Sept. 21-27, 2001
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University community comes together
Forum focuses on Middle East
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Students share in nation's sorrow

Professors find a teachable moment in terrorism
Ethics & society talks
Institute makes a practice of ethics
Forum focuses on Middle East
William Quandt speaks at teach-in
Matt Kelly
Vice Provost for International Affairs William Quandt told students the U.S. needs to “think smart, not aggressively” in its response to the terrorist attack.

By Matt Kelly

Much of the talk on the night of Sept. 13 at a Middle East “teach-in” was about not stereotyping, reactions of people as human beings and having a measured response to Sept. 11’s terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

Approximately 1,000 students clustered on the grass and filled the seats of the University’s amphitheater where faculty divided the students into groups and talked with them while waiting for a sound system to be set up.

Excerpts from the discussion follow.

Abdulaziz Sachedina, a professor of Islam in the religious studies department, received a standing ovation for his remarks. He told the students that no religion teaches hatred and that Islam was being abused by some. He said the group was practicing the true meaning of jihad, commonly translated to holy war, by removing their own prejudices and participating in God’s creation. He cited his recent efforts at teaching in Israel, seeking to build bridges between Christianity, Islam and Judaism. He said if he did not believe in building bridges, he could not teach that to others. But he lamented that while he was there, he saw the birthplace of Christ empty because people were afraid to go there. He suggested the way to overcome these fears was to love and care for the strangers among us.

Peter Ochs, who has the Bronfman Chair of Judiac Studies, followed Sachedina on the stage, praised him as a saint and expressed his “profound love” for his fellow religion teacher. Ochs asked God to pour His mercy down on those who died and those who survived the attacks. He also called on the students to help prevent blind acts of retaliation on innocent people.

He said there were extensive efforts, including at the University, for Muslims, Christians and Jews to come together in common bonds of love.

Hanan Sobea, who identified herself as an Egyptian, an anthropologist and a Muslim, objected to the media’s interchanging of “Arab,” “Muslim,” and “Palestinian.” She said reducing the residents of the Middle East to a few cliched stereotypes robs them of their diversity as people. She also denounced the media for juxtaposing elements, such as East versus West, good versus evil, civilization versus barbarism. She said people and governments across the Middle East had recoiled from the attack.

History professor Elizabeth Thompson provided students with some historic background going back to the crusades. She noted the Middle East had experienced periods of great tolerance, but she said this balance was upset by European countries that expanded their influence into the Middle East. She said the United States is involved in the current economic world order, which flows in part from the European colonialism and which, she said, has put the world economy out of balance.

R.K. Ramazani , Edward R. Stettinuis Professor of Government and Foreign Affairs emeritus, spoke briefly of his efforts in negotiating the release of U.S. hostages in Iran during the Carter administration. He said Carter understood that the dispute was with some people in Iran, not the entire Muslim world. He said it is not a clash of civilizations and noted that many terrorists lash out because they live under autocratic regimes. He suggested that Americans need to have a dialogue with Muslim people, not autocratic regimes.

• Vice Provost for International Affairs William Quandt cautioned against a rush to judgment. A former member of the National Security Council and Middle East expert who was actively involved in the Camp David accords under President Jimmy Carter, Quandt said the country does have enemies in the world, but he also said the terrorists were in opposition to Muslim nations as well and that the United States would need to consult with its allies on any action.

“We need to think smart, not aggressively,” he said, adding that the response of volunteers and well-wishers following the attack have shown the best of America.

Government and foreign affairs professor Michael J. Smith said the country had to see itself through to a just and lasting peace. He cited government efforts to mobilize many weapons — economic, diplomatic, financial and others — against terrorism. He noted that the attacks are war crimes and crimes against humanity and said that the U.S. needed to observe restraint and respect the human rights of all. He reminded the students that the terrorists do not represent Muslim values any more than Timothy McVeigh represented American values.

David A. Waldner, assistant professor of government and foreign affairs, said he wanted to put the events in context, that while he would not condone the attack, U.S. policy had been to support despots and that many militants around the world had been trained by the U.S. He told the students to understand the past to avoid mistakes in the future.


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of the University of Virginia

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