|2001 October - Vol.1 No.1||Law students publication, University of Alberta, Canada|
Terrorist attacks and public forum
By: Sheila Evani (1L)
September 11, 2001 was a day that shocked us all.
At the law school, most classes were cancelled. Students crowded around the television in 'The Gavel' to watch events unfold in New York and Washington with a mixture of horror and disbelief. The destruction may have happened thousands of kilometres from Edmonton, in an entirely different country, but no one could help but feel an overwhelming sense of loss and despair. Amidst images of smoke, burning rubble and human suffering was the unavoidable truth that the world was now a very different place. No longer could we in the West naively believe ourselves protected from the hostilities of other nations. Nor, was terrorism simply another subject to be studied with detached interest in our history books and newspapers.
On September 11, terrorism became more than real--it became personal. In the weeks that have followed, many words have been used to describe the attacks. Shocking. Horrifying. Surreal. But in all the talk, the underlying question has remained: What does it all mean?
A September 14 panel discussion put together by the University of Alberta Centre for Constitutional Studies attempted to tackle this question. Appropriately entitled 'The end of the world as we know it?', the discussion brought together leading political scientists, and international law and human rights experts from the U of A. Their goal was to address the social, political and legal implications of the terrorist attacks not only for Americans, but globally, and for Canadians in particular.
"In the old world, terrorism was in other places and globalism was about trade, but in the new world, we now know that if terrorism can make it in New York, it can make it anywhere," began Tsvi Kahana, Executive Director of the Centre for Constitutional Studies, and moderator of the event.
Speaking to a diverse and emotional audience in the Telus Building auditorium, foremost on the minds of panellists was the realization that the very nature of terrorism itself had changed. Where it had once been about a group or nation securing concessions or making specific demands from another, the September 11 attacks could only be seen as an extreme form of protest against America's pervasive political and cultural influence in the world.
Perhaps of more imminent concern was fear that the American desire for immediate retaliation would outweigh the necessity for considered political decision-making, and could lead to the very real possibility of a full-scale world war. While Osama Bin Laden and Afghanistan had already been tagged as the most likely suspects, many audience members raised concerns that even narrowly targeted U.S. attacks could result in the escalation the situation.
In many ways, the forum raised more questions than answers. Even amongst panel members, there was a great deal of disagreement about the significance of the attacks and the outlook for the future. However, Linda Reif, professor of international law, who was among the panellists, believes that regardless of the outcome of these talks, there is value simply in the action of public discussion. "In times like these, people are happy to have a forum to talk about things from a more academic perspective," she said. "It is through education that we work through our fears and increase understanding."
Professor Reif believes that from a military as well as a legal standpoint we are only at the beginning of what will be a long-term, multi-pronged process dealing with the aftermath and international repercussions of the attacks. Her concern is that in light of the inevitable heightening of security measures around the world, it is imperative that basic human rights be protected.
The Centre of Constitutional Studies is planning to hold more public discussions relating to specific issues arising from the September 11 attacks. For more information, contact their website at