I live next to a lovely suburban park in Newton, Massachusetts. It might be the last place where you would expect to find it but, if you pay attention, you will feel the breath of the beast here too.
Between my dogs and my kids, I manage to find quite a few excuses to spend time on the benches in the park. There is one bench in particular- in a very nice corner of the park where two streams converge. This bench is very near to a playground so that the sound of playing children is often in the background; but it faces away from the play area- as if to look away and brood. It is a cool spot, under the shelter of several big, old trees so there is shade from the summer sun and the cruel winter winds are muffled.
I often sit on that bench, starting out there in solitude, only to find myself in the company of a young woman whom I will never meet. There is a little bronze plaque affixed to a rock here and it conjures her presence. Sometimes, I remember to contemplate her fate.
This coming Friday, Aug. 15, 2008, will be Sarah S. B. Philipps’ birthday. Her life ended at twenty years old when a bomb, apparently planted by agents of the Libyan government took her life and the lives of 269 others.
You see, December 21st, four months and six days from Friday, will be the twentieth anniversary of her death. She died on Pan Am flight 103 when a charge of Semtex plastic explosive (supplied to Libya by the then communist country of Czechoslovakia, hidden in a radio and fused to a timer, some say, by Palestinian agents and smuggled onboard through lax security in Malta by a Libyan) blew a hole in the Boeing 747 causing it to disintegrate at altitude and smash into Lockerbie Scotland.
Sarah would have been forty this Friday- had she lived. Here is a clip from the memorial page for her on the Syracuse University Web Site
"Sarah left behind a legacy of laughter so compelling that her best friends can't help but remember her with a smile. Her parents describe her as bright, funny, friendly, and beautiful. She loved people, beaches, ski slopes, sunshine. She was going to be a clever publisher or a witty lawyer, a tender wife and mother, a sturdy citizen. Where Sarah was, there too was laughter and joy."
For the last few days, ever since I noticed that Sarah’s birthday was approaching, I have done a great deal of research on her and on Pan Am 103. I was hoping to be able to tell a story with assurance and clarity but I find that I cannot. I have gone over the history of the incident. I’ve rooted through the record of the legal and diplomatic efforts to bring justice to the perpetrators and closure to the victims’ families. It is taken me a very long way from this bench under these shady trees.
I have followed the trail to forlorn monuments as in the first line of a USA TODAY article about one of Sarah’s mother’s many visits to Lockerbie. It seems she always visits the place where Sarah's body came to rest after being thrown clear of the falling airplane. “They found her face down in the Scottish turf, still strapped into seat 21F.”
It is a dismal business- young lives cut short, families shattered- here is another piece from that USA TODAY article:
"Just before her death, the young woman and her mother spoke by phone. Sarah had just taken a bus trip from London to Edinburgh and was enthralled with Scotland. ''Mommy, I love Scotland. You must promise me you'll travel here with me,'' Sarah said to her mother.
Instead, the tragedy ''stole her future from us,'' her mother says. Elizabeth's thoughts this weekend are of the wedding that won't happen, the grandchildren left unborn, the trip to Scotland they will never take."
And then there is the confusion and contention that still surround the quest for justice. Even though Libya has accepted responsibility for the attack on flight 103, there is an ongoing controversy in which it appears possible to some knowledgeable observers that the train of guilt might not be so clear and that other Islamic groups and causes were involved. Even as recently as this summer there have been revelations that unsettle the memory of Sarah and the other victims. Going to the various memorial and victims’ family’s sites I am overwhelmed by the confusion and unresolved pain. How to account for the blood and pain? How could another human being have done this to all these innocent people- the ones who died and the ones who loved them?
We want to find meaning and salvation in such devastating loss. We want to bring healing out of the pain. To do this we often look within ourselves. We know that, painful as it is, self-criticism is the key to improving and growing. This is one of the finest and healthiest traits of Western Civilization but it is crucial that we know when it is to our own detriment and how to look outside ourselves when necessary.
This little monument declares that her friends from her class at Newton North High School recall her “bright presence and love of life.” I have no doubt that they remembered her accurately. This is the glory of the Judeo-Christian tradition as it has come to fruition in America. We love life and we hold it sacred. It is the very banner headline of our national mission statement- The Declaration of Independence, that we are entitled to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.
The reason why Sarah never reached 21 years old is that whoever it was that killed her (the convicted Libyans or the rumored Palestinians) do not feel the same way about life. They love death more than they do life. Now, before you go off thinking that I am a racist or a religious bigot consider this:
The spiritual source of the modern Islamist movement and the founder of The Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Banna wrote about this at length in one of his seminal works.
Matthias Küntzel quotes al-Banna at length in his excellent book Jihad and Jew-Hatred:
"According to al-Banna, the Koran enjoins believers to love death more than life. Unfortunately, he argues, Muslims are in thrall to a "love of life." "The illusion which had humiliated us is no more than the love of worldly life and the hatred of death." As long as the Muslims do not replace their love of life with the love of death as required by the Koran, their future is hopeless. Only those who become proficient in the "art of death" can prevail. "So, prepare yourself to do a great deed. Be keen on dying and life will be granted to you, so work towards a noble death and you will win complete happiness."
He died in 1949 but al-Banna’s words echo through all of the blood-letting of Islamists up to the present from Bin Laden’s twisted Fatwas...
“I say to you William (Defence Secretary) that: These youths love death as you loves life.”
...to Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah who noted after a prisoner exchange:
“We have discovered how to hit the Jews where they are the most vulnerable. The Jews love life, so that is what we shall take away from them. We are going to win, because they love life and we love death.”
Still not convinced? Then watch this:
This lovely fellow is Fathi Hammad a spokesman for Hamas Listen to what he says. “An industry of death… the women, the children, the mujihadeen and the old people…” and again the same refrain, “We desire death like you desire life”.
Only when we realize that they are not kidding about this and that they will not stop atrocities like the bomb on Flight 103 by themselves will young people like Sarah be safe to live, laugh and pursue free and happy lives. We must not let ourselves become discouraged by the fact that we are not perfect- We must recognize how much better our world is than theirs. We dare not flag or be daunted by the knowledge that they mean to sacrifice even their own children, women and elderly to destroy us; we must defeat them to save not only our children but theirs as well.
If there is any salvation and healing to be gained from Sarah S. B. Philipps’ fate and memory, it must be that we need to remember this basic difference between who we (and by “we” I mean all of western civilization- The U.S. and Israel in the vanguard) are and who the people are who killed Sarah in the name of their angry, life-hating amalgam of politics and religion.
Won’t you join me in honoring her fortieth birthday by rejecting and speaking out against the moral blindness with which many of us, in the name of "correctness" or as a polite avoidance of chauvinism we find ways to equate our civilization and its all too real faults and errors with the real fascism and bloody designs of the Islamist death cult? Give Sarah this present, tell her: "You have not died in vain, Sarah, we remember and we have learned."