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September 27, 2001

University responds with blood drives, forums, fundraising, volunteer recruitment

Shock. Fear. Tears. Frantic phone calls. Vigils, blood drives, canceled classes. Memorial services, moments of silence, conspicuous American flags.

These were some of the reactions here to the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

This week Pitt announced a new effort, “The University Responds,” to promote education, volunteer recruitment and fund-raising in the aftermath of Sept. 11. Education tables, staffed by disaster relief and support agencies, will be in the William Pitt Union concourse from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Oct. 2-4.

“‘The University Responds’ effort will be a way of recognizing the various responses from within our community to the tragedy, further educating ourselves on the many aspects of disaster relief; learning about ongoing volunteer opportunities with disaster relief agencies; and providing an additional opportunity to make a financial contribution to various disaster relief agencies, as well as the Sept. 11th Fund,” said G. Reynolds Clark, executive director of Community and Governmental Relations at Pitt.

Pitt’s Student Government Board, in cooperation with the Oakland Business Improvement District, will distribute collection cans to Oakland businesses, and University police will deliver collection cans to Pitt offices.

Contributors can place donations in the cans or mail checks, payable to “The University Responds,” to University of Pittsburgh, Cashier’s Office, G-7 Thackeray Hall, 139 University Place, Pittsburgh 15260.

Emotions ran high at an open forum in 2K56 Posvar Hall to discuss the Sept. 11 attacks and their aftermath. An overflow crowd of more than 200 heard presentations from four faculty experts and opinions from audience members during a question and answer period. Natives of at least seven countries spoke.

An emotional Carolyn Ban, dean of the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA) and moderator of the two-and-a-half hour forum, said the terrorist acts still weighed heavily on her and others. “We’re all reeling from this,” Ban said. “We’re trying to make sense of it and what the effects will be on our country and on the world.”

Ban asked the news media to respect the anonymity of audience members, to allow a free-flow of opinions.

“I want to suggest to you,” Paul Hammond said, “that what we have experienced is a brilliant innovation”: the first hijacking of fuel-laden civilian aircraft for use as terrorist missiles — an exponential firepower advance over a lone suicide bomber in a crowded bus or marketplace.

“Like most innovations, this changes many things: our defense system and defense strategy, our relations with our allies and with Third World countries,” said Hammond, an authority on U.S. defense policy and strategies against terrorists.

Like some other forum speakers, Hammond said President Bush’s talk of “leading the world to victory” in “the first war of the 21st century” makes him uneasy. According to Hammond, Bush would do well to emulate the defense approach of a previous Republican president, Dwight Eisenhower.

In contrast to crisis-oriented presidents such as Truman and Kennedy, Eisenhower pursued a stable, long-term strategy of co-existence with (and containment of) the Soviets, avoiding fiery rhetoric and “boom or bust” fluctuations in defense spending. Hammond said he hopes Bush’s strategy against terrorism likewise will be cautious and consistent.

Hammond told the audience, “I urge you to think about this proposition: That we may be going to war, but we don’t know who we’re going to war with. We are trying to deal with a risk, but it’s a risk that has still yet to be defined.”

Michael Brenner, a GSPIA professor who is an expert on European-American relations, noted that terrorism (“the willful, wanton, organized killing of civilians,” as he defined it) is as old as recorded history: After “liberating” Jerusalem, Christian crusaders proceeded to kill the city’s Muslims and Jews. Anglo-Saxon invaders were among the pioneers of ethnic cleansing, driving indigenous Celts to the far reaches of 7th-century Britain. The Mongol conqueror Tamerlane intimidated peoples throughout Central Asia and India with his personal calling card: huge pyramids of human skulls. In Nazi-occupied Europe, populations were cowed by threats of massive retaliation — the slaughter of an entire village, say, for the killing of a single German.

“Certainly,” Brenner said, “the greatest killing of innocents on a mass scale has occurred in the 20th century,” thanks to sophisticated technology and the new concept of “total war,” in which all citizens are seen as contributing to their country’s war-making capacity.

