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Caliifornia State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: August 31, 2001
Latest Update: September 13, 2001


Terror in the City

Journal entry by jeanne

Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors: September 2001.
"Fair use" encouraged.

"This can't be real."

My first reaction was "This can't be real." It doesn't matter that I teach the importance of ending violence in the world because it ultimately comes to human suffering, such as we beheld this morning. It doesn't matter that I know that there are people in the world convinced that violence will solve their problems. It just couldn't be real.

Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, New York. I was watching the President of the United States being whisked away to "safe" areas from which he could command the U.S. Armed Forces. I was watching an act of war carried out using civilians captive in the missile that destroyed the Twin Towers in Manhattan.

I watched as the Twin Towers collapsed, killing rescuers who had bravely entered to aid survivors. I went out with my husband to vote, and downed a hamburger in a local eatery, where young people dropped a coin in a raucous jukebox. Pained, my husband and I grimaced, and I got up to ask the young workers to please turn off the music as inappropriate on such a day, and they did, and they understood. They, too, were listening to the news from New York.

I listened to Yvonne Braithwaite Burke remind us not to turn our anger against our neighbors, and I was reminded how easy it is to label and exclude others who by outward signifiers seem to belong together. I heard anger from those who had been excluded, saying that we Americans are hypocritical, calling for the comdemnation of the "evil" people who would engage in such cowardly attacks. I heard anger from those who did not understand "exclusion," not sharing visible stigma of difference, considering the perpetrators "savages," and attacking anyone who seemed to be from the Middle East, even though the media continued to assure us that we did not know who had perpetrated the attack. And I came in here to write to you, my students, to say that on Wednesday, September 12, 2001, we will speak of war and peace, and humanity.

We have representatives of Muslims, Jews, and Christians, as well as other religious groups, on our campus. Peace means understanding that we all see through different histories, through different myths, through different cultures. But we all know that to kill thousands of innocent civilians is morally wrong. No ends can justify such disrespect for human life. It was wrong in the Congo, it was wrong in genocide, it was wrong in Hiroshima, and it was wrong in the Persian Gulf. That's the message peacemakers are trying to bring. Such violence begets violence, and look at what it leads to.

The real valor of the American people will be found in ability to honor our heros, mourn our wounded and dead, and not resort to the complicity of "blaming" some out-group, any out-group, whom we will be sure to recognize and "know" when we see a member of that group. "Not all Muslims are Arabs," said a young woman at a Mosque in Los Angeles on Tuesday evening. Just as not all Muslims would advocate or support the killing of innocent civilians, just as not all Americans, not all Vietnam veterans, advocated or supported the atrocities in Vietnam. In general, not "all" of any group can be characterized by any given status characteristic (visible stigma). Labeling the enemy, and turning as a group to exclude that enemy without granting him/her a good faith hearing, is oppressive.

Topics for Discussion

Discussions for Week 3 of the Fall 2001 semester will revolve around the feelings we each experienced on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. It is a day that shall not be forgotten in our history. What history shall we write of it? How shall we see our neighbors who belong to different groups in that history? How shall we understand our humanity in that history?

Planned for Wednesday, September 12, 2001:

  • Sociology of Law: We shall discuss the law and war. How does our law guide us in understanding war? (Sovereignty.) What does Hal Pepinsky's Peacemaking Primer suggest about coming to the peace table? Would he say we could effectively do so without facing our anger? What anger do we now face? What anger do the perpetrators face? If we wish to stop the cycle of violence, what might a reasonable approach to peacemaking be?

    Suggested Measures of Learning:

    1. Did you feel anger over the attack on the U.S.? Was it mixed with other emotions?

      jeanne's comments:

      I felt anger. And I felt a sense of readiness to fight. I wanted to respond violently, and beat down the "evil" ones who had done this to so many innocent people. Early in the day I felt more anger, more of a sense of wanting to "fight" than I did sympathy, because I couldn't believe the attack had really happened. It was so horrible it was like a movie set. Later in the day, my husband and I decided that Yom Kippur (the Jewish Day of Atonement) would help us resolve our feelings, in a Temple. But the mourning, and the understanding that more "killing" would not in and of itself bring peace took a lot longer to come to me. I do not find it as easy to forgive as Archbishop Desmond Tutu does. I have to work at it. I have to remind myself that it will take much discipline and effort to discover who is responsible for the attack, and that that will be much less immediately satisfying than say, wiping out the "country" that did it. But if I reacted in "fight" mode and bombed the "country" I figured had done it, I could be wrong, and kill many innocent and falsely accused people, and in the process of "killing" the guilty, I could also "kill" many innocent civilian bystanders. Would my "killing" in that case, be less inhumane than the "killing" in New York on Tuesday, September 11? And would my "killing" bring even more retaliatory "killing?" Perhaps this will help you see why I find it so necessary that we teach love and peace.

