In an effort to educate the UB community on the causes of the United States-Taliban conflict, the Office of International Educational Services and the Council on International Studies and Programs hosted a discussion of "Terrorist Attacks on the U.S. - Root Causes and U.S. Response" in O'Brian Hall Thursday afternoon.
The panel consisted of four UB experts: Dr. Othman Shibly, assistant clinical professor of periodontics and endodontics; Khalid Qazi, clinical professor of medicine; Erik Duchesne, professor of political science; and Michael Frish, professor of history and American studies. Each offered different insight to the conflict - Shibley to the Islamic religion, Qazi to contemporary Afghanistan, Duchesne to the United States' response and Frish to historical perspective of the attacks.
Shibly, who earned an undergraduate degree in Islamic Studies in his home nation, Syria, said that much of the Islamic world denounces bin Laden's and the al Qaeda network's demands as violations of the Koran. Most Islamic sects do not condone suicide attacks, he said, but rather are considered "just suicide."
Qazi, a Pakistan national, spoke on Afghanistan and Pakistan's recent shared history.
Some of the contempt for America within the Middle East, Qazi said, stems from the Cold War when President Regan solicited Afghanistan in a joint "crusade against communism."
"Muslims feel they played a significant role in the demise of the evil empire," Qazi said. But, "America turned a cold shoulder" to the war-torn Afghanistan following the defeat of the Soviets.
Duchesne focused on the United States' response to the attacks. He suggested our military actions should be more conservative, as "war is always uncertain, but this war seems to be more uncertain than any before fought."
American leaders have to be more careful about demonstrating their goal of rooting al Qaeda out of Afghanistan, he said.
"Extremism has had its days in the sun, it is now time for those with reason to step up to the plate," said Duchesne.
Frish offered a historical perspective on the conflicts between the United States and Afghanistan and touched on the difficulties many Americans are experiencing in interpreting the recent events.
He explained the psychological concept of "cognitive dissidence," when a person's world suddenly does not fit into his or her mental framework due to a dramatic event, leading to a revision of either categories of thought or perceptions.
Frish reminded the audience to think about the events separate from previous conflicts such as the Gulf War and the struggle against communism. "It requires enormous imagination for everybody to get out of this tired box," he said.
Frish derided the war on terrorism, pointing out that war is waged against nations, not organizations. He said the United States is feeding into the "delusion of the terrorists to be at war with something as grand as the United States."
Following the presentations, the panel opened to questions from the audience.
One audience member wanted to know why, if al Qaeda made no claim of reason or responsibility for the attacks, "did they do it and what did they gain from it?"
In response, Duchesne said that al Qaeda wants America to overreact and that not admitting to the atrocity of Sept. 11 feeds U.S. hysteria and allows other organizations, such as the Taliban, to support al Qaeda in its innocence.
Frish used a chess metaphor. He said that the United States is being led into a series of moves that are self-destructive and are "leading to a cul-de-sac."
He suggested that slower, more precise actions must be taken against al Qaeda, such as those used against the Mafia. Throughout the successful anti-Mafia campaign, "no bombs were, to the best of my knowledge, dropped on Sicily," Frish said.
One attendee asked the panel to explain who and what the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan is.
The Northern Alliance ruled Afghanistan before the Taliban overthrew it in 1996, said Qazi, but it was a bloody time and the people were grateful to see them fall.
"They are a bunch of thugs," he said.
Responding to an inquiry about the possible risks of a war on terrorism, Shibly explained that the people of Afghanistan might not understand why they are being bombed by America. The people are witnessing the deaths of innocent citizens and they are angry, Qazi said.
The gulf between Muslims and Americans is expanding because of this conflict, according to Qazi. "Fighting terrorism without defining it will lead to enormous problems," said Qazi.
Some audience members, however, chose to raise arguments against the panel rather than ask questions, such as "Intelligence is fine and dandy in the long run, but what do we do about this problem now?"
"Many people in the audience had already decided that a military response was the best and only response, and did not seem to be interested in understanding how U.S. actions are viewed by others," said panel coordinator, Ellen Dussourd, senior counselor for the Office of International Services.
Robinson Iglesias, sophomore political science and resident advisor, invited his residents to the discussion.
"I thought it was helpful; unfortunately, the panel was unable to cohesively come to a conclusion," said Iglesias. "It was more like a brainstorm."
Dussourd said she and the Office of International Education Services are planning another panel discussion to take place in a few weeks, the focus of which will be determined by future events.
"I really wanted to help people understand the events that occurred and the situation that we now find ourselves in from a number of perspectives," Dussourd said.