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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, June 18, 2024


Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the U.S. Border Patrol will be sending units to the Virgin Islands.
Sept. 11, 2003 – Lots of things have changed in the two years since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, and none of them are for the better, according to speakers at Thursday's University of the Virgin Islands public forum on "The Day the World Changed: 9/11 in Perspective."
Perhaps one of the most emotionally brutal effects of the attacks is a loss of innocence. "I don't think the innocence you have a right to is there," Gilbert Sprauve told the roomful of students in Chase Auditorium on the St. Thomas campus and others gathered in the Melvin Evans Center theater on the St. Croix campus.
Sprauve joined faculty colleagues Patricia Rhymer Todman and Malik Sekou on St. Thomas in the teleconferenced forum marking the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the U.S. mainland. Speaking from St. Croix were Simon Jones-Hendrickson and Police Commissioner Elton Lewis.
Todman, a professor of psychology, spoke of what motivates terrorists. "Their goal is shock, mass violence," she said. "Our way of seeing the world is destroyed," she continued, speaking of the sense of vulnerability the attacks have created in many people, "the loss of control, of trust."
One way of combating these effects, Todman said, is with "increased tolerance of other world views."
Speakers cited the loss of civil liberties, loss of jobs, the economic downturn, general unease created by potential terrorist threats, and heightened security at airports and seaports among the changes that have come about in the aftermath of the attacks.
Jones-Hendrickson, a professor of economics, said a "serious scourge" not created by the Sept. 11 events is "corporate malfeasance exacerbated by the effects of 9/11."
The country and the Virgin Islands were already in the early throes of an economic downturn before the attacks, Jones-Hendrickson said. But speaking of the territory's current fiscal crisis, he said: "Sept. 11 is not responsible for the mismanagement now."
He indicated a need to improve the territory's tourism product, noting that the Bahamas saw an 85 per cent rise in hotel occupancy after the attacks, whereas occupancy in the Virgin Islands dropped dramatically to a "disastrous" 20 to 35 percent.
Historically, Jones-Hendrickson said, "war pulled you out of economic downturns, where Iraq has only caused more confusion." He also commented on the Bush administration attitude that the United Nations is irrelevant. "If we don't work together … if we don't change our way of thinking," he said, then the Sept. 11 attacks will prove to be just the start "of many to come."
Stressing the importance of the United Nations in world relations, he said there is one nation which simply wants its own way. "America," he said. "No, not America; the Bush administration."
Sekou, who teaches political science and history, said he is uncertain as to who is behind the terrorist attacks. Describing himself repeatedly as "on the left," he challenged the assumption that the Al Qaeda organization was responsible. "The left was shocked" by that assumption two years ago, he said. "The attacks were too sophisticated for Al Qaeda."
He said he tells his students of the days not long ago when Pakistan and other countries now suspected of being enemies of the United States were instead its allies. He said the students "more than ever" seem "less aware, especially in the Virgin Islands," of world affairs.
"This war [in Iraq] has major problems," Sekou said. Saddam Hussein "being allied to Al Qaeda can't be possible," he said, and Osama bin Laden in a cave in Afghanistan "couldn't have masterminded the attacks."
"There is a much deeper plot," he said.
Lewis, who recently attended a law-enforcement conference in Barbados where representatives of 23 nations met to discuss security concerns, said his purpose in taking part in the panel was not to discuss politics. "I am here to help ensure it doesn't happen again," he said, referring to Sept. 11.
Lewis said he has been working with Delegate Donna M. Christensen and U.S. Customs and Immigration authorities in efforts to secure the territory's hundreds of miles of open shoreline. "This is most important," he said. "We are considered a 'soft target.'"
He said the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy Seabees are assisting in the construction of a marine facility on St. Croix for a Blue Lightening border patrol force.
"Awareness of our surroundings, being aware of our enemies" is vital, he said. "There are no limits to evil."
Asked how much federal Homeland Security funding the Police Department has received, Lewis replied: "Not a dime," although the department has received several related federal grants.
Sprauve, a retired humanities professor, opened his remarks by citing the sensitive nature of the day and the "magnitude of emotions most of us share on 9/11." He said he hoped "not to open any new wounds or create more suffering."
He cited a remark made by presidential candidate Barry Goldwater nearly 40 years ago for which he said Goldwater, who lost the 1964 election to Lyndon Johnson, paid dearly: "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice."
Sprauve said: "Fanaticism is something I abhor."
He related something that recently upset him greatly. He said his daughter had called and told him that his grandchildren on St. Croix had brought home schoolbooks with covers listing the inalienable rights of the Bill of Rights, but adding "the right to attack those who might threaten us," with a picture of a warship in the background.
"This is what the kids are bringing home, and it bothers me," he said. "It may not bother you that much. I see in it a co-opting of some very serious principles that have been considered the underpinning of democracy." He said it represented the "irony of the democratic dream."
Sprauve recalled his own innocence 30 years ago when "awful things were happening in Chile." He referred to Chilean President Salvador Allende's death in a 1973 U.S.-backed coup that began the 17-year dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
Again lamenting the message on his grandchildren's textbooks, he warned of the dangers of the "eye-for-an-eye virus," a reference to his opinion of the Bush administration's foreign policy.
Although there were about 75 students in attendance, there was little reaction to the speakers.

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