According to Brenner, the closest historical antecedents for contemporary suicide bombers were the violent anarchists of the 19th century, who reasoned that setting off bombs in crowded cafes would hasten the death of some greater evil such as capitalism or Czarism.

“I think what is exceptional about the events that we’ve experienced here in the United States in the last few days is first that, like the anarchist movement, they were not conducted by a government or state or even an organized movement in the conventional sense, but rather, by networks of terrorists probably numbering no more than in the hundreds,” Brenner said.

Other distinctive features of this month’s attacks, he said, were their use of modern technology and their likely origin in “some unholy blend of religion and political purpose.”

Brenner argued against viewing Osama bin Laden and his ilk solely as religious fanatics. “Even in the twisted thinking of those who have conceived and perpetrated these acts, the political element was at least as strong as any religious one,” Brenner said.

Prior to the 1979 Iranian revolution, many in the West saw religious fanaticism as a dying remnant of an earlier time, said GSPIA adjunct instructor Laura Eisenberg.

“What we have seen, in effect, is the reverse, that a dynamic, adaptive mode of religious fundamentalism is perhaps the last great upsurge of the 20th century and has clearly followed us into the present time,” Eisenberg said.

She said fundamentalism — which is not limited to Islam and should not be confused with orthodoxy, Eisenberg emphasized — is characterized by an unwillingness to compromise; an embrace of political goals as part of a religious vision; an often-skewed interpretation of sacred texts to justify violence, and charismatic leadership.

“You should note that the charismatic leaders themselves never go out and blow themselves up…but rather encourage young people to do that,” Eisenberg pointed out.

“Islamic fundamentalism is, first and foremost, a family affair,” she said. “This is part of an identity crisis that has been taking place in the Arab and Islamic world in response to the increasingly rapid modernization and globalization of the world.

“In Islam, you are not supposed to charge or pay interest. Well, how the heck do you get involved in the international economic system if you’re going to stay true to that kind of traditional religious belief? And if men and women are supposed to be separate, how about the issue of women in the workplace? Do you educate women and let them enter the workforce? If not, what do you do with them?”

Fundamentalists see the United States as their arch-enemy because this country is so dominant in spreading Western political, cultural and economic change, said Eisenberg.

Islamic fundamentalists represent only a small core of zealots, said Eisenberg, asking: “The question is, who are the everyday people who support them?”

Many, she suggested, are ordinary people in so-called moderate Arab nations such as Egypt, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia whose (generally, unelected) political leaders fail to provide adequate social services and economic opportunities, then suppress even the mildest political protests. “Anyone with any kind of a grievance is pushed into the mosque because the mosque is the last place where large numbers of people can assemble,” Eisenberg said.

“In the long term, we have to look to see that the average people become more satisfied and more well taken care of. In the short term, however, we have to go after these [terrorists], stop them, cut off their sources of supplies and information, and that will indeed require a global effort.”

Military historian Don Goldstein, who has co-authored several books about Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, noted: “Smart people learn from other people’s mistakes. Dumb people learn from their own mistakes.”

He urged audience members to learn from America’s mistakes of Dec. 7, 1941:

* Tragically, the U.S. government interned thousands of Japanese-Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor, including many men who had served the United States in World War I. The stupidest thing Americans could do in response to this month’s terrorist attacks, Goldstein said, would be to vent their rage and frustration on Muslims and/or people of Middle Eastern descent in this country.

* Did you hear that there were dogs on the beach at Pearl Harbor, barking in code? Goldstein asked. Or that the planes that attacked U.S. forces weren’t flown by Japanese, but by Americans paid by President Roosevelt? “Nutty conspiracy theories” such as those spread after Pearl Harbor, and similar rumors about this month’s attacks are likely to emerge on talk radio, cable TV and the Internet, Goldstein warned.

