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October 5, 2001

U of C opens dialogue on national tragedy

A three-day-long, University-sponsored conference on the September 11 tragedy convened last night for its first meeting in the International House's Assembly Hall. The format of the event, which organizers have dubbed “9/11: Its Causes and Consequences," will be a series of panel discussions featuring presentations by University administrators and professors.

“We wanted to get members of the University community involved in this and in other outreach programs to combat ignorance and hate crimes," said Amanda Hamilton, doctoral candidate in South Asian Languages and Civilization and an organizer of the event. “This is an area in which the academic community can really make a contribution to dealing with the events of September 11. We're not EMTs, but fighting ignorance is one thing we can do."

The conference, which is open to all those affiliated with the University and to the general public, was created both to inform the audience and to stress participation. It is co-sponsored by International House and the Office of the Provost.

Last night's panel session was sponsored by several organizations, including International House, Rockefeller Chapel, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the social sciences faculty, the Office of the Provost and the Committee on South Asian Studies, who collaborated to put on the event. The theme was “Why 9/11 — Its regional and global contexts," and three professors remarked on various aspects of global Islamic history and conditions. The panel was moderated by Leora Auslander, professor in the department of history.

The University's conference has brought together more than one dozen scholars of Middle Eastern, Islamic and other studies for a three-day academic venture in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., a time in which such experts are in high demand. The event will utilize the talents of participants from all aspects of the University community.

Last night's meeting began with opening remarks from Provost Geoffrey Stone “on the occasion of the anniversary of the dedication of International House October 5, 1932."

“We live in a time of peril," Stone said. “It is a time of courage, a time for compassion."

Cornell Fleischer, of the departments of history, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, spoke under the context of Islam and the Middle East on the history of Islamic nation-states and their origins. Professor Fleischer also focused on imperialism both by Ottoman and other Muslim empires as well as English and American ones.

Salim Yaqub, of the department of history, spoke next on American foreign policy in the Middle East, focusing on American influence with regard to commercial interests, the support of the state of Israel and the suppression of the so-called rogue states.

Finally, Lloyd Randolph, of the Department of Political Science, spoke on Pakistan, Afghanistan and South Asia, and how the present conditions in that region of the world came to be. “It's a very important time to discuss these questions," Randolph said.

The event then concluded with a question and answer session in which audience members could directly confront the speakers.

The Assembly Hall in the International House filled close to capacity with the event's attendees, including many students. “The events of September 11 will have an important impact on our society. I feel it's my responsibility as a social work professional to prepare myself for the changes in society as a consequence of the events that took place," said Kelly Kovak, a student in the School of Social Services Administration.

“I don't totally understand the causes… I'd like to learn about what led up to what happened," said Zac Levasseur, a first-year student in the College.

Today beginning at 6:00 p.m. three speakers, Adnan Husain, a visiting professor from New York University, John Woods, of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and William Schweiker of the Divinity School will present various arguments under the general theme of “Beyond the Clash of Civilizations" in the International House Assembly Hall. The panel will be followed by an informal discussion led by Alison Boden of Rockefeller Chapel.

Tomorrow is the most active day of the conference. Along with nine different speakers, there will be three separate presentations. “Backlash in America," at 10 a.m., “Uses of Violence," at 1 p.m. and “Political Uses of Religion," at 3 p.m. will all be held in the International House Assembly Hall. For more information on these and other events you can call the International House Program Office at 753-2274 or e-mail them at I-house-programs@uchicago.edu.