A call for thoughtful response: Conflict transformation staff thoughts on trauma and healing

We are professionals who have worked with the victims of violence during post-conflict reconciliation and trauma healing processes and on developing processes of peacebuilding and conflict transformation. Consequently, we know that the earliest responses from the media and opinion shapers to the events of September 11, 2001 will be critically important for creating space for long-term personal and cultural recovery.

Thus far, we have been impressed by the generally restrained and cautious responses we have heard from the media. However, we have not seen clearly articulated options outside of the model of “revenge” responses. While revenge is an understandable human response, we also know that long-term peace will require us to find other ways of responding to these attacks.

As we shape our public responses to these events, we thought it might be helpful to consider the following issues, which are raised by our work in conflict transformation.

First, this attack points to the extreme complexity of security issues and demonstrates that there is no technological mechanism — however simple or complex — that can create and maintain more than a modest amount of security against a determined attacker. Our real source of security will ultimately rest on our development of positive, collaborative relations with peoples and nations around the world and at home.

Second, there are numerous potential sources of threat to the United States — both foreign and domestic. In a moment of crisis it is incumbent upon all of us to refrain from jumping to conclusions about responsibility for these horrific events.

Third, moderation in discussing the identity of actual or potential responsible parties is critical in the context of a globally diverse community such as the Shenandoah Valley. After the Oklahoma City bombing, Arab-Americans and residents of the United States of Middle Eastern descent experienced harassment, intimidation, and fear. We need to ensure that all members of our community feel safe during this difficult time. Even when the perpetrators are identified, we urge journalists and public officials to remind the public that the vast majority of people who may resemble the attackers have no connection to these events and are as shocked as everyone else. People of good will in our community may want to take the initiative to reassure those who may be vulnerable to prejudice that we will not stand by idly if they are targeted by others in our community.

Fourth, violence is interactive and it is incumbent upon all Americans to ponder seriously the question, “What has the United States done, deliberately or inadvertently, in its role as the ‘one remaining superpower’ to inspire such hatred and anger?” This in no way implies that we excuse or condone the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001. It simply recognizes that we can understand the emergence of such fury and hatred only if we are willing and able to critique our own activities as well as those of others.

Finally, as the full magnitude of the horror of these events becomes apparent, the repercussions are going to be personal as well as political, social, and cultural. We will each experience this trauma in our own way and our responses will be shaped by our past experiences with war, violence, and terror. It is important that we each find places where we can process our personal horror. We also need to be particularly mindful of the impact of these events on our neighbors whose lives have already included violence and terror in the United States and around the world.

Please feel free to email one of us, if you have any questions.