patel also  states he wants atheists to be a part of the pluralism conversation (after all, atheists and religious people often share the same fundamental values).

I hope it’s obvious why I thought today was a fitting day to bring up religious pluralism. How could the attacks of September 11th, 2001 have been prevented? Those young people who blew themselves up on that day could have been taught differently, they could have been taught about religious pluralism instead of religious fundamentalism. Had that been the case, they might have never convinced themselves that American people were evil.

As we remember the tragedy of 9/11, we must realize the most fundamental cause of those attacks was not a failure of domestic security, but a failure of humanity because someone, at some point, led those young boys astray. The answer is not more war, the answer is a commitment to teaching our youth to respect and acknowledge each other’s religions, not to hate them. The answer is appropriate education.

In the Communication discipline, we recognize the importance of intercultural communication as a skill that must be learned (to overcome such obstacles as ethnocentrism); the Interfaith Youth Core is an organization successfully doing such work and helping young adults learn crucial intercultural, inter-religious, and interethnic communication skills for the rest of their lives.

P.S. Patel has released another, more recent, book, discussing the matter further.

Disclaimer: The above post is an old one originally published on the 11th anniversary of the attacks, which I am reposting on this new website. It has been edited. 

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