A diverse coalition of community and university organizations joined forces to sponsor an evening of intellectual exchange on the international situation in the wake of the events of Sept. 11. The assembled speakers discussed the terrorist attacks in political, historical and global contexts.
The Buffalo Human Rights Center, the Latin American Law Students Association, the Black Law Students Association and the Buffalo Human Rights Law Review sponsored the "Global Terrorism: History, Response and Quest for Justice in America and Abroad" panel discussion last Wednesday night.
Panel members included political science professor Erick Duchesne, whose courses include international political economy and the evolution of international systems; Rabbi Shay Mintz, current campus minister for Hillel and a professor of Judaic studies; Davis Westbrook, law professor and author of "Works on Islamic law" and the upcoming book "City of Gold"; Dr. Riyaz Hassanali, a Muslim physician born in Africa; and Vice Dean and UB law professor George Kannar.
The forum began with each of the five panel members discussing their viewpoints on the events of the last month followed by a question and answer session.
Duchesne explained how after the tragic events of Sept. 11, he wanted to stimulate a discussion with his students. He he is pleased with the government's response thus far and President George W. Bush's move from an "isolationist" stance on foreign policy toward "more of a multilateral position."
"The question is, will it last?" wondered Duschene. "Bush says 'yes.' But for now, the American message is very clear and unambiguous." He added that he is relieved Secretary of State Colin Powell did not choose to run for president during the previous election because his role in the war against terrorism is "crucial."
Mintz and the other panel members vehemently agreed with Duschene's statement that America needs "more moderate people making the decisions." The rabbi said he finds it difficult to believe the attacks against the World Trade Center that shocked the entire world took place only four weeks ago.
"Reality is sinking slowly into our minds when we hear stories of individuals. The number is blurry and meaningless without the stories," said Mintz. "Of course we know it's a calamity, but like the Holocaust it's only when we hear the stories of individuals do we begin to comprehend."
Westbrook chose to discuss the present conflict in the context of western globalization, saying "terrorists reject globalization and produce violent responses as a caricature of modernity."
"[Terrorists] are only using Islam as rhetoric, so it seems to me the conflict is all about globalization," said Westbrook. "War will cause Afghanistan and similar places to join the modern world. Conflict will only accelerate globalization."
Hassanali agreed with Westbrook's theories on the relationship between globalization and terrorism. Hassanali emphasized the United States cannot assume the American tradition is superior to those of other cultures.
"No doubt [the] U.S. has a lot to offer, but we need to be more vigilant in respecting other countries and religions," said Hassanali. "Can we assume that their lives overseas are any less important?"
He proceeded to discuss how globalization can go astray, providing examples from his first-hand experiences as a child growing up in Uganda in 1962. During this time, the United States was concerned about the spread of socialist ideology from neighboring-country Tanzania into Uganda, which had been a democracy before achieving its independence from the United Kingdom.
In order to prevent Uganda from falling to the socialists, the United States handpicked the Islamic fundamentalist Idi Amin, providing him with intelligence information to overthrow the Ugandan government and support U.S. foreign policy interests.
Unfortunately, Amin was a ruthless dictator who killed and displaced thousands of people in addition to supporting Palestinian terrorists. Hassanali said he considered himself lucky to have been relocated to a refugee camp and felt fortunate that a Jewish non-profit organization helped his family gain political asylum in the United States.
"[The Jewish organization] did not ask about my culture, just that we would be self-sufficient and not a burden on society," he said. "But hundreds of people lost their lives."
Mintz said there is no way the nation can possibly explain the tragedy, either in terms of spirituality or international relationships. The only option is to "listen and unburden others."
"The angel of death did not differentiate between color, age, economic strata, etcetera," the rabbi said. "But it has touched a raw nerve in everyone. I will never forget this day; it was on my birthday, some birthday to remember!"
Hassanali ended the panel discussion by remarking on the diverse conglomeration of individuals present.
"I am sitting in this room and I see different cultures. We may be different in faith but we are the same in humanity."