Page One

Professors warn against drawing early conclusions

By Rachel Searles and Jason Allen Special to the Daily Planet
Wednesday September 12, 2001

As government officials and media pundits scrambled to determine who was behind Tuesday’s attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, many Berkeley-based professors said they were reluctant to draw conclusions, and expressed anger that Arab groups were immediately considered suspect. 

Afghanistan expert Shahwali Ahmadi, Professor in UC Berkeley’s Department of Near Eastern Studies, declined to comment on the allegations, angrily slamming the phone down after saying, “You’re automatically assuming that there is a Middle Eastern connection. Call me back when you verify it.” 

“Everybody is in shock,” said Rutie Adler, professor of Hebrew in the Department of Near Eastern Studies. “Because the first thing the American media says is that it’s Palestinians.” 

“It’s like what happened with Oklahoma,” said Adler. Following the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, rumors were quick to fly that Arab terrorists were behind the attacks. These early allegations later proved unfounded with the arrest of Timothy McVeigh. 

Early Tuesday, Reuters reported that two Arab satellites had received anonymous claims of responsibility from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a radical PLO faction. The group’s leader quickly denied any involvement. 

“It’s unlikely” they were involved, said Robert Blecher, a Berkeley resident who is a lecturer in the History Department at Stanford and an expert on the Middle East. The Democratic Front split from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and then distanced itself from the Popular Front after a series of hijackings in the 1970s, he said.  

“I suppose it would be fairly easy to concoct the idea that the Palestinians would want to retaliate for the murder of Abu Ali Mustafa,” said Blecher, referring to a leader of the Popular Front killed last month. However, given their size and profile, its unlikely that either Palestinian group would have been able to execute such a complicated attack, Blecher said. 

By Tuesday afternoon, NBC and CNN reported that government officials had focused speculation on Osama bin Laden because of his role in the 1993 bombing on the World Trade Center. Bin Laden’s group denied the accusations. 

“As an Arab living in this country, I resent that one is always asked to condemn Arab nations,” said Asad Abu Khalil, a fellow at the UC Berkeley Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and Associate Professor at Cal State Stanislaus. “There are always assumptions that Arabs did the deed. They don’t ask Presbyterians to take responsibilities for the actions of all Christians.” 

Abu Khalil said he was reluctant to speculate who might be behind the attacks, but he mentioned that when Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was arrested, he said he had a plan that entailed hijacking five planes. 

“It’s a horrible tragedy,” said Adler. “But as Americans, maybe it will make us look at ourselves. We should realize that this is happening to people other places in the world all the time.” 

“Are we so arrogant as a country that we can’t think what we have done for years and years to make other individuals hate us so much?” added Adler. 

UC Berkeley’s Near Eastern Studies Department was practically deserted, although radios and TVs tuned into the news blared from a few faculty offices. “We aren’t ready to speculate,” said Professor John Hayes. “We’ve all been hassled by the media today.” Department manager Yvonne Rosby said many faculty members had not shown up Tuesday. 

Faculty at UC Berkeley’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies refused interviews, and said that it was too early to issue a statement of response.