September 24, 2001
come together by candlelight
The key word in the title of the hastily conceived but well-planned and
executed forum Understanding: From Tolerance to Respect, held
Sept. 19 in Glenn Auditorium, is the first one: Understanding.
In the days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on New York and Washington,
the Emory community joined together to grieve. The point of this particular
forum was to explore what possible causes could lie behind the most destructive
terrorist act in world history.
President Bill Chace stressed the need for the Emory communityas
well as the entire nationto recover.
This reminds us all that life belongs to the living, Chace
said in his opening remarks. Grief must have a terminus. Terrorism
works when it works to disrupt, to depress, to confuse and to demoralize.
This is not the direction that we at Emory must go. The direction we must
go toward is health, not morbidity.
Understanding what happened, Chace said, is what a university community
is supposed to do.
To help the roughly 500 people in attendance do just that, panelists
Abdullah An-Naim, Candler Professor of Law; Beverly Schaffer, professor
of economics and director of the Violence Studies Program; Devin Stewart,
associate professor and chair of Middle Eastern studies; and Carrie Wickham,
assistant professor of political science, first gave brief statements,
then answered more than an hours worth of questions.
A total of 16 campus organizations shared in sponsorship of the event.
We have an obligation to understand the mindset of the people who
committed these acts of terror, Wickham said. Much of her research
examines the origins of political opposition in authoritarian settings
and focuses on the rise of Islamic activism in several states of the Middle
She also mentioned the presence of a lot of anti-American feelings in
the Middle East and said this sentiment is not derived from a rejection
of American values, but instead from what she called an abandonment
of those values in U.S. Middle Eastern policy.
I wish I could say we are a peace-loving people all the time, but
it is not that simple, said An-Naim, a native of Sudan and
a Muslim. He pointed out that not all followers of Islam are alike and,
therefore, cannot be lumped together. The large majority are peaceful.
Dont assume what I am going to say or do by the way I dress,
An-Naim said. Listen to what I say, and watch what I do.
Conflict is permanentwhat we must end is the violence,
he continued. We must find ways of negotiating or mediating our
One of the most though-provoking questions of the evening was one of
the simplest: What happens next?
Stewart said the best course of action would be some sort of international
trial to bring the terrorists to justice, but he doubted that would happen.
He admitted that some sort of military action is almost inevitable, but
with it could come unintended consequences.
If we do engage in missile strikes in the Middle East, it will
not bode well for the future, he said.
If [attacks take place], there will be a radicalization of Muslim
opinion, Wickham said.
An-Naim added that talk of law enforcement at this point may sound
far-fetched, but it would be a good long-term strategy. Investing
in the rule of law is the best plan for the security of the United States,
While talk of vengeance is certainly widespread, there was very little
of that attitude at the forum, which tilted toward discussion offor
better or worsepeaceful resolution of the current situation.
One of Stewarts final comments was one of the most instructive
of the evening. He talked of tools that studentsmost anyone, actuallycan
use to understand the current conflict and hopefully prevent future ones.
Get a map, he said. Find out where Afghanistan is and why its important.
Study history, he added, to get an idea about why this is happening and
how the U.S. has responded in similar situations. Learn logic. Be criticaldo
not accept things at their face value. One example Stewart gave was of
the terrorist attack being one on freedom and the inevitable conclusionby
somethat people in the Middle East must be against freedom.
People in the Middle East are not allergic to freedom, democracy and modernity, Stewart said. But we need to promote these things in the Middle East and not use them as an empty slogan.