A terror attack victim, a famed author on the war on terror, and an attorney who represents terror victims came together to discuss terrorism in the Middle East at a seminar entitled Perspectives on Terrorism: Personal, Moral, and Legal, this past Tuesday, February 22, in Social Sciences 122. The event was sponsored by Chicago Friends of Israel.
Jean Bethke Elshtain, the Laura Spelman Rockefeller professor in the Divinity School, spoke first, discussing the moral aspects of the fight against terror. In her opening remarks, Elshtain spoke of the just war tradition of self-protection in engaging terrorism.
The primary responsibility of a nation is the protection of its citizens, Elshtain said. One cannot allow citizens to be destroyed with impunity. If the occasion for fighting terror is justifiable and terrorists are granted haven in certain countries, then there should be no distinction between state sponsors and the terrorists themselves.
Elshtain questioned those who claim that all wars are unjust, stressing the need of states to identify their enemies and protect themselves through military measures.
"How do you evaluate the concept of a just war when there is no real all purpose yes or no in the causes for the use of force?" Elshtein asked. "Certain current conceptualizations of the word terrorist fail to encapsulate what a terrorist actually is, and render nations useless to defend themselves against terror," she added.
"The much-asserted notion that one person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter is not a credible one," Elshtain said. "The specific phenomenon of terror is killing directed against all punitive enemies outside the context of a declared war. It is the indiscriminate targeting of noncombatants resulting in acts of random death."
A former survivor of a 1997 Hamas attack in Jerusalem gave a personal account of the horrors of terrorism. Diana Campuzano, a native of Rochester, New York vacationing in Israel in September of 1997, suffered head, nerve, and retinal injuries as a result of three suicide bombs that detonated in a crowded shopping district where she had been dining.
"Pictures sometimes say 1000 words," said Campuzano, as she passed around magazine articles with photos of her being carried away from the scene, blood streaming from her bandaged head.
"Despite a hole the size of a golf ball in my forehead, I wasn't in pain because I was in shock," she said. "They put me in the hospital with a strong anesthetic and the next thing I knew, three weeks and a seven-and-a-half hour surgery had passed."
Campuzano said that many side effects of her injuries emerged three to five years after the attacks.
"I would wake up every morning wishing I was dead," Campuzano said. "If I would have known what I had to go through, I don t know if I would have gone through with the process of recuperation again."
Depression, loss of memory, retinal irritation, and loss of concentration during speech were among the results of her injuries.
I just get frustrated when we measure the severity of these terrorist attacks by the number of innocent people that they kill, she said. When you look at who suffers, it is the surviving family members whose lives will forever be altered. My life has changed a lot. I can't work a normal job For a long time I thought I was crazy. Sometimes I just want to belt out and scream.
The State of Israel pays for all of her medical and therapy expenses, which Campuzano said has been a major boon to her recovery.
The next speaker was Steven Perles's, a New York attorney who represents United States citizens who have been the victims of terrorist acts both domestically and abroad and their families.
"I like to joke with people in the FBI that we have similar targets," Perles said. "But whereas they chase people, we chase money."
Since the 1980s, Perles's firm has recuperated $1 billion in judgments from international laws to be dispersed to terror victims and family members, Perles said. He echoed Campuzano in highlighting the pain that surviving family members experience.
"Terrorists attempt to accomplish political ends through the survivors," Perles said. "The victims, the deceased, are not the ones who suffer in the long run. Therefore, when we litigate for victims, we consider each and every immediate family member of a victim to be a client of our firm."
Perles reserved heavy criticism for the Republic of Iran as a sponsor of terrorism. The stated goal of his firm is to cut off terrorism funding at its sources to go after the financial backing provided by states and other actors to terrorist organizations.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran is the world's epicenter for terror," Perles said. He accused Iran of training, harboring, and arming terrorists, and of providing funding to groups such as Hezbollah.
"In the case of Flato versus the Islamic Republic of Iran we dealt with the first post-Oslo bombing," Perles said. "We knew that a terrorist cell Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which receives $2 million per year from Iran and employs 60 to 80 people perpetrated the attacks. We won the largest wrongful death case ever at $247 million and I will pound the full $247 million out of the Iran. That's the business I'm in."
The Zionist Organization of America co-sponsored the event and assisted in enlisting Campuzano's and Perles's participation.