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Ex-hostage Anderson cautions against hatred
By Clay Lambert, Palm Beach Post Staff
Tuesday, September 18, 2001
BOCA RATON -- In the back of a small anteroom within the massive St. Andrew's School chapel, behind a platoon of paid journalists, a high school student asked former Middle East hostage in Iran Terry Anderson the only question that may matter these days.
Elissa Rosato wanted to know about the origins of faith. Were Anderson not held captive for 2,545 days beginning in 1985, Rosato wanted to know whether he would ever have found the God that he says sustains him in a post-Sept. 11 world.
Anderson, himself a former reporter, answered with a follow-up question.
"I don't know," he started. "The choice we are offered is this: Will we make the best of what we are given?"
If so, Anderson said, he thinks the United States must strike a balance between a burgeoning war on terrorism and the long-standing liberties that make the war worth waging.
Anderson's chat with students had been in the works for weeks, said Carol Bruno, the school's director of communications. But it wasn't until 9 p.m. Sunday night that school officials were sure he could board a flight from his home in Ohio and make the trip.
Anderson, 53, has more than the usual interest in the terrorism that threatened his trip. He was an Associated Press correspondent in Lebanon when Iranian militants grabbed him. There, often blindfolded and sometimes kept with a Catholic priest, Anderson found reason to believe -- and forgive.
The families of people lost in the terrorist actions of last week might soon find themselves on a similar journey, he said.
Forgiveness "is a very personal process," Anderson said. "It is not about them. The people who did this aren't asking for forgiveness. It is about us.
"Hatred and anger are very debilitating. They are soul-destroying. Anger will lead us into places we don't want to go."
Anderson seemed particularly worried about the U.S. government's response.
"Governments always, always, always err on the side of authoritarianism," he warned. "Sooner or later, we are going to remember that law enforcement agencies have a tendency to go overboard. Sooner or later, we are going to remember that we are a free country."
The former hostage noted that the tenor of terrorism seems to have changed in the 16 years since he was grabbed off a city street.
"This is a much more destructive phase," he said. "They aren't asking for anything. It is just destruction.
"It used to be that terror had political aims. They can't really have any expectations that they can damage us in any lasting way. It's terror for the sake of terrorizing people now."
Anderson, who said he was due to be in New York on Sept. 12 and often did business in 2 World Trade Center (the south tower), finished with a sobering thought.
"We are a free and open society, and we will always be vulnerable to fanatics with bombs who are willing to kill themselves," he said. "I wish I knew the answers."