`Information won't set us free, but real personal conversation will.'
The upper walls and ceiling of the Campus Center Den are black with thin, pale brown wooden planks that form an ambivalent pattern. In the den on Oct. 27, a crowd of about four dozen people turned out for a teach-in to discuss the causes and consequences of the events of Sept. 11.
From 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., there were many questions asked and many facts mentioned, but like the labyrinth of stripes on the ceiling above them, the complexity surrounding the question, “What do we do now?” remains. “What people seem to have in common in this nonviolence divide is confusion,” University of Alaska Anchorage student Chris Strube said. “We both lack certainty as to what to do next. [At the teach-in] we began to talk about different courses of action, but there's a lot more that could've been said.”
Professors from several disciplines and a hand full of students who have a shared goal orchestrated the teach-in. They wanted the university and the surrounding community to know that opinions of what America should do after Sept. 11 are not homogenous.
“We wanted to have people with different perspectives [leading discussions], but we also wanted perspectives that aren't getting as much media attention,” Wilma van der Veen, Ph.D., professor of sociology, said. Van der Veen was among many forces backing a petition signed by hundreds of people who disapproved a letter UA President Mark Hamilton wrote to the university community the day of the terrorist attacks. She said being involved in such a movement has been an educational experience, but she no longer wants to take a leadership role
“There's an incredible freedom in Alaska to carry guns and speak one's mind, but there's a contradiction in so much as that freedom is not extended to me or to other people that share similar opinions,” van der Veen said.
Various opinions were reflected as discussion began. It was led by UAA professor of history Jeff Kaplan, UAA professor of English Dan Kline, UAA professor of English and founding member of the Healing Racism Organization Rob Crosman and executive director of the Alaska Civil Liberties Union, Jennifer Rudinger.
The panel's scope of conversation ranged from how the media filters information to the American audience, to how America promotes racism and the injustice of racial profiling. The group then divided into two smaller groups, discussing terrorism and Islam.
“Americans have a misinformed view of what Muslims believe,” UAA professor of marketing Irfan Ahmed said. “There seems to be a disconnect between what Americans get from their media versus what people from other countries get.”
Ahmed was one of two Muslims at the teach-in who represented the Islamic community. He says the key to making any leeway with terrorist groups is to learn about other countries.
“We need to know each other and not just superficially,” Ahmed said.
One key point among the various ideas presented was to explore nonviolent means and how to facilitate nonviolent methods of retaliation.
“Nonviolence doesn't mean passivity – it means coming up with other solutions, but it doesn't mean nonaction,” Strube said. “Three weeks ago the world was with us, but we're now in danger of undermining the coalition of the countries we've built-up because we've chosen to use airplanes, bombs and guns.”
Toby Perloff, an advocate for nonviolence, said it's crucial for people to allow themselves to open up to viewpoints other than their own.
“The power of coming together is sharing our perspectives. Information won't set us free, but real personal conversation will.”