Dialogues are designed to bring students at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in touch with their counterparts around the world and let the young men and women debate the questions of mutual interest. Connected via Internet, students talk about international and local issues facing people in different countries, explore their differences, and identify points of agreement. The exchange is facilitated by civic culture and social science educators who identify discussion topics, help students formulate their positions, and teach them to look critically at the pressing issues of the day. The dialogue questions and student answers are posted on the site of the Center for Democratic Culture, UNLV organization promoting civic education and civility in public discourse through research, scholarly exchange, and community-based programs. The first crosscultural dialogue addressed the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City that shook the United States on September 11, 2001, and the Nord-Ost Siege that lead to numerous casualties in Russia’s capital Moscow on October 10, 2002. Excerpts from this dialogue can be found here: “Dialogue on Terrorism: 9/11 & 10/23.”
9/11 & 10/23: Dialogue on Terrorism took place in the Fall of 2002. It linked students at UNLV with their counterparts in the European University of St. Petersburg. This Internet exchange revolved around the recent terrorist attacks in the U.S. and Russia. Participants formulated, exchanged, and compared their positions, following these questions:
- Which are the motives behind the World Trade Center and Nord-Ost terrorist attacks?
- What are the similarities and differences between the 9/11 and 10/23 attacks?
- Were the U.S. and Russian government responses adequate?
- Should we go after terrorists, knowing that innocent civilians are likely to be killed or hurt in the process?
- Would you favor a different course of action if your loved ones were among the hostages?
- Should individual nations seek the U.N. approval before striking their enemies across national borders?
- What, if anything, can private citizens do to decrease the likelihood of terrorism?
- Can you detect any differences in the way people from different countries approach the subject of terrorism?
- Did the dialogue change your views in any way?
UNLV students worked out a consensus position, with the dissenting voices duly noted, after which the opinions were posted on the Web Board. The Russian students came up with a reply. Both sides then compared and contrasted their positions. Below is a summary of consensus opinion worked out in the course of this dialogue.
What is terrorism?
Terrorism is an act that is
(a) Undertaken by the individual or a state;
(b) rooted in the notion that end justifies means;
(c) carried out by people fanatically committed to a cause;
(d) directed against the innocent and guilty alike;
(e) meant to instill fear in the hearts of the people;
(f) designed to publicize a political cause and achieve social change.
(g) If terrorist is someone who targets civilians for murder to publicize a cause and achieve a political objective, then terrorism is murder as advertisement and marketing through violence.
Which are the motives behind Sept. 11 and Nord-Ost terrorist attacks?
The 9/11 terrorist act was motivated by the desire to
(a) draw attention to the cause of militant Islam;
(b) warn the U.S. and the West to stop meddling in the affairs of Muslim countries;
(c) compel the US to stop its support for Israel;
(d) inflict maximum damage to the US economy.
The 10/23 terrorist attack was undertkaen to
(a) publicize the cause of militant Islam;
(b) draw attention to the plight of the Chechnya people devastated by the war;
(c) force Russian troops to withdraw from Chechnya;
(d) turn Chechnya into an independent state.
What are the similarities and differences between the 9/11 and 10/23 attacks?
Similarities between the 9.11 and 10/23 attacks:
(a) Militant Islam is the driving cause behind both attacks.
(b) Neither attack was the first mass terrorist action in the U.S. and Russia (e.g., Oklahoma City bombing and hostage taking by the Chechen rebels)
(c) In both countries, people of Muslim decent were singled out for discrimination in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.
(d) Each terrorist attack increased the sense of vulnerability among the Russian and U.S. population, although it was more of a rude awakening for the United States because it was the first time that the country was attacked on its territory.
(e) Both terrorist acts signified a major breakdown of security and the failure of intelligence organizations which were unable to detect and forestall the impending threats.
Differences between the 9.11 and 10/23 attacks:
(a) Chechen terrorists sought to seize hostages and trade them off for independence, whereas 9/11 was a suicide attack meant to inflict the biggest possible damage to the enemy.
(b) While 10/23 terrorists were Russian citizens taking part in civil war, 9/11 terrorists came from abroad and were not U.S. citizens.
(c) Following the terrorist attack in Moscow, the Russian government curtailed the freedom of the press, but the U.S. did not pass laws that limited the right of the press to gather information and report about the past and future terrorist attacks.
Where the U.S. and Russian responses adequate?
The majority of the US students debating this issue felt that
(a) the U.S. response was adequate;
(b) striking out against Afghanistan was the right thing to do;
(c) grounding planes and increasing security after the attack was appropriate;
(d) rounding the terrorist suspects and keeping them locked up were justifiable measures;
(e) The U.S. was right to shoot down its own plane hijacked by the terrorists, as it was approaching Washington DC.
One individual dissented, arguing that
(a) it was wrong to attack Afghanistan because innocent people were certain to be killed;
(b) we did not do everything possible in the past to remove the threat.
The majority of the US students felt that
(a) the Russian decision to use gas was appropriate since the terrorists threatened to start killing hostages and detonate the explosives;
(b) restraining the media by the Russian government during and immediately after the 10/23 attack was appropriate;
(a) the US students felt that then Russian government could have been better prepared to care for the hostages after the anti-terrorist attack ended.
Should we go after terrorists, knowing that innocent civilians are likely to be hurt in the process?
Most of the US students believe that
(a) as long as you do everything possible to spare innocent people, going after terrorists is justifiable even if some innocent lives are lost;
(b) some strongly felt that we should go after the terrorists regardless of the risk to civilian life;
(c) one class member felt that whenever civilian casualties are likely, going after the terrorists is wrong.
Would you favor a different course of action if your loved ones were among the hostages?
Almost all U.S. students think that
(a) no special considerations should be given to the fact that someone you know and love – including yourself – is among the hostages;
(b) two or three people felt that the greater consideration and a more cautious approach is need, or at least is likely, if someone you love is among the hostages.
Should individual nations seek United Nations approval before striking their enemies across national borders?
The majority of the U.S. students are convinced that
(a) any country, including the U.S., must have the U.N. approval before taking military actions and attacking another nation;
(b) the exception is striking against a country that attacked you first, in which case you may act without consulting the UN;
(c) and this means, American students clarified, that the Russian government would be justified to take military actions against Georgia if terrorists are hiding there and attacking Russia across the border.
Some students argued that
(a) the U.S. should seek approval from the allies but not necessarily the United Nations;
(b) one student said that as long as the U.S. interests are involved, we can strike our enemies with or without the U.N. approval, while other countries better check with the U.S. first before they take up unilateral actions.
Question 8 and 9
What can private citizens do to decrease the likelihood of terrorism?
The UNLV students believe that
(a) as individual citizens, we can increase our vigilance and awareness of terrorists in our midst;
(b) individual contacts and cross-cultural communications like this dialogue might help us better understand political issues;
(c) but only future generations will benefit from such dialogues.
* Crosscultural Dialogues is the program sponsored by the UNLV Center for Democratic Culture. It brings students at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in touch with their counterparts around the world and let the young men and women debate the questions of mutual interest. If you have an interest in this program, please contact the CDC board of directors: firstname.lastname@example.org.