* After Pearl Harbor, various branches of the U.S. government and military blamed one another for the debacle, and Congress held investigative hearings. It would be a mistake, Goldstein said, to waste time on similar hearings and scapegoating in the wake of this month’s attacks.

* Just as Pearl Harbor represented a breakdown in U.S. intelligence, Sept. 11, 2001, pointed out America’s over-reliance on high-tech spying and its weakness in “human intelligence” — infiltrating terrorist groups with U.S. agents and paid informants.

Following are excerpts from the forum’s question and answer segment:

* A GSPIA student: “I’m part Jewish, part Episcopalian. There is a small Islamic center near where I live, and an ambulance went by me coming from there, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, not that!’ I was never more happy to see a traffic accident in my life. My point is we talk about unity and yet there is a whole segment of our population out there that is being isolated by the ‘ignorami’ in our society.”

* A Pitt Ph.D. candidate: “I’m speaking as a bystander, in the broadest sense of the word. I’m speaking as an American citizen, of foreign origin.

“[I’ve been told] from Americans, ‘If you don’t like [our country’s policies], get out of here.’ “When things like this happen we call everything into question. As I watched the events I saw the people celebrating. Americans ask, why do people celebrate like this? When we bombed Iraq, did we not celebrate? Yes, we did.”

The student later said if he could muster “the guts,” he would fly a plane into an American building in retaliation for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s long-standing support of a tyrant in his native Congo.

* Louis Picard, GSPIA faculty member: “We’re all in a very emotional state at this point. At the same time, we have to understand other people at other times have been in similar emotional states as a result of things like the bombing of the Sudan, and other actions that are very clear to us from our largely Eurocentric sense. It’s not just in Palestine that you have a few kids celebrating. Maybe not always openly with flags, but you have little kids in Africa, in parts of Asia, in parts of Latin America, central America who are quietly celebrating in just the same way. Because we don’t have good mirror image projection right now.

“We’re in a post-Cold War, in an anti-Eurocentric world and even within the European community there are quiet anti-American feelings which I think are increasing, in parts of Western Europe.

“We don’t, I think, have a great deal of sensitivity to these other sensitivities, and that perhaps is part of the caution we should take, not in terms of response in this particular situation, but in the sense of attacking short-term problems, rather than long-term — 300 years, 100 years, 50 years — structural issues that cause that anger, that hatred in all those little kids all over the world who are going to grow up in the next 25 or 30 years.”

* A native Colombian Ph.D. candidate at GSPIA: “I hate war. I don’t think it has any sense. I don’t think anyone in the world who says they are civilized can support war.

“We are facing a big challenge for humanity. We have to learn how to share this small place we call Earth. There are many things that we have to change, but we have to be alive if we really want this to be a nice place to live. I feel deeply. And I don’t want to see more deaths as an answer. We are not honoring these people by hating. We have to believe in life in peace and in humanity.”

* A Pitt student (responding): “We are a powerful nation. People hate us, not because they’re envious or jealous. It’s because domestically and internationally we talk of peace, humanity, and other abstract concepts when people are hungry.”

* A staff member with the Honors College and Pitt graduate: “I had the dubious honor of being in Nairobi when the U.S. embassy went ‘boom.’ At the time we heard the ground shake and we joked to each other, ‘Oh, the U.S. embassy just got bombed, ha, ha.’ “And a few minutes later we learned that it had in fact been bombed. The truth is there are individuals who do not like our country, who do not like our citizens. It doesn’t have anything to do with anything we’ve done or caused, so what are its origins?”

* A Venezuelan who has been at Pitt for 14 years: “My family is black and white and pink and yellow and everything. Every single human being is responsible for what happened, and I will explain to you why. Americans [in foreign countries] undermine the culture of the people where they’re working. There is a lack of respect: How do you treat me? It’s not politicians. How do you treat me?

“I want peace in the world. I am sad for the deaths in New York, not because they are Americans but because they were human beings, and we all deserve a life to live and the respect from each other. I mean that, even if we are wrong. Who knows who was wrong at this moment? There is no absolute truth. Everyone has a god, but the only God doesn’t like war.”

