Charles Hall, Ph.D., is a professor of English as a Second or Foreign Language at the University of Memphis, Tennessee; he held the Senior Fulbright Lecturing Award at Charles University in Prague; the author of American Legal English
It is a widely accepted fact that the history of human civilization is full of violence. Moreover, some scholars attribute first instances of terrorism to Biblical times. Which landmark events in the history of mankind do you associate with terrorism?
For me, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and its unbelievable result, WWI, represent the horrific effect that terrorism can have.
In your opinion, are the roots of terrorism political and religious or is terrorism rooted in human nature?
Sadly, there will always be people who believe that they and they alone possess truth; when these people believe that their truth is so important that it entitles or perhaps even requires them to do anything in their power to spread that knowledge, they become terrorists, monsters.
In what ways is the contemporary terrorism different from that of the past?
Scope. The information age allows terrorists to spread their work very effectively. Also as more countries become democratic and transparent in their operation, they, paradoxically, become more vulnerable to the effects of terrorism. Under a strict totalitarian system that controls all media, anti-government terrorist acts can be hidden, wiped from view. Consequently, their impact is lessened. In a transparent nation, we can watch terrorist attacks live on television and their impact is immediate and pervasive.
Could you now dwell upon the motives of terrorist actions?
A truly misguided sense of duty to a perceived higher goal or belief.
What are the major events in the history of terrorism in the UK and the USA?
We have long forgotten the mutual acts of terrorism that the early European Americans and Native Americans committed on each other. Likewise, we barely remember the horrors of the Civil Rights Movements when African-Americans and other Americans were lynched by mobs and their churches bombed. Even the earlier "failed" attack on the World Trade Center seemed insignificant and "proof" that the U.S. was invulnerable. In other words, until September 11, for most Americans, there weren't any really important acts of terrorism on American soil.
Why wasn't the USA ready to face these drastic terrorist attacks?
We completely and sincerely believed the "homeland" safe and secure.
What measures should have been taken to prevent this horror?
If there is blame to be placed, it must go to the "boys with their toys," the law enforcement agencies who were concerned only with high-tech 'scenarios' or conventional firearms, an American obsession. Millions of dollars were spent trying to provide a 'star wars' defense against intercontinental missiles or on screening airline passengers for high explosives and guns, but nothing was done to provide simple solutions such as secure doors between passengers and pilots; steel doors aren't as "sexy" as fancy machines and big weapons. There was a sense of "arrogance" about security measures.
What are the top priority measures to combat international terrorism?
Education and cooperation.
The reaction to terrorist attacks of September 11th has been extremely diverse. Among other things there have appeared a number of black humour Websites on the subject as well as numerous computer games and "politically incorrect" animations. What do you think about it?
Humor is essential to dealing with any tragedy. I was very relieved when I got my first "politically incorrect" dancing bin Laden animation poking fun at Bush, Powell, and bin Laden. We were getting back our sense of normalcy. We must always remember that our leaders are people, just people trying to do a job.
Legendary director Robert Altman says that "Hollywood action films have served as a source of inspiration to terrorists. The movies set the pattern, and these people have copied the movies". Do you think terrorists are getting inspiration from Hollywood films?
Of course, everyone gets inspiration from Hollywood films. However, each individual must make his or her own moral choices. Hollywood can't be blamed for the flawed morality of the few.
Do you think America might lose the media war?
No, America is like a very strong gyroscope; it always returns to center.
What impact does the media have on terrorist acts?
Tragically, the availability of all types of media allows terrorist acts to have an immediacy and sense of personal involvement that make them very real and therefore potent symbols.
Some researchers predict that "America is in danger of losing this war because of political correctness. "If we can't identify who the enemy is - and, in fact, refuse to do so - haven't we lost already?" - could you comment on this statement?
This is just a fancy way to try to justify discrimination against Muslims and others who don't fit the "American" stereotype: Christian white people. The enemy is already clear and identified: all extremists who feel that their truth justifies all actions. Their race, religion or even cause is unimportant.
You must have been asked a lot of questions on the subject. Which of them do consider the most crucial?
Although I am not an expert on international terrorism, I am an American living in China; consequently, I have been asked many questions about terrorism and the American response. Perhaps I am more cynical than most, but I believe that the most crucial question I have been asked and for which I have no good answer is: "Will the events of September 11 finally convince the American public that it cannot pick and choose the global issues it will address based solely on their economic effect on the U.S.?"
The greatest concern of the world community is finding effective ways of defeating terrorism. In your opinion, can we hope that one day we will win the War on Terror?
Of course not. There will always be fanatics and the insane. They will always feel that our deaths caused in the spreading of their 'truth,' would be, in the words of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, "collateral damage."
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