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We will never forget, but can we ever forgive?



Published: Sat, September 14, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Judaism and Islam both teach that followers must express regret for their sins before they can earn forgiveness from other people.

By IAN HILL

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Mohammed Atta didn't think he would need forgiveness from God or man once he helped carry out the Sept. 11 attacks.

He believed the attacks would earn him a place in heaven.

"Be happy, optimistic, calm because you are heading for a deed that God loves and will accept," Atta wrote in a letter that authorities later found in his suitcase. "It will be the day, God willing, you spend with the women of paradise."

Some local residents, however, feel Atta is far from heaven today. They believe Atta committed a heinous act that is beyond forgiveness.

"If we start forgiving crimes of this magnitude, then we encourage the commission of crimes like this in the future," said Dr. Mustansir Mir, a professor of Islamic studies at Youngstown State University.

Mir said Islam encourages forgiveness while also leaving the decision to forgive to the victim. Followers of other religions, including Christianity, are asked to always forgive those who commit crimes and sins against them.

"[Forgiveness] is a powerful sharing in the life of God," said Monsignor Robert Siffrin, the vicar general of the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown. "We hate the sin, injustice, the evil, but we struggle to love the sinner."

Presbyterian view

The Rev. Peter Lawson of the Brownlee Woods Presbyterian Church in Youngstown said he believes that "God's forgiveness is so radical that no one deserves it, but we get it.

"And we forgive in like manner," the Rev. Mr. Lawson added.

That can be a tall order for Christians and other local residents who watched the twin towers fall on television last year. Some area residents and religious leaders said that a year after the attacks, they're still struggling to understand if they can forgive the terrorists who killed more than 3,000 people Sept. 11.

A message board in front of Austintown Plaza on Wednesday stated that though Americans cannot forget the Sept. 11 attacks, "we can forgive." Some local residents who noticed the sign called a local radio talk show to say they think the terrorists can't be forgiven.

The sign was removed by Wednesday afternoon. Austintown Plaza management declined to comment on the sign.

A different situation

"Sometimes it's hard for us to know what God wants us to be doing," said the Rev. David Brown of the Gibson Heights-Second Presbyterian Church in Youngstown. He noted that Christian forgiveness as described in the Bible is typically between two people or a person and God.

"The Bible doesn't address [the terrorist attacks]," Brown said. "You wonder if there could be any forgiveness for such things."

Local Muslims and Jews said their religions state that the terrorists must express sincere regret for conducting the attacks before they can be forgiven.

"There has to be some sort of recognition that they've done wrong," said Rabbi Simeon Kolko of Ohev Tzedek-Shaarei Torah Congregation in Boardman. "We believe that God wants us to be forgiving, but we don't want it to be on the cheap."

Day of atonement

Monday is Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement and the most important holiday for the religion. Jews use the day to ask God's forgiveness for their sins.

Rabbi Kolko said though while the terrorists did not express regret and cannot be forgiven, Jews still may want to find another way to come to terms with the attacks.

"It's spiritually corrosive for any person to carry anger and a sense of bitterness in them their whole life," he said. "It takes a spiritual toll on them as well."

Dr. Chander Kohli, a Hindu from Youngstown, said his religion teaches that forgiveness can help a person deal with anger. He added that Hindus believe "forgiving is really one of the good deeds you can do."

"A lot of times forgiveness gives you inner satisfaction," Kohli said.

He added, however, that Hindus also find it difficult to forgive the terrorists.

"The people did not think they did anything wrong," he said. "They're just trying to hurt more people."




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