Five years later: Reflections on the 9/11 attacks

Author: Arts and Letters


The approach of the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 has led many Notre Dame faculty members to think aloud about those terrible events. Here is what some of them have to say:

Asma Afsaruddin, associate professor of the classics and fellow in the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies:

“I do not believe that we have come that far along after five years. A so-called war on terror continues in Iraq which is exacting a high toll on civilian life and property. The Iraqi people are nowhere near the political stability and normalcy that they were promised by the U.S.-led coalition forces, although they are well rid of a brutal dictator.

“The recent showdown between the Lebanese Hezbollah and Israel proves that the Middle East remains a highly volatile area, greatly susceptible to violence as long as all sides are not equal partners in negotiating their futures.

“On a more optimistic note, and speaking as an educator, I think at a more subterranean level we are achieving some progress in educating people, especially our students, about the complexities of the world situation and in encouraging them to take into consideration notions of social and political justice when assigning political and historical guilt.

“The Sept. 11 attacks have forced many of us to tackle the misguided notion of a so-called `clash of civilizations,’ which would posit a monolithic Western world against a monolithic Islamic world. Instead, many of us are encouraging our students, and anyone else who will listen, to reflect on the many commonalities and shared history between the two. More academics have been thrust into the public arena feeling obliged to share our expertise about Islam and the Middle East with the public and with government officials and policy makers, whenever we are given a chance. I like to think that we are slowly but surely making a difference.”

Contact: 574-631-8677 or

David Cortright, research fellow, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies:

“We have learned that the Bush administration’s policies are worse than misguided. They have actually undermined U.S. and international security. It is disgraceful that President Bush, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and other administration officials are exploiting this solemn anniversary to attack their political adversaries and impugn the motives of those who question their counterproductive policies.

“Administration leaders are attempting to divert attention from the fiasco they have created in Iraq. They are trying to avoid the fact that, five years after September 11, the worldwide terrorist jihad is stronger than ever, and U.S. policies are despised around the globe.”

Contact: 574-631-8536 or

*Richard W. Garnett, Lilly Endowment Associate Professor of Law in the Notre Dame Law School: * __

__"In a 1989 essay called `The End of History?‘, Francis Fukuyama suggested controversially that the end of the Cold War marked `the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.’ Sept. 11 taught us, among other things, that a universal embrace of democratic values, respectful pluralism, and the morality of human rights is a long way off. Perhaps, this side of Heaven, it should not be expected. Ideologies that reject these values and this morality remain a powerful, violent force and a threat to political communities that profess commitments to human dignity and the common good through the rule of law. The challenge for us now is to defend effectively our communities and commitments in a way that does not betray or undermine them."

Dan Lindley, assistant professor of political science:

“On Sept. 11, 2001, I wrote an op-ed for Notre Dame’s student newspaper, the Observer, and the South Bend Tribune in which I said, `The silver lining is that our response to this attack will likely help us prevent and defend against possible WMD attacks.’ As it has turned out so far, the war in Afghanistan was and is worthwhile and our protection against biological weapons is improved. The Iraq war has little if anything to do with terrorism, and has hurt U.S. and global security. Our response to Hurricane Katrina shows how woefully we have taken our eyes off preparedness for primary threats. Talk of terrorism and the war on terrorism dominate political discourse, yet now we know that if a nuclear weapon or dirty bomb went off, far more people would perish and suffer than should. Protection of chemical plants, port and border security, prevention of `loose nukes’ and intelligence reform are among various areas where improvements remain poor or dismal.”

Contact: 574-631-3226 or

Mary Ellen O’Connell, Robert and Marion Short Professor of Law in the Notre Dame Law School:

__"Americans were the victims of a heinous crime on Sept. 11, 2001. The United States responded with force. Unfortunately, this country then stepped beyond the law by invading Iraq and unleashing policies of torture and secret detention. But Americans are fundamentally rule-of-law people and now, five years later, the courts and Congress are helping to return the United States to its traditional role of moral and legal leadership."

Contact: 574-631-7953 or Mary.E.O’

Rashied Omar, research scholar of Islamic studies and peacebuilding, Kroc Institute:

“The terrorist attacks held a painful irony for those of us who have long campaigned for more dialogue and cooperation among religions. Soon after 9/11, in the interest of condemning violence and explaining Islam, inter-religious activities ascended near the top of the agenda of many religious institutions all over the United States. It is critically important that we find ways to transform this solidarity and energy into a powerful, grassroots inter-religious movement for peace.

“We peace-loving Muslims—that is, the vast majority of Muslims—have learned that Islamic extremists know how to co-opt the media. It’s not coincidental that the world saw the attacks of 9/11. Publicity is one of Osama Bin Laden’s key weapons. The extremists want to project themselves as the only authentic and privileged voice of Islam. Muslims must speak up ever more loudly against violence, and the media must be responsible enough to make sure we are heard.”

Contact: 574-631-7740 or

Gerard F. Powers, director of policy studies, Kroc Institute:

_"_9/11 has brought a new appreciation of the role of religion in world affairs, but too much attention has been paid to religion as a source of conflict and too little to religion as a powerful force for peace. The solution to the problem of religious extremism is not too much religion, but too little authentic religion.

“The Bush administration has addressed some `roots of terrorism’ by highlighting the destructive ideologies behind Islamic terrorism and launching programs to address chronic underdevelopment, especially in Africa. Yet its overmilitarization of the `war on terror,’ notably in Iraq, and its mostly uncritical support for Israel and undemocratic Arab regimes have made it easier for Islamic extremists to recruit supporters among those who otherwise would not condone their distorted brand of Islam.”

Contact: _574- 631-3765 or

Originally published by Michael O. Garvey at on September 06, 2006.