Students, staff, faculty and members of the local community gathered in the Natural Sciences Auditorium last Tuesday night in what Dr. Richard Collings, Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, called an attempt “to bring together a variety of disciplines in order to make sense of” the recent terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.
Collings mediated a Panel Discussion on Islam and the Present Crisis made up of history professor Gael Graham, geography professor Jeff Neff, religion professor James McLachlan, political science and public affairs professor Brian Wright, and student Matthew Bradley. Dr. Elmoiz Abunura, Director of African Studies at UNCA, was the featured speaker.
Abunura, a Sunni Muslim, sought to give the audience a brief history of the ongoing conflict and a context for understanding and reacting to the attacks. He said that as in all cultures, there is diversity among Muslims and the mainstream culture does not condone the violence of the radical fringe.
“I look to the terrorist attacks the same way Americans look to Timothy MacVeigh or Jim Jones or … to the Klu Klux Klan,” Abunura said.
With sentiment echoed by the other Muslim members of the audience, he denounced the horrific violence of the attacks. “Muslims do not believe in violence.”
Soon after the opening remarks, the discussion centered on the question most important to the audience: Why?
“Economic stagnation, centuries of inadequate government and the need for a political voice gave rise to some Islamic groups that have chosen to use violence to be heard,” Abunura said.
Wright said that we are seen by terrorists as a colonial power that they must replace with a new power that revolutionizes the world in their own vision.
“Hopefully, they will not succeed,” said Write.
McLachlan said that American culture constantly bombards other countries, making them feel like they are under attack in their own homes.
The talk then turned to the issue of American retaliation.
Bradley said that the Afghan people would suffer far more from a military attack than their Taliban rulers or Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist colleagues.
Abunura agreed and said, “Think of the Taliban as the Nazis in Germany, think of Osama Bin Laden as Hitler,” quoting a recent letter from a friend in Afghanistan. “Now think of the people as prisoners in a concentration camp.” In response to the terrorist attacks and the subsequent calls for retribution, Graham said that the best suggestion she had heard was that the United States should attack the Taliban by bombing the Afghan people with bread.
“God knows what their government is giving them,” she said. “It’d drive the Taliban nuts.”
The Panel Discussion on Islam and the Present Crisis was a joint presentation of the Philosophy and Religion department and The Honors College as a part of the Jerry Jackson Lectures in the Humanities Series.