Freedom of expression

Some expected violence. Some anticipated apathy. Some feared that they would come back and find a campus divided.

When the world watched on Sept. 11 as four hijacked planes slammed into New York, Washington, DC and the Pennsylvania countryside, the Northwestern community was dispersed all over the world. While other colleges and universities nationwide were already in session, NU students were just beginning to filter back into Evanston, awaiting the start of classes two weeks later.

Earlier this week, nyou assembled seven campus leaders to discuss the events of the past month and to predict the road ahead for our nation, our campus and our generation. These two pages are the result of that conversation:

SEPT. 11, 2001

As tragedy stuck the nation, most of our panelists were in the same state: asleep. Several remember being awakened by relatives or friends, and all recall a feeling of disbelief as they watched the events unfold. Hisham Zaid, a representative of the Arab Cultural Society, put it this way:

Zaid: I come from a background where news and terrible accidents happens almost every day, but this one will stick in my life because of how much fear I had that day, hoping that it was not Arab or Islamically-related groups that did this.

For College Republicans President Whitney Seaman, the images hit close to home. For the bulk of her summer, she routinely walked from the Pentagon bus stop to catch a train to her Capitol Hill internship at around 9:20 a.m. — the same time American Airlines Flight 77 collided with the Pentagon.

Not everyone was glued to their televisions the whole day. For Members Only Coordinator Tiffany Berry said that life went on as usual around her home on Chicago’s South Side. It wasn’t until she travelled into the Loop that the landscape changed into scenes of deadlocked traffic and evacuated buildings. For Berry, some of the day’s worst images came on her way home, as she listened to a few African American passengers demean Arabs and Muslims.

Berry: I just felt so bad because to me, that sounded exactly like what white people used to say about them. It just hurt me even to hear family members make those kind of comments.

Soon after images of the disaster began to sink in, most of our panelists began to wonder: What kind of campus would be waiting for them in Evanston?

Brian Link, editor of the Northwestern Journal of International Affairs, thought immediately of the freshmen then accompanying him at the NU Marching Band camp.

Link: I was wondering how the new students on campus were going to react being away from home shortly after coming to college. I think NU has done a very good job of creating a community where those coming in here felt welcomed and felt comforted.

Mutasim Sunbulli, who represents the Muslim-cultural Student Association, expected a much less comforting atmosphere.

Sunbulli: I expected students would be pro-war and buy into a lot of what the government is putting out there in the media. But what I saw was the exact opposite. I saw a strong, almost critical student body.

Chris Sherman, a Peace Project representative, saw an opportunity.

Sherman: I guess persuading people of my opinions is kind of what I try to do. So I was eager to promote the idea of nonviolence and reversing the currents of oppression. I was worried that there could be hate crimes. If not actual crimes, then a general feeling of making students of Muslim or Arab backgrounds feel uncomfortable on campus.

PATRIOTISM AND IDENTITY

Almost as soon as the twin towers of the World Trade Center came down, American flags came out in droves. Choruses of “God Bless America” were sung in churches, at ballparks and on the steps of the Capitol. Most observers agree that the tragedy of Sept. 11 has resulted in a dramatic resurgence of patriotism among Americans. But few of our panelists agreed on what that resurgence means.

Link: There really is a sort of rallying around the flag. It’s like we have been attacked, that’s it, let’s go find out who these people are and clobber them to death and with the continued rhetoric from the Bush administration, I think that that has really been fueled.

Seaman: We should differentiate between a rally around the flag kind of patriotism and “let’s go to war and clobber them to death.” I don’t think that those things are necessarily combined in people’s minds when they are hanging their flags up and participating in other patriotic activities.

Sunbulli: People do confuse patriotism with kind of a blind following to this war rhetoric that this administration has played off of and it is dangerous.

For Berry, there was another dimension.

Berry: I am so surprised at how many minorities are flying their American flags in their homes, especially ones who have been systematically oppressed for so long by this country. Right now, everyone is embracing each other in brotherly love and that can be good. But it can also be bad because we have been ignoring some other things that have affected minorities.

All of the panelists agreed, however, that patriotism has to stop where racism and xenophobia begin.

Link: If this is a war on terror and freedom, we should procure an environment where every voice is heard, where people who do not agree with the majority can still speak their mind freely and not be castigated for expressing their thoughts verbally.

Furman: I have a side comment. My brother looks nothing like me. He has dark skin. He has large curly hair and kind of a puffy goatee. After the attacks, my parents came to him and said, “You should think about getting your hair cut and shaving your goatee” and they told him, “we don’t want anyone to confuse you for an Arab.” Which is funny because we are Jewish, but it’s strange that this mentality is pervading our lives.

The perceived rise in isolationist sentiment was a disapointment to many panelists.

Zaid: We’ve spent so much time trying to educate people about issues going on overseas, and when this incident happened, my impression was everything that we have worked for was completely wiped out.

‘BUSH HAS FOUND HIS STRIDE’

The panelists came from all over the political spectrum, so it’s no surprise that there were differences in opinion with regard to the president.

