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Panelists discuss how 9/11 shaped last decade

Published: September 9, 2011
Section: News

Brandeis students and faculty gathered Wednesday evening, to reflect on the watershed events of Sept. 11, 2001, and to discuss how the events of a decade past have shaped the way society thinks today.

Moderated by Daniel Terris, director of the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life, and vice president of Global Affairs, the discussion highlighted four starkly different perspectives from within the Brandeis community.

Near Eastern and Judaic Studies professor Kanan Makiya, award-winning author and one of the most influential commentators from the Arab world of the last two decades, expressed himself bluntly. “The response of the United States to the events of Sept. 11—an increase in laws and security efforts—has not been for the betterment of our species. We are still flailing to understand the direct gravity of what happened.”

Makiya suggested that the success of the Al-Qaida insurgents’ mission may have been a fluke and that the state of the world today is far more alarming compared to the eve of Sept. 11.

Isabella Jean (Grad ’06), an international peace building and development consultant, described her reaction to Sept. 11 as, “What next?”

Jean, who graduated college in 2001, had been studying peace and conflict studies. The events of Sept. 11 inspired her to pursue peace and conflict studies at a graduate level. “I want to dig deeper into what motivates peoples’ actions,” said Jean. “I also want to find out what makes people resilient to calls to commit acts of violence.”

Michael Perloff ’12, Eli J. Segal Citizen Leadership Fellow, provided a dramatically different perspective of Sept. 11, compared to the three other panelists, when reflecting on how the events changed his way of thinking today. Perloff’s perspective as a current student parallels the thoughts of many students today, who were between the ages of nine and 12 in 2001. “We were all old enough to recognize there was something distinct happening, but could not emotionally process the event,” Perloff began.

Perloff continued to point out that as a young adult it is possible to be directly involved in a war as a soldier and it is also possible to be oblivious to war, if one is immersed in studies and does not read the news.

“I learned how to respond to Sept. 11 from the reactions of teachers and community members. My life as a United States citizen changed after 2001 but, as an individual, I don’t think Sept. 11 has played that dominant a role in who I am,” Perloff said.

As the discussion continued, panelists discussed how the international definitions of war and peace have changed in the past decade. “The words peace and democracy have never been used before now in how the United States will relate to the Middle East,” said politics professor Dan Kryder.

Hours after the collapse of the World Trade Center, Kryder taught a class at MIT on the American presidency. “It struck me as an extraordinary event,” Kryder said. “It was terrible but a very meaningful period of innovation and experimentation on the part of the American executive. Sept. 11 made my work more brave, relevant and meaningful to me.”

As the discussion continued, the panel concluded that the international distinction between war and peace has blurred. In addition, it was noted by all that warfare itself has developed into a special forces-dependent operation, relying less on the air force and more on discrete surveillance techniques. “How many of us can keep track of all of the United States’ wars?” asked Makiya.

“We are looking at open-ended wars,” said Jean. “So how do we know when we’ve won?”

As the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks approaches, the Brandeis community prepares to commemorate the tragic loss of life that occurred one decade ago. Sunday, Sept. 11, there will be a peace vigil on Chapels Field attended by President Lawrence, Father Cuenin and other Brandeis dignitaries.

“As a scholarly institution we are interested in the acts of remembrance and thinking,” said Terris. “This has been a decade of tremendous change. This anniversary is a way for the community to consider fundamental issues of war and peace.”