In response to the growing tensions between the United States and the Middle East, over a hundred students, faculty and community members gathered for a panel discussing the issues Wednesday, Oct. 3.
The forum featured Assistant Professor of Political Science Randall Stone, Associate Professor of Modern Languages and Cultures Randall Halle, Associate Professor of Religion Daniel Beaumont and Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science Matthew Rendall. The four were asked to speak by Amnesty International, who organized the event, based on their knowledge of terrorism, Middle East culture, foreign policy and Islam.
?Student organizers were particularly concerned that Americans typically make judgements about global situations without being very well educated about them in the first place,? said senior and Co-President of Amnesty Kirk Scirto. The event was also co-sponsored by UR Peace, the Messenger and the Undergraduate Political Science Council.
Stone set the open tone for the forum, as the first speaker. ?We must set aside the passion of the moment, set aside the anxiety and the smoke and the dust and think about what the U.S.?s best response should be,? said Stone.
An expert on terrorism, Stone explored the possible reasons for the terrorist attacks, highlighting the three main areas of deterrence, advertising and provocation. He also discussed the purpose of an U.S. response as a signal to the world. ?There?s no sense sending signals unless you have something to prove.?
Halle, drawing on his experience living in the Middle East, discussed the cultural and historical factors adding to the tensions that have recently boiled over. He pointed out that, contrary to popular belief, the Middle East is not a homogenous culture.
It has many different religions, customs and peoples ? a fact that easily lends itself to conflict. The religious differences can prove especially troublesome since ?radicalized religious discourse provides a kernel around which terror coalesces,? Halle said.
However, the ?biggest disruption to these countries has been the integration of these countries into the global capitalist economy,? said Halle. This creates ?great resentment? towards the United States. He sees the problem with the United States is that we do not recognize the ?free market is an acid bath for traditional family relationships,? both here and abroad.
Rendall continued to discuss the U.S. side of the issue, especially the tendency of Americans to forget about other things in the wake of such a tragedy. ?These attacks have been blown out of proportion,? he said.
He also sees the recent homogenous outpouring of support for the government as an atmosphere that could possibly stifle discourse. ?This solidarity is really dangerous,? he said. ?These attacks are really awful, but they could have a helpful effect if they get people to think about the world beyond the narrow scope of terrorism.?
Beaumont, speaking last, started by restating the need to ?have an active, lively public sphere.? An expert in the faith of Islam, Beaumont focused on the clash of civilizations that often occurs between the East and the West, but doesn?t have to. ?No culture is beyond comprehension,? he said.
Unfortunately, Beaumont sees people looking at each other with the view of ?you?re intrinsically and inherently different from me.? This animosity, he said, leads to continued problems when we are faced with a disaster.
?Our willingness to engage in a hysterical response is something we must work against,? Beaumont said.
?With the fall of the Cold War we looked for a new enemy,? he said. Partially because of the difference in culture, ?we found that enemy with the Arabs of the Middle East and the Arabs of the world.?
All four professors answered questions from audience members for the remaining portion of the event. They ended by again stressing the importance of educated, civil discourse at this time and the necessity of understanding the Muslim community before passing judgement.
Amnesty and UR Peace are organizing more forums on the issue for the UR community as well as the greater Rochester community in the coming days.
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