Former CIA Director James Woolsey and GW professor Leon Fuerth kicked off a series of town hall meetings about the war on terror at the Elliott School of International Affairs building Tuesday.
The event, “The War on Terrorism and the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the World,” was the first of a series of conferences on terrorism that will be held throughout the week in 10 cities on three continents.
Despite inclement weather, more than 150 students showed up to hear Woolsey, Fuerth and American University professor Amb. Akbar Ahmed talk about the war on terror and the causes underlying terrorist actions.
Each panelist was allotted 30 minutes to address the audience. Fuerth, who was the first to speak, said he would “probably have more questions than answers about this topic.”
He said the Bush administration has not appealed to the Muslim world and “managed to scare people around the world (into) viewing us as a primary source of instability or danger.”
Fuerth, formerly a national security advisor to Vice President Al Gore, said that every American should learn about other religions and cultures.
“We must accept and honor other religions in order to communicate with those who believe and practice them,” he said. “This is something that doesn’t come naturally (but is) acquired by habit of thought.”
Terrorism is being used as a “tactic” to wage wars, said Woolsey, who criticized terrorist groups as a “totalitarian movement masquerading as a religion.”
“(It) isn’t a problem with Islam,” said Woolsey, who served as CIA director under President Bill Clinton and has held several other posts in the State Department.
The panelists said Islam is developing rapidly as a political and cultural institution and should not be viewed as a threat
“(This) is about raising issues that concern the globe, not just ‘us’ and ‘them,'” Ahmed said. He said the Western world needs to “pull back and look at it is as a global phenomenon.”
Transforming countries such as Iraq from totalitarian regimes that sponsor terrorism to democracies is a hard task, Ahmed said.
“It requires a long-term commitment and deep understanding,” he said.
The discussion, sponsored by Americans for Informed Democracy, will be followed in the next few months by similar events in cities in the United States, Germany and Pakistan.
Woosley criticized the United States as a country that, for the past 25 years, has gone out of its way to convince the Middle East that it cares only about their oil. He added that Americans are cowards.
He said combating terrorism would contribute to freedom in the world.
“If that takes us being unpopular for some time, then, well, that’s too bad,” Woosley said.
Sophomore Kate Lesker said the panelists deftly analyzed the causes and effects of terrorism.
She said, “Woosley gave such a distinct definition of what terrorism is that many wouldn’t have ever imagined.”