The tenth anniversary of the worst foreign attacks on U. S. soil have prompted a period of intense reflection. Workshops, performances, memorial services, reminiscences—all have tried to articulate what the events of 9/11 meant and how the country and its peoples have changed as a result. Indeed, the IUB College of Arts and Sciences has set issues of war and peace as a theme for events during the entire fall semester. As part of that extended program, international experts from Indiana University gathered in the Georgian Room at the IMU on Monday, September 12. The first half of the three-hour session, moderated by Maria Bucur (history) , was dedicated to political ramifications of the 9/11 events, the second, moderated by Bob Ivie (Communication and Culture), to their cultural implications. There were few confident answers and no sense that we are ready to put these issues behind us.
The political experts provided few answers. Rather they struggled with finding the right questions.
Patrick O'Meara (Political Science; African Studies)
Patrick O’Meara spoke of the “terrorists” and “freedom fighters” (the same individuals depending on one’s point of view) that brought significant and largely successful change to South Africa, and noted the differences between those efforts and 9/11. His question: Are we in a new dimension, a different form, of terrorism, one with no possible meeting point?
Nick Cullather (History)
Nick Cullather asked, Why do we care what others think of the U.S.? He traced the history of America’s interest in the world’s opinion, which began optimistically with Woodrow Wilson embracing it as moral conscience to guide foreign policy, and quickly declined as experts came to see it as a fickle master, and then sank even further as government officials saw it as a force to be surreptitiously manipulated.
Micol Seigel (African American and African Diaspora Studies; American Studies; Latin American and Caribbean Studies
Micol Seigel brought her expertise of Latin America to the table and counted up the dead in Mexican drug wars–numbers more than ten times those who died in the 9/11 attacks, and many killed in unspeakably horrible ways. Her question: Why are some deaths more visible than others?
Padraid Kenney (History; Russian and East European Institute)
Padraic Kenney’s question came from an encounter in Budapest in 2003. He was there when the U.S. declared war on Iraq, and he expected his Hungarian university colleagues to protest America’s aggression, but they didn’t. His question: Why was there sympathy in Central Europe for the U.S. attacking Iraq? Kenney’s answer: At the time (and possibly no longer), there was still a sense that there is such a thing as moral foreign policy, and Central Europe understood well the corrosive power of dictatorship.
The cultural experts spoke more personally, remembering their immediate reactions in September 2001, but they too provided no resolution, and their presentations became a litany of unrealized hopes and dreams.
Gardner Bovingdon (Central Eurasian Studies)
Gardiner Bovington’s area of expertise is the nation of Uyghurs in Western China. His colleagues there hoped they would find sympathy and support in the multi-ethnic U.S. for a China whose constitution guarantees equal rights to all its ethnic groups. Since 9/11, U.S. foreign policy, sensitive to the importance of trade, has not responded to that hope. Bovington saw the possibility of two positive U.S. responses to the events of 9/11: (1) that Americans would show a greater desire to understand others, and (2) that the U.S. might gain a better perspective on its behavior in the world. Neither has been achieved.
Jeff Isaac (Political Science)
Jeff Isaac did not cancel his class on Civility in American Democracy on 9/11/2001, but rather prepared a lecture that he was asked to deliver again later on. But, he said, “The things I was hoping for did not come to pass.” Instead, he sees a war on terrorism that accomplished none of the things that we needed to address. “Is there the possibility that things can be better now?” Now he offers no answer and does not speak in public about the issues of war and peace in the Middle East.
Kevin Jaques (Religious Studies; Islamic Studies)
Kevin Jaques also taught his class that day. He had expected in teaching the history of Islam that only in the last two weeks would he speak about living persons, but the class was full on the first meeting of the second week of term, and students were asking for answers, “Why would Islam support doing something like this?” That the question was posed wrong—that Islam is so broad and varied that no one can speak for Islam as a whole—became the theme of the rest of the semester. And Jaques worries that what America has done and not done since 9/11 has achieved only its’ own inability to have an impact in the Muslim world.
Hilary Kahn (Center for the Study of Global Change; Latin American and Caribbean Studies)
Hilary Kahn is an expert in aspects of Guatemalan culture, and has spent much time in Jamaica. She spoke of the intractable ambivalence Latin America feels towards the U.S. The U.S. is blamed for all the evils visited upon Latin America—everything from short skirts, to drugs, to AIDS. But at the same time, Latin America held out hope that the U.S. would be a force for local good. However, since 9/11, their perception is that the U.S. has abandoned the needs of its own hemisphere.
Nazif Shahrani (Near Eastern Languages and Cultures; Anthropology)
As an Afghan and a Muslim, Nazif Sharani, declares he himself sees the U.S. through “foreign” eyes. What he sees since 9/11 is that the U.S. has written the wrong stories. At one time, the U.S. had built enormous trust in the Middle East; that trust has gradually winnowed away. The “dastardly acts” of 9/11 were meant to signal the loss, to bring into the foreground the political grievances that the Middle East had towards the U.S. But the U.S. wrote a different story, a clash of civilizations. “They hate us because of our freedom.” The U.S. story didn’t resolve into a search for peace, but in a declaration of the need for better security. Military victory was the end of that story, not cultural engagement.