Forum: Deeper discussions key to alleviating fear post-9/11

Dr. Benno Wymar, Dr. Shane Nordyke and the Rev. Steve Miller discuss the many impacts the Sept. 11 attacks have had on the United States over the past decade. The conversation was held Monday as part of the regular International Forum series in Farber Hall at the University of South Dakota. (Photo by David Lias)

Life in the post-9/11 United States has been as defined by the conversations its citizens have not had as by the ones they have.

This was the consensus reached by participants in 9/11: 10 Years After, which took place Monday as part of the regular International Forum series in Farber Hall at the University of South Dakota.

One of the big issues that has arisen in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center, as well as the U.S.s ongoing War on Terror is the fine line between justice and vengeance a point discussed by the Rev. Steve Miller, pastor of Vermillions United Church of Christ and USD professor.

Justice is a tradition in all of the Judeo/Christian/Islamic faiths, and the idea that people are responsible and how are we going to make someone responsible, Miller said. But, what happens in that fine line when we cross over from asking for justice and becoming vengeful? I dont hear us talking a lot about that.

Miller said he was reminded of this after the recent killing of Osama Bin Laden.

It happened, and I think most of us thought, OK, thats a good thing, he said. But I didnt hear a lot of public discourse about whether, spiritually speaking, that was appropriate. There was just a general assumption that that was what we wanted to do.

However, Miller said one of the few times he heard discussion regarding the moral implications of the killing was when he was talking to a group of middle school students, specifically a girl who asked, Are we supposed to be happy if someone is dead?

I had this public discourse with middle school kids, and I dont know the answer to that question, Miller said. Im not telling you how to think. I just dont hear a conversation about the difference between justice and vengeance.

He emphasized that Judaism, Christianity and Islam each place an emphasis on forgiveness.

Im just wondering what part forgiveness should or could or might play in relationships between peoples in the United States and the international community, he said.

Fear also has played a role in the lives of ordinary citizens, as well as the decisions made by federal and state governments, with both positive and negative consequences.

Dr. Shane Nordyke broke down the budget of the Department of Homeland Security on a percentage basis, noting that approximately 7 percent or $3.8 million goes to state and local governments to help prepare for, mitigate and respond to disasters of all kinds.

Weve actually made really significant strides in the past 10 years that I think have made us as a society, as a system of local and state governments, much better prepared to deal with the disasters that we get on a regular basis in addition to trying to prepare for a terrorist attack, she said.

However, she added that while the Homeland Security budget has risen each year since its inception, there is a certain amount of the unknowable involved.

Despite an estimated $402 billion going toward next years overall budget, there is no real way to distinguish whether the money is being spent to actually make people safer, or just make them feel safer.

Thats a lot harder to measure, she said. I think we probably are safer than we were than (regarding) many things, whether they be manmade or natural disasters just because weve had so much more communication about response.

At the same time, the fact that recent attempted terrorist attacks such as the attempted Times Square bombing were foiled by ordinary citizens rather than the government does not necessarily mean too much is being spent, she said.

I dont think its necessarily a failure of public policy, since a big part of that public policy has been to raise awareness of citizens, Nordyke said.

Miller also spoke of a lack of educational response to the attacks on the part of the public.

We talk a lot about the fact that a lot of people in the United States dont have a good geography background and couldnt put their finger on Iraq or Afghanistan on a world map. Why are we not working harder at that, or talking more about that? he asked.

Im teaching Islam. Im the only one teaching Islam here, and I am not an expert, he said. Why do we not have an Islamic professor at the University of South Dakota, the flagship university? Why are we not teaching that in conjunction with everything, if we are trying to work more at connecting things?

Nordyke agreed, adding, I dont think the citizenry is as well-informed as they should be about the public policy decisions that weve made. They dont know whats in the Patriot Act. They dont know what sort of provisions have been made.

She said lack of education and fear are intertwined in this instance.

You dont want to be the person who says we shouldnt do this because it violates our rights, and then something happens. There is that fear of not being vigilant, for not being prepared, and it causes us to make choices without discussion about trade-offs, she said.

The forum was moderated by Dr. Benno Wymar.

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