Johns Hopkins University

Thursday afternoon

Listening Post

Life after 9-11-01

October 25, 2001|By Gary Dorsey | Gary Dorsey,SUN STAFF

A crowd assembles slowly, like reluctant rabble-rousers on an uncertain mission. But by 4:15 for a 4 o'clock event, Levering Hall teems with students and professors. Late-latecomers chuck backpacks and sprawl along the floor.

They await - what exactly? Wisdom? Debate? Release?

A literary scholar begins: a brief definition of the word "teach-in."

A historian comments: the "narrative of apocalypse" has distracted the public. (A false belief replaces reason, he says: This new era of apocalypse has no connection to the past.)

A civil libertarian worries that the public is not properly concerned about racial profiling and wiretapping.

An anthropologist observes that public officials and the media show impressive care tallying the number of deaths from the Sept. 11 terrorist acts. He is heartened by immediate public concern not to condemn Arab Americans. But the compassionate response at home is rarely reflected abroad. The "sacrosanctity of national interests," he says, allows Americans to wash their hands, leaving fateful decisions to a gaggle of military experts.

For three hours they complain of being anesthetized by a glut of news and new information, of being bystanders in a new kind of war where old rules don't apply, of hearing that the geography of this war is increasingly arbitrary, of a concern that boundless war must be questioned and resisted.

And yet, at the Johns Hopkins University, this first teach-in about the war on terrorism encounters its own resistance. Free speech becomes tentative, discussion turns desultory.

"I am enormously depressed," confesses one professor. The rhetoric of boundless war against a network of evil, says another, "makes it impossible to articulate a response."

Suddenly, someone stands and, voice quivering, says the purpose of a teach-in is to encourage actions that will end the bombing.

But even this appeal rouses no exchange.

By 7 o'clock, autumn light that had crackled through a tall Palladian window illuminating faces is only a flicker. The crowd at Levering, having lost half its number, pledges to return another day and quietly disperses into the cool night.

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