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The Universities’ 9/11

Prepare for a season of intellectual posturing and Islamic outreach.

Sep 12, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 48 • By CHARLOTTE ALLEN
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Furthermore, it’s clear that a number of universities assume that when the media drench the tenth anniversary of 9/11 in saturation coverage—as they almost certainly will—one of their chief interests will be Muslims, too. So they are stuffing their lists of faculty members available to talk to reporters with experts on Islam. Marquette University is offering sociology and social justice professor Louise Cainkar, author of Homeland Insecurity: The Arab American and Muslim American Experience After 9/11, and theology professor Irfan Omar, author of Islam and Other Religions: Pathways to Dialogue. American University in Washington weighs in with two Islamic experts on its faculty, Akbar Ahmed, former Pakistani ambassador to Britain, and Randa Serhan, director of American’s Arab Studies Program, who wrote her doctoral dissertation on the Palestinian community in New York and New Jersey. The University of Houston touts a raft of faculty experts: English professor Hosam Aboul-Ela, a specialist in Islamic literature; sociologist Helen Rose Ebaugh, a specialist in moderate Islam; sociologist Gary Dworkin, a specialist in “racial and ethnic stereotypes”; and theologian Erkan Kurt, a specialist in Islamic metaphysics. So does the University of -California-Davis, proffering law school dean Kevin Johnson, who argues that the war against terrorism has “adversely affected the civil rights of Arab and Muslim noncitizens”; Scott Cutler Shershow, a professor of English whose professional interests have recently wandered over to torture (he is coauthor of “The Guantánamo ‘Black Hole’: The Law of War and the Sovereign Exception”); and, should Shershow be otherwise occupied, Almerindo E.

Ojeda, who has also wandered far from his academic specialty, linguistics, to become founding director of the UC-Davis Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas and principal investigator for the Guantánamo Testimonials Project, in which detainees complain about rights violations.

To be sure, few of the campus commemorations of 9/11 will be entirely devoted to what is at best a maudlin obsession with the indignities supposedly visited on misunderstood U.S. Muslims by their non-Muslim neighbors and at worst a propaganda effort aimed at whitewashing terrorists and their sympathizers by demonizing the United States. There will be ceremonies devoted to a proper purpose of such an anniversary: remembering and honoring the dead. Villanova University, for example, posts on its website a stark list of names of the 15 alumni who perished on that dreadful day. At Yale this September 11 there will be a ringing of bells on the campus and throughout the city of New Haven at 1 p.m. The university will actually focus for a few minutes on what happened on 9/11 and not on professorial lessons about “peace,” “human rights,” and “tolerance.”

Otherwise, though, expect the 9/11 commemorations on campuses mostly to wallow in such open-ended questions as: “Did 9/11 Change Anything? Everything?” (the title of a symposium in a three-day conference to be jointly sponsored by Duke, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University); and “10 Years After 9/11: Who Are We Now?” (the title of a faculty-student forum at Villanova on September 7 sponsored by the university’s Center for Peace and Justice Education, whose kumbaya-esque curriculum includes courses on “Eco Feminism,” “Caring for the Earth,” and “Politics of Whiteness”). At St. John’s, faculty and students will be able to ponder “Making Meaning of 9/11: Local Impacts, Global Implications.” Expect also to witness academics treating the 9/11 anniversary as a referendum on Guantánamo, the Iraq war, racial profiling, immigration policy, the war on terrorism, and the presidency of George W. Bush. Garth Jowett, a communications professor at the University of Houston and one of the university’s designated 9/11 experts, views the massacre largely in terms of its value as a propaganda tool for an Orwellian Bush administration. “The term ‘9/11’ became synonymous with ‘patriotism’ for several years, and those who questioned the accepted scenario, or suggested that we needed to understand the motives behind the attack, were dealt with severely,” Jowett wrote on the Houston website. Ah, understanding 9/11.

Intellectual posturing, ideological stake-claiming, and Islamic-outreach pandering are perhaps to be expected when an academic community, politically progressive and bent double with white-privilege guilt, takes on an event as potent as 9/11. More striking is the tone of unresolved grieving that marks so many of the planned campus commemorations. Yes, mourning is appropriate. We must not forget those 2,977 dead. Moments of silence, the ringing of bells, the lowering of flags to half-staff, and religious services will take place on many campuses, and quite appropriately. Yet it is late in the day, a decade down the road for, say, the makeshift “secular shrine,” complete with Princess Diana-style mementos, that students will be encouraged to set up at NYU. Or the 9/11 quilt that will be part of the St. John’s commemoration—even though the motives behind its making are understandable. The memorials of 9/11 are about to become the next Vietnam Wall, and for similar reasons. The massacre of September 11, 2001, a direct attack against American sovereignty and American citizens, has not yet been fully avenged (although the killing of Osama bin Laden was a good start), and we cannot be comforted. That nearly the only response of academia to the tenth anniversary of 9/11 will be to grieve over it hopelessly and to talk about it endlessly in an effort to “understand” it is more revealing than the pretentiousness of the discourse.

Still, the commemorations on some campuses do seem to focus, in small ways and large, on what 9/11 was and what ought to be done about it. An exhibition at NYU of photographs taken by Joel Meyorowitz at Ground Zero within days of the attack promises to be moving and thrilling. The 9/11 commemoration at the Borough of Manhattan Community College will largely center around the rebuilding of Fiterman Hall, a BMCC administration building severely damaged when the 47-story 7 World Trade Center collapsed in the afternoon of that day. At Manhattan College in the Bronx, which lost 20 alumni, part of the focus of the “We Remember” events will also be on the rebuilding of city infrastructure after the devastation. Manhattan College alumnus Rudolph Giuliani, mayor of New York at the time and remembered for his tireless on-the-scene leadership, will be a featured speaker. Temple University in Philadelphia will honor military veterans. And Pepperdine University will place 2,977 American flags on the lawn of its Malibu, California, campus. A relay of readers will call out the name of every single one of the dead. One of them was Pepperdine alumnus Thomas E. Burnett Jr., who perished on Flight 93. Pepperdine is calling its remembrance ceremony “Honoring the Heroes of 9/11.” Heroes. You won’t hear that word used often on many college campuses on September 11, 2011.

Charlotte Allen, a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s Minding the Campus website, last wrote for The Weekly Standard on academic studies of media bias.

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