From the Archives: A Call for Unity

By Jake Strickler, Editor-in-Chief

In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, America faced a wave of panic and xenophobia. At times, this hatred was manifested as direct physical and emotional violence. The targets of this violence tended to be those who were just as horrified and wounded by the events as those who committed the acts upon them, but who were singled out because they came from a different country, or called “God” by a different name. For the population of international students at Thunderbird, the zeitgeist of post-9/11 America was a very real threat to their security and wellbeing.

This fear and hatred of those who are different did not just appear in American society on that day in September; it has always been with us. Nationalism and tribalism are concepts requiring the existence of an Other. Through a declaration that one does not belong to a certain group, one can find self-definition. Before the specter of fundamentalist terrorism reared its head in  Western democratic capitalism’s sphere of influence, international communism, fascism, oligarchy, and imperialist colonialism all played this role, and so on through history.

Neither has this xenophobia faded; the election of Donald Trump verifies this. The world he has pledged to create is one characterized by paranoia and distrust, by the identification, cataloguing, and tracking of differences so that we know just who to keep an eye on. Mr. Trump’s election bears no comparison with the 2001 attacks, but it is part and parcel of the attitudes and beliefs that bubbled to the surface of society in their aftermath and have proceeded to fester and expand.

During that time, however, there was another sentiment present that, to some degree, worked to mitigate the fear and loathing. It was a call for unity emerging from an understanding that it was, in fact, this same animosity toward human diversity that motivated September’s attacks to begin with. Instead of promoting a zero-sum, Us versus Them worldview, this position asked us to band together along lines of community, tolerance, and love in order to combat the overwhelming bleakness of a retreat into blind and panicky nationalism.

With Mr. Trump’s election, this is a worldview that we must reignite, and must make spread through our communities and home countries like wildfire. It is in this spirit that we republish a statement by ex-President of Thunderbird Roy Herberger, which originally ran in Das Tor on November 14th, 2001, nearly fifteen years ago to this day. In it, he celebrates the bonds of community and care formed in the months following the attacks. He argues that fostering this sense of togetherness was the very impetus for Thunderbird’s founding. Over the coming months and years, as distrust and exclusion are openly encouraged from the highest office in the nation, it is imperative that we remember this, and strive to build the same networks of openness and support which he describes.

We must act with passion, for, as the late Elie Wiesel reminds us, the opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference. And indifference, resignation, and acceptance are the only conditions that will allow Mr. Trump’s vile worldview to become a reality. The comedian Lenny Bruce said in the 1950s that the fundamental problem with the modern world is that there aren’t enough “I love yous” said. Now is the time to change that.

“It has been said so often over the past few weeks that it has become a cliché, but nothing does seem the same in the wake of the events of September 11th. Our world, and our perception of the world, has been changed dramatically by September’s attacks in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. and the subsequent events. Each of us is encountering those changes in different ways and places, and each of us is having to make adjustments.

We are also learning some powerful lessons about ourselves and each other. I’d like to spend some time exploring a couple of those lessons that I think have been particularly apparent here at Thunderbird.

One of them has been the power and interconnectedness of the Thunderbird community. The attacks on the morning of September 11th galvanized us all. The issues and concerns that had been preoccupying us on September 10th quickly became trivial. The need to respond and support each other as the events unfolded became the only focus of our thoughts and activity, and every segment of the Thunderbird community found itself working together with that common purpose. Students, staff, faculty, and alumni acted truly as one team, not separate constituencies, to address each others’ needs…I have sensed a new level of trust in one another, a new willingness to work together positively and productively. I am hopeful that we can continue to build on this commitment to cooperation in the months ahead.

The other lesson I would cite would perhaps best be characterized as a reminder to all of us here at Thunderbird. It is always easy, in the flurry of day-to-day activities, to forget why we’re here; why Thunderbird is here. But never has the importance of our school’s founding philosophy seemed more relevant than it does now.

One of my predecessors as President of Thunderbird, William Schurz, put it particularly well: ‘Borders frequented by trade seldom need soldiers.’

Thunderbird was founded around the belief that a world that did more business together, that worked together, that understood each other better, would be a better place to live for all peoples. We are a school dedicated to that ideal, but also one that understands the practical skills and abilities it takes to bring that dream closer to reality. While the rapid globalization of business over the past two decades is evidence of how much progress has been made, the events of the past two months are a reminder of how far there is yet to go.”

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