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In Sight of Ourselves: 1. Vengeance (October 12, 2001)

n. To inflict punishment in return for injury; to avenge. We might say, "an eye for an eye," or demand to have our pound of flesh." "Don't get mad, get even." "Make them pay!" You throw one bag of trash into my yard, so I throw two into yours. You call me a name, so I punch you in the face. You blow yourself up in my coffee house--I destroy your neighborhood. You destroy my high rise, so I beat up some Bangladeshi student when he stops at a Kansas gas station.

Vengeance is madness, a cowardly act for being intimidated. Vengeance is not justice-it is mindless retribution, driven by fear. Vengeance casts a net of unrestrained violence that traps the innocent and guilty alike. It is blind non-sense. Vengeance is what motivated the terrorists. It is what put the false smile on their faces but could not hide the dead space behind their eyes.

In our country, we have just now begun to taste the bitter fear known by those who have lived daily in the shadow of vengeance born of hatred. Such fear is fertile breeding ground for our own brand of domestic terrorists, these bullies who wrap themselves in our flag and call vengeance justice. An Indian Sikh (SEEK) is murdered because he wears a turban; an Islamic mother is ridiculed for the clothes she wears; a cabbie from Egypt is insulted by passengers who refuse to ride with him, and threats are called into an American mosque. There is no justice here-just a viper driven by rage to eat its own tail.

This is not America. The vast majority of Americans feel no need to seek relief from fear through the suffering of innocent people. The vast majority knows that vengeance is a death spiral because it increases hate. Vengeance provides no protection and only serves to spawn more terrorism. A Vietnamese proverb states, "If we take vengeance on vengeance, vengeance will never end." Many of the Islamic faith who live in our country are neighbors, fellow citizens. Others will return home, some to provide future leadership for their countries. Each of them needs to know the true fiber of an American heart for all of us have a stake in the outcome of the struggle against terrorism.

Our country is now engaged in a long-term effort to strike at the heart of barbarity. Determination to do so is fueled by the heartbreak of suffering. Cool heads have prevailed so that the intellect can be focused like a magnifying lens in the sun. Justice and peace can only be purchased by the wise use of power against the source of the problem. Those of us on the domestic front should respond with similar clarity. We should not see enemies where there are friends and make enemies of those who were once our neighbors.

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