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Spencer Rendahl: Unholy Wars

After going through airport-style security, my seven-year-old and I walked up to the North Pool at the 9/11 Memorial in lower Manhattan. I explained that all the names inscribed around the perimeter were those of people who died during the attack.

My daughter read “Flight 11” and asked what that meant. “That was the plane that hit the North Tower ,” I said. “All the names here are of people who died in that plane.”

She read the year “1993.” I told her that the building had been attacked before, and six people had died. Their names are there too.

Then I lifted her up to see the 30-foot waterfalls surrounding the footprint of the building, where the water cascades down like tears into a void.

“Why?” she asked.

I took a deep breath.

“The people who attacked those buildings believed that their God wanted them to kill people who didn’t follow their religion. And they believed that they would go to heaven for doing it.”

The people around us were of all ages and skin colors – and I wondered how they had been affected by the attack.

After about 45 minutes, my daughter asked to leave.

“It’s so sad,” she said.  I agreed, and we quietly continued our 6-day journey.

After a bus ride to Washington DC, we visited the Lincoln Memorial and saw the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. Then we walked to the U.S. Capitol. I had walked up those steps in the 1990s, but now they’re blocked off with barricades, another legacy of 9/11.

On the way, my phone chirped an alert about the bombing in Boston. My daughter saw that I was upset and asked what had happened. I told her, and once again she demanded “Why?” I was relieved to be able to reply: “No one knows yet.” But in my heart I pleaded: “Please don’t let it be about religion.”

I believe that religion can be a force of good in the world, but I find it frightening that someone else has a God who they believe must dictate how I should live. And my fear isn’t isolated to religions from distant lands; we have plenty of home-grown religious fundamentalists – as well as politicians who want to legislate their religious views on everyone else. They quote the Bible about the sanctity of life and then block legislation that could prevent criminals from getting guns and taking life. One example of extreme intolerance led to the massacre inside a Sikh temple in Wisconsin last August.

We may never fully understand the motives of the brothers from Chechnya who allegedly planted bombs near the marathon finish-line, but apparently the older espoused Jihad, or Holy War.

Luckily, my daughter and I made it home to New Hampshire before Boston shut down. And just days later, I could tell her that the suspects had been caught – and wouldn’t be planting any more bombs.

But I dread the prospect of eventually having to once again answer her question of why.