Link: To some extent I think Bush has found his stride and a voice. What worries me is taking it to the next level, which is a war of constriction. The chains have been let loose for Ashcroft at home. We are talking about new ways for our CIA and FBI and National Security Agency to tap phone wires to investigate people further. We are giving national powers to the Office of Homeland Security for law enforcement to run amok. It makes you question what kind of a war is this and who are the real targets. Is it Osama bin Laden or is it you and me?

Seaman: No, I don’t think people have been writing Bush a blank check by any means. I haven’t gotten one single e-mail from a campus listserv that has been pro-Bush except for one that was sent over the College Republicans listserv.

Zaid: I don’t believe the Democrats would have acted differently if they were in power. The president and his administration with the help of the media have dug a hole that they can’t climb out of. They have made so many promises and they pep rallied up the public into something that they can’t pull out of and it was basically “war, war, war. We are not going to do anything except war.” If the media says, “I think the American people are going to support a war,” then (the implication is that) you are not American if you say that the war is the wrong idea.

Seaman: Of course I agree that students should educate themselves as much as possible, but I don’t I necessarily that that means that they will arrive at the conclusion that they should do nothing or attempt to appease everyone. There is no way that you can satisfy everyone on the globe with your foreign policy. We need to stake out a firm ground and I think that is what the Bush administration has done.

Furman: If Bush does nothing, he gets criticized. People want sou
rces of terrorism brought to justice. We are the quick-fix generation. The thing to do is to rally behind our president and be informed of the issues and for each of us to be an active participant.

But Sherman questioned that logic.

Sherman: Some critics have said, “You need to rally behind the president. That’s why we suffered so much and so many people were unnecessarily killed in Vietnam.” But those critics are ignoring that Vietnam was an unjust war which should have never happened in the first place. It certainly wasn’t the fault of the people pointing that out that those people died. It was the fault of the politicians who initiated the unjust war that all those people died.

‘SCREAMING FOR BLOOD’

One of the panel’s chief complaints was with the coverage of the tragedy by major news agencies.

Sherman: I was alarmed starting Sept. 11 when the journalists still at the scene of the disaster site were saying, “Well it is obvious that something has to be done, and I can tell you that I feel the American people will support military action in this case.” Rubble is still falling, and the ideological control has already begun.

Sunbulli: The media played a role in pushing an agenda, and the president feels he has to set these goals to appease the media moguls and the masses, which are enamored with the media’s opinions.

Seaman: I think the idea that the media is being duped by American politicians is pretty laughable.

The danger, according to several of the panelists, was receiving news without the context by which to interpret it.

Sherman: The events could be reported 100 percent correctly, but if you’re not able to put that in the proper context for what the situation in the world is, you don’t know the news. You know one image, taken out of time and place and put down in front of you.

For Sunbulli, the problems with the media go back long before Sept. 11.

Sunbulli: America binged on their entertainment Hollywood stories for the past 15 years and had no concern to care what is going in Sri Lanka or in the Philippines or North Africa. The government and media can no longer get away with it. This huge burgeoning of information through the Internet or satellite TV which will allow them to question major news stations like CNN and Fox channel.

Link: But how do you know that they will question it?

Sunbulli: They are on campus.

Link: Yeah, but the university as we have all stated is not the representation of the United States as a whole. One of the traits of America is that we tend to be isolationists. It is only now that we are stepping up and learning about these countries because it has affected us as Americans.

Berry: Being here on campus it is so easy for us to get wrapped up in issues like this because we have cultural groups, we have religious groups, we have so many people that are passionate about things like this, but if you move outside of the university, people don’t really care or they don’t know or they feel that they aren’t affected by it.

Zaid: That’s the thing. You get forced into reporting anything when you are affected by it. The United States will be forced to learn about these issues when we send our kids to war.

WHAT DO WE DO NOW?

Each panelist had his or her own idea about how to respond to the crisis. For many, education was key. Others believed that increased community involvement would bring people together.

Furman: Take advantage of the opportunities on campus. Go to the forums on Islam and on terrorism. Take a class on Islam or international politics. Don’t go on what you read in the media. Find out for yourself.

Berry: I hope that people don’t lose their momentum. We’re being bogged down by so many discussions, so many panels. I fear throughout the year support will diminish unless we tell students, “College Republicans, this is why you should help with this”or “FMO, this is how it affects you.” When people feel disconnected, it is easier to become apathetic.

When asked, most panelists were uncertain if they would fight in a war effort against groups held responsible for the attacks. Chris Sherman was a notable exception.

Sherman: Any war I would be drafted into would be a war against a civilian population. They’re not going to come to my house and say, “Chris, uh, we know where Ossama is, you’re the guy, here’s the assault rifle and James Bond equipment.” That’s not going to happen. I’m would not, by any stretch of the imagination, support a war against a civilian population.

Berry warned not to become too narrowly focused on the crisis at hand and allow other causes to wither in its shadow.

Berry: My fear is that we will allow certain injustices that already occur in America to continue in the attempt to fight a different people from different countries. One of the things that I have questioned during this entire period is how no one has talked about the things that America has done, our terrorist acts, the attacks on people who consider themselves Americans every single day. I fear that once this boils over, once we go and blow up a few people, we will go right back to people being denied education and jobs, people becoming victims of violence due to their color or thei religion.

Link may have summed it up the best:

Link: In my four years I have never seen NU be more of a community than it has been in these past couple of weeks.

All seven panelists agreed. nyou