* GSPIA faculty member Louis Picard: “Treating people who commit suicide as bad men or people outside reality is a terrible mistake, without respecting the cause. People who commit suicide and are not depressed are rational and are doing it for a cause. And it’s the cause that’s the issue, not the fact that I find it totally awful and reprehensible. I’m concerned for a future where there are more people willing to take this action.”

* Eisenberg: “I have a concern and this may not be popular. We are in a rarefied environment right here: mostly left-leaning liberals who are willing to take on a lot of the blame on ourselves for whatever America contributes to making people unhappy, to making them feel oppressed, to making them feel that we’re their enemy.

“But I think sometimes we work too hard at being understanding, at being politically correct. A sort of moral relativism creeps in here.

“Sometimes we have to say, ‘I don’t care what your grievance is or what your culture says: This is an unacceptable act. We’re going to draw the line and say you may not fight this way and we will try to stop you and if we have to kill you to stop you, we might have to do that.'”

* A Pitt student: “I saw on TV these Palestinian children in the streets cheering. The media is not fair. What’s the purpose? To inflame us? Make us upset?

“The Islamic culture is very pained by these events. The media cannot say how an entire population feels.”

* A Pitt student: “The media says we’re attacked because we’re Americans. But there has to be something more than that. What are the motives?”

* Goldstein (responding): “We don’t understand these people because maybe we think we’re a cut above them. But maybe we’re not representing them accurately. ‘Give me democracy. But I’m hungry, man. Feed me first, then we’ll talk about democracy. I’m dying. I’m hungry.'”

* A GSPIA student: “I’m disturbed by comparison of acts this week with aggressive acts of the past, which had clear messages. The Vikings attacked because they wanted your land and your gold, which is what makes this different. I was trying to figure out why I was so angry. We don’t know what to do. We can give blood or money, but this move to kick everybody out of the country is not right.

“Here [at GSPIA] we have one of the few places where foreign students are appreciated. But most of the people across the country are angry. We need to help people channel their anger in productive ways.”

* A GSPIA student: “What I keep coming back to is lack of communication. Whoever did this, clearly they don’t know, they cannot have intended, the kind of reaction they’ve gotten because of this. The backlash. Maybe after we wipe them off the face of the Earth…

“We need to respect other cultures, yes. But it’s hard for us because we’re so isolated, culturally, geographically. We need to try to help other people understand our culture, where we’re coming from, get other people to listen to us.”

* A Pitt M.B.A. graduate: “I’ve been watching TV constantly since Tuesday and I noticed an interesting fact: In at least the first 18 hours of TV there’s been not one commercial. That’s a tremendous reaction to what happened.

“Second, we’ve remained remarkably peaceful in the country. Third, I learned in my education the statement: thesis, antithesis, synthesis. We are learning from this particular horrendous episode.”

* A Pitt law student: “I just want to stand up and openly reject the idea that this tragedy was any of our faults nor was it the faults of the victims. The only fault they made was going to work and trying to be effective Americans that day. To suggest that it was our fault is to justify that mass murder is okay. Mass murder is not okay.

“We’re not a perfect country. We’ve made mistakes in the past , but we’re pretty damn good. If you go through history, the Marshall Plan, and what we’ve done after the wars, having our soldiers give their lives in Somalia and Bosnia, we’re a pretty generous people. We ought to look at this through that perspective as well.”

* A GSPIA junior faculty member: “How to deal with it? Let me give you an example. I grew up in India and spent the first 17 years of my life there and I read nasty things about Pakistan; there was a tremendous negative spin on Pakistan.

“Then I ended up going to school where some of my good friends were Pakistanis. I visited them in Pakistan and I found that Pakistani papers were saying exactly about India what Indian papers were saying about Pakistan. I think if I’m going to accept one point of view, I should at least in good faith give the other point of view a chance.

