Fighting the war on terrorism has forced the United States and countries around the world to examine issues of diversity, migration and the motivation to provide humanitarian assistance. Theologians, military officials, academics and ambassadors met at Fordham on Nov. 20 to discuss these issues during a symposium titled “Traditions, Values and Humanitarian Action.” The event, sponsored by Fordham’s Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA), delved into the foundations of aid efforts, its obstacles and remedies.
The symposium opened with an examination of religious philosophies on humanitarian aid from Catholic, Jewish and Islamic perspectives. The three speakers Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Rabbi Harlan J. Wechsler and Mustapha Tlili, Ph.D., who delivered a paper by H.R.H. Prince Hassan Bin Talal of Jordan agreed that while religion is sometimes used as a motivation for hate, the three faiths express the common themes of human dignity, respect for diversity and doctrines of peace. These themes are often lost as evidenced by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. The Rev. Joseph A. O’Hare, S.J., University president, who spoke about the role of academia, said universities must be a forum for diverse thought and shared culture, as education is key in defeating hate. It is this “cultural rage” that surfaced with the attacks on the World Trade Center that poses a greater threat to the United States than the Cold War, said NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw, who offered insight into the media’s role in this struggle. With the advent of the Internet and the plethora of cable news programs, the media can help build bridges between cultures, Brokaw said.
“The Internet is so vast in its reach that we have yet to full appreciate it,” he said. “There is wealth of information that can help advance understanding.” However, the war on terrorism is already threatening the freedoms that Americans enjoy and the liberty that so many immigrants pursue in the United States, said John Feerick, the Manning Professor at Fordham’s School of Law, who discussed civil liberties and personal freedoms post Sept. 11. As evidence, he pointed to the use of closed immigration hearings, the unfettered detention of immigrants and the suggestion of military tribunals. It has also made life more difficult for many immigrants and people seeking asylum in this country, said Kathleen Newland, the director of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.,who noted that of the 70,000 immigrants seeking entrance through the Refugee Resettlement Program, only 27,000 were admitted. The shifting political tide has also created a greater market for human trafficking and gender exploitation, as many of the world’s poorest women and children are forced into lives of slavery after fleeing desperate conditions in their home countries.
One of the day’s final speakers, Peter Tarnoff, a director at the Center for International Health and Cooperation (CIHC), urged the audience to stay well informed about the government’s action, to bring a diversity of ideas and action to Capital Hill and to make elected officials accountable for their actions. This was the first symposium sponsored by IIHA under the direction of Kevin Cahill, M.D. The event received support from the CICH and The William Donner Foundation. The proceedings of the event will be published in 2003 as the third volume in a series being printed by Fordham University Press. The first book in the series, “Basics of Humanitarian Action,” will be released in December.