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In light of recent national and international events, REED magazine invited alumni, faculty members, and students to share their thoughts about the future.

anthrax pictureCountering all forms of terrorism
By Aaron Rhodes ’71

Terrorism and its relationship to human rights is not a new problem in the new democracies of Europe and the former Soviet Union. The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights represents human rights organizations throughout the 55-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). As its director since 1993, I’ve encountered this dilemma in a number of contexts.

Turkey has had a problem with terrorist campaigns by the PKK, a radical Kurdish organization responsible for numerous deadly attacks. Meanwhile the Turkish military ravaged the southeast of the country, destroying or depopulating thousands of villages and displacing hundreds of thousands of ethnic Kurds who are not allowed to be considered a minority, whose political parties and newspapers are suppressed, and whose representatives and defenders have been harassed, tortured, and killed. All these responses confirmed for many that the violent, leftist ideology of the PKK made sense.

Although some claim the acts to have been the work of the Russian secret police, Chechen terrorists have apparently killed numerous civilians. Following a pattern of brutality established hundreds of years ago, the Russian government has sought to neutralize the independence movement by military means, and still every day Russian soldiers and Chechen civilians die. Over the past six years or so, entire villages have been wiped out in house-to-house execution raids.

Another case is in Kosovo. I have a vivid and painful memory of speaking with Albanian villagers in the Drenica region, where the violence really started in 1998. An old Kosovar farmer said that he was ready to take up arms, even though his hunting rifle had been confiscated by Serbian police. Everywhere was evidence of the effort by the Milosevic regime to suppress the independence and human rights movement by torture, rape, and murder. Some months later — when the conflict had become a war — a Serbian parliamentarian told me in Belgrade: “We need your help, Dr. Rhodes. We are under attack by terrorists.”

Now we come to the situation in Central Asia, the countries referred to as “the stans” in the Washington lingo. Radical Islamic terrorist groups have tried to destabilize Uzbekistan, and they move about in the other countries as well. None of these governments has had a democratic change in 10 years, and poverty and corruption continue to worsen. In Uzbekistan, a member of our affiliate group was tortured to death in detention recently; there are thousands of Muslims in prisons described as “concentration camps”; no political opposition or independent media are allowed — all in the name of fighting terrorism. Several years ago we met with human rights activists from a region in Kyrgyzstan where an incursion by Islamic militants had taken place. They said that the local people trusted these militants more than they did their own officials.

There is indeed a terrorist threat in these countries, based in part in the sources of radical Islam that spread from Afghanistan. There is no contradiction between opposing terrorism and promoting human rights — quite the contrary. But state repression that destroys the confidence of ordinary citizens in their government and gives credence to terror campaigns is itself a serious security threat. A campaign against terrorism, in order to succeed, must also be a campaign against state terrorism. That is the message we are carrying into an increasingly oblivious international political community. small bullet

Aaron Rhodes ’71 is executive director of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, a self-governing group of non-governmental, not-for-profit organizations that act to protect human rights throughout Europe, North America, and the Central Asian republics formed from the territories of the former Soviet Union. A primary specific goal is to monitor compliance with the human rights provisions of the Helsinki Final Act of 1975. Rhodes will be Reed’s 2002 commencement speaker.

Art mirroring life
By Helen Lessick ’76

Sudden catastrophe and bellicose acts are good for the business of public art; the September attacks on symbolic U.S. facilities renewed American interest in public art. Unbidden memorial proposals arose from artists, architects, and designers. Their quick responses for permanent art should be critically evaluated over time.

Neglecting the process and intentions of public art, many designers suggested columns of light for the World Trade site. The concerns of residential complexes, small craft aviation, and shore birds are never vetted. Energy use and economic effects, factual and symbolic aspects of this proposal, are ignored. Criticizing these volunteer visions can bring swift indignation. Public art here salves emotions, heedless of repercussion.

In Boston an artist proposed a local memorial to honor all firefighters responding to the three crash sites. Starting from a published photograph, he altered the source material; the three Caucasians became a rainbow team. His explanation, that this re-presentation was more accurate than photographic reality, de-faced the actual firemen, excepted women in the battalions, and convinced no one.

The business of public art may be bad for artists when reactionary forces come to bear. Good art takes time and thought. Rushing the public art process compromises the vision of the artist and intentions of public policies.

Terrorism and revenge are difficult subjects. Great public art must surpass reactionary tendencies in order to create a work of tragedy or triumph. Public artists must challenge themselves to make art with vision greater than last month’s telecast, to commit to artistic excellence beyond illustration, to speak in a voice not yet heard, and to create room for discussion, and ambiguity, within context.

All nations, societies, and individuals are ephemeral in our being and understanding. The task of the public artist is to hoist high the lamp, reflecting things greater than the mirror’s surface. small bullet

Helen Lessick ’76 is a Seattle-based visual and public artist. In September 2001 she was in Padova, Italy, as an artist in residence. Currently she is on the design team for the city of Portland’s Waterfront Park master plan.

Shifting national defense capabilities
By Michael Goldblatt 74

It is too long ago to remember why, but during my time at Reed I read Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of the Scientific Revolutions. It was my first encounter with the word “paradigm.” Now I find myself responsible for leading the team chartered to develop technologies capable of creating paradigm shifts in national defense capabilities, an assignment that spans the sectors of biology, medicine, material science, advanced mathematics, and computational science.

The events of September 11 have transformed the concept of “asymmetric threat” from being the subject of hypothetical scenarios into a new realization of vulnerability and in turn an urgent need for new capabilities. The traditional threats posed by state aggressors are relatively easy to identify and counter. However, the threat from individuals willing to use weapons of mass destruction and sacrifice their own lives in the creation of terror is new, and methods of detection are almost nonexistent.

Hence, in my line of work, the creation of new classes of antibiotics is accelerating. We are attacking the fundamental mechanisms of pathogenesis to address both known infectious agents and the unknowable — the genetically engineered. Similarly, therapeutics are being pursued for threats that are currently untreatable once contracted (superantigens and smallpox). New ways of developing and evaluating vaccines are being pursued to decrease the 20-plus years it now takes to develop and market a vaccine product. New sensors are now necessary for the real-time detection and identification of biological and chemical threats in the environment. Public health tools have also become a necessity for the real-time detection and treatment of those exposed to weapons of mass destruction prior to the expression of clinical symptomology.

Among the most difficult challenges presented by someone determined to commit a terrorist act is the identification of that person’s affirmative intent to act and the deception masking the intended action. Is it possible to attain a sufficiently robust understanding of the language of the brain in order to access deception and intent? Can the technology be developed to achieve this access non-invasively from a distance? Science fiction is always ahead of reality; sometimes current events, however, drive you to close the gap. small bullet

Michael Goldblatt ’74 is director of the Department of Defenses’s Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) defense sciences office. DARPA manages and directs selected research and development projects for DoD, and pursues research and technology where risk and payoff are both very high and where success may provide dramatic advances for traditional military roles and missions. The defense sciences office emphasizes programs in medical approaches to biological warfare defense, biology, materials, and advanced mathematics.

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