September 12, 2006

Cornellians Gather to Commemorate 9/11

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A faculty panel commemorating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States drew Cornell community members to Call Auditorium yesterday.

The panel was followed by a candlelight vigil procession from the Agriculture Quad to Ho Plaza last night.

“I want to welcome everyone … coming together to commemorate [Sept. 11],” said newly inaugurated President David J. Skorton.

Skorton played the video tape of a speech by Prof. Walter LaFeber, the Andrew H. and James S. Tisch Distinguished University Professor of History, which was delivered just three days after the terrorist attacks, and introduced the reading of a lecture by Prof. Henry Shue, philosophy, delivered six days after the attacks.

In his speech LaFeber warned that the war on terrorism should not be a vehicle for the violation of constitutional checks and balances, while Shue worried that administration rhetoric at the time could lead to actions that would cause the loss of innocent life elsewhere in the world. The subjects of both concerns are still relevant to current discussions.

Four professors then addressed the crowded auditorium on the issues of terrorism, Islam, the Middle East and the “militarization of our nation,” often times in a manner critical of the American government’s behavior today.

Prof. David S. Powers, Islamic Law, invoked The Autobiography of Malcolm X in his explanation that America needs to fully “understand Islam, not just know it.”

He added that while most Westerners are familiar with their “Judeo-Christian” history, they do not understand that in actuality, it is really a “Judeo-Christian-Islamic” tradition. Powers pointed out that all three religions recognized Abraham as their father.

Powers tried to explain the perspective of the 19 hijackers when he said that they took a 7th century view of jihad in which they are protecting Islam from destruction by the Western world, which they viewed as composed of “pagans and polytheists.”

He said “Muhammad Atta and his fellow hijackers killed Christians, Jews and fellow Muslims, as opposed to the pagans and the polytheists, as if that would have been okay.”

Kaushik Basu, the C. Marks Professor of International Studies said that the United States could win the war on terrorism by focusing “less on military might and more on civil rights” in the Middle East. He pleaded that the United States mourn all victims of terrorism, not just those who perished on 9/11. He quoted Gandhi saying “an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”

During the audience question and answer session after the speeches, an individual stood up and asked if there was a Muslim on the panel, and if not, why. Powers said that there was no Muslim on the panel and that the student was right that there should have been one.

The evening took an emotional turn when Skorton invited Bonnie McEneaney ’78 to the podium to reflect on her husband, Eamon McEneaney ’77 who perished in the World Trade Center on 9/11. Eamon McEneaney was “one of the greatest lacrosse players of all time” but his wife wanted him to be remembered for his heroics off the field.

In 1993, during the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, McEneaney led his fellow workers at Cantor Fitzgerald down the smoke-filled staircase by a human chain. Bonnie McEneaney pleaded that Americans “never forget the tragedy, and never take our peace and security for granted again.”

As people filed out of the auditorium, they heard bagpipes which accompanied the McEneaney family and other mourners on their candlelight vigil walk to Ho Plaza, just as mourners across the nation marked the anniversary of the tragic day.