“What this tells me is that I don’t have to go to Pakistan to read a Pakistani paper. And when I turn on my computer now, I can read Pakistani papers, and it really makes me question what Indian newspapers are telling me.

“It’s important to make use of the Internet. Sometimes we’re blind to the power we have today to understand these kinds of problems.”

* Goldstein: “One of the problems is to get good people to go into government, not work for Alcoa where the money is. It’s never ‘my son the public administrator’. It’s ‘my son the lawyer,’ ‘my daughter the doctor.’ “Foreign policy is incestuous. It’s the same people doing the same thing over and over again. We need new people to change it.

“It’s still Eurocentric. It’s still I, I, I, rather than we, we, we. And that’s where these people beat you. Because in other countries, they’re willing to die. Because of what? We, we, we.”

* Martin Staniland, GSPIA professor: “I’m hearing some suggest, in terms of the state of Arab regimes such as Saudi Arabia, what you need is some kind of liberalization: Go back to the Shah. I’m not arguing against the democratic model, but taking the Algerian example, what can very well happen is that with liberalization, you get a fundamentalist government.”

* A GSPIA student from Japan: “I’m interested in the role of academia, of the university. There are not many classes on security or terrorism. But we have to think and analyze this on the level of an area studies program.”

* Brenner: “It’s hard to predict the changes in foreign policy. Over the last five years, our foreign policy has been characterized by unilateralism, selective engagement, insularity. It makes American behavior erratic and unpredictable, with emphasis on the unilateral and selective: when and how and for what reasons the United States will use its formidable power, particularly its military power. The concern in the U.S. and with our friends in Western Europe is that these tendencies will become more pronounced, given the United States is lashing out, impetuously, ill-considered and rashly.

“It’s noteworthy what the reaction has been in Europe: an outpouring of genuine feeling of sympathy towards the U.S., revealing bonds cultural and historical that are extraordinarily strong, both emotional and cerebral, insofar as Western Europeans understand that the good life they enjoy today is thanks to decisions that Americans made in 1917 and 1941.”

* Hammond: “I see an opportunity, capitalizing on the consensus. I’ve said I have a great respect for the perpetrators of this violence. But I ask myself, ‘Do you think they comprehend the effect on us?’ I doubt they know what they’re doing to arouse the United States to move against them.

“But they may be smarter than us in one regard. If our response produces violence that they can use and then build on, then they’re going to have their way in the long run. And they won’t be the first terrorists to count on counter-actions, revenge, counter-terrorism to further their cause.”

* A School of Information Sciences student: “The Israeli model of tit for tat retaliation — that paradigm needs to be transformed into long-term victory. I assume in the short term we will root out the terrorists and improve our homeland defenses. But afterward: How do we win the peace? We need the moderate Arab/Islamic world to work with us. Maybe if we make Indonesia, the largest Islamic country, a permanent member of the U.N. security council, the Arab/Islamic world would feel they had a voice.”

* Brenner: “It’s difficult to anticipate the effects of what is going to happen; the rhetoric is so ill-matched to the circumstances, the rhetoric of war. We think we can just mobilize resources; appropriate $20 billion; devise a strategy, and somehow come home victorious.

“This is highly inappropriate because this is not a war that will produce a clean-cut outcome; we may have single, small successes, in terms of preventing future outrages; the United States can call in some chits from some governments that could help, but it’s not going to be easy. And we need to prepare ourselves for that reality.

“A secondary point is that the common frustrations that we are experiencing will have more mundane effects: $40 billion that could be used elsewhere, for example. Part of the cost we’re going to pay is the 10s, if not scores, if not 100s of millions of dollars that divert resources from mundane things like funding of prescriptions for people on Medicare.

“As for foreign policy consequences, I see a big support for the missile shield; it’s going to benefit from the acute sense of uneasiness we all feel. In predicting the most likely outcome, it’s likely to be more of these things than registering some sort of resounding victory against world terrorism.”

–Peter Hart and Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 34 Issue 3

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