  • Seminar in Graduate Theory: We shall discuss the inclusion of the "Other" and Edward Said's understanding of postcolonialism. Our first reaction to "Attack on America" is that an "Other" has attacked us. What "Other"? How do we define the Other in our first emotional reaction to the event? How could we gain social distance in our definition of the Other?

    Suggested Measures of Learning:

    1. What "Other" did you envision as you learned of the Attack on America? Does Edwards Said's discussion of postcolonial theory help you gain a broader definition of the "Other"? Do you think that gaining such a broader definition matters in the American response to the attack?

      jeanne's comments:

      My understanding of Edward Said's discussion of postcolonialism and of Orientalism did help me come to a quicker understanding of the "Other" than I think I could have without that knowledge. I think I found a "restrained" anger more quickly, an anger that recognized that I wanted to get more factual evidence before I rushed off in angry affect to a violent exchange that could harm still more innocent others. I think that does matter for me. I'm a little too quick to let an offense move me to action. I need the discipline to investigate and to listen in good faith before I speak out rashly, considering only my own perspective.

    2. It was reported on one of the Network stations on Tuesday, September 12, 2001, that Palestinians in Israel were cheering in the streets. It was also reported that groups were attacking some Arab-dressed people in the streets of New York. Discuss both of these reports in terms of the disciplined consideration of non-exploitation of the Other in reacting to highly emotional incidents.

      jeanne's comments:

      For me, both incidents represent labelling of the Other by a visual status characteristic. The Palestinians new the property that was shown exploding, The Twin Towers, was in New York. The property was American. The Americans lost a round. The uncool part was that the Palestinian cheering could be mistaken for rejoicing over death to innocents. But the cheering could also be interpreted as the sense of winning a round in a hard-fought sports battle. Recall that there were no explicit gory scenes of bodies. One could imagine one saw people jumping from the windows of the Twin Towers, but debris could have been confused for a person. The cheering could be a form of denying the deep harm to Others in order to experience the more superficial joy of winning once in a while. Poor taste, perhaps. But also, perhaps, something their leaders should be given a chance to correct. Remember the Palestinians and the Israelis are in the midst of killing battles they see as up front and personal. TV shots of the Twin Towers were far less up front and personal.

      Do you think such restraint was wise on the part of the media?

      What do you suppose could have acted as the visible stigma or status characteristic that identified Arabs in New York to those who blamed them for the attack? Consider the different dress of Arabs who respect some of the tenets of their culture.

    Planned for Thursday, September 13, 2001:

    • Undergraduate Social Theory: We will discuss the role of theory in restraining our anger long enough to move us to a level of technical discussion, where we can respond out of reason instead of pure affect.

      Suggested Measures of Learning:

      1. How does Edward T. Hall's description of affect at informal, formal, and technical levels help us to explain the role of theory here?

        jeanne's comments:

        Reread Hall's theory on affect in learning and in interpersonal relations. Then consider the many different levels of affect represented by all of those who are involved in decision-making in this event. Consider specifically the following groups and what we know of their decisions and affect:

        • Police and firemen in New York. Losses, reaction to imposed inactivity, effect of crisis activity.
        • Police and firemen outside New York. Offers of help and assistance. Effect of inactivity and up-to-the-minute visual input on what is happening.
        • Local crowds, bewildered and confused.
        • Neighborhood gatherings.
        • Administrators in local agencies and institutions and corporations.
        • Legislators.
        • The White House Team.
        • New York officials.

        • Note that none of these categories are monolithic. Try to assess the importance of theory and the level of present affect for many of those in each category.
  • Transforming Discourse: We shall discuss the effect that the ATTACK ON AMERICA is having on dominant discourse in this country. Certainly there is an element of fear in the recognition that this can happen in America. We are no longer isolated, despite the tenor of our foreign policy. Now what options do we have in response the these drastic changes? Will we restrain our anger long enough to assess carefully who the enemy is?

    Suggested Measures of Learning:

    1. Read the PSNpostings. These are peace-oriented left perspective individuals. And they are experiencing conflictual feelings. What range of reactions do we find here?

      jeanne's comments:

      The range of reactions, as I have managed to follow it, is from horror and outrage at the killing, which I share, to a recognition that this horror is one that the rest of the world has been living with for a long time. Remind me to link you to some essays on Schadenfreude. I'm not sure that I think any of us can stabilize at any one point on this range without feeliing some of the emotions that animate other reactions. I want to fight, and yet I know the horror of that approach. I wonder if we shouldn't worry about complicity thorugh denial of any of our emotions to this awful occurrence. We are not saints. We are angy. And with reason. Thousands of innocent people have been killed. But we are also horrified by the contemplation of an escalation of such killing. It would seem to be time for all of us to talk, to each other, about the things that really matter to us: or as Socrates put it: how shall I live?