Wednesday, May 24, 2017

From a Hostage's Perspective

That our terrorism-simulation final fell on the morning after  the Manchester terrorist attack was a poignant tragedy, and a reminder that terrorism's goal to terrorize, is unpredictable and terrorizing. Yet, the odds of being in an attack are almost negligible--which brings no comfort to people who have experienced otherwise.

My learning objective for the simulation was for students to use critical thinking skills--and they did. Contrary to what images terrorist-simulation may evoke, it was a role-play that was also intended to bring understanding to complicated issues of nationalism, religious fundamentalism, and negotiation.

The simulation results were open-ended, but at the end, the students felt it was pointed--only because, I believe, they are extraordinary people whose possibly unconscious desires were to preserve life--even those playing the terrorists.

The simulation was created by two men who'd known what they were doing. Terrell Arnold was a one time consultant on terrorism and crisis management to the Department of State, and a former senior foreign service officer who had served in the Middle East.

The second creator brought a more interesting perspective to the simulation: Moorhead Kennedy was an economic analyst in 1979 when angry students stormed the Tehran Embassy and held hostages for 444 days. Instead of bitterness towards the Iranians, he sought and came through the experience with a deeper understanding of political helplessness, and his own role (along with his country's) failure in dealing with foreign entities.

Hence, now my students had a chance to experience in a very surface way, all the complications of international relations--and as previously mentioned, the terrorists reduced their demands and the president and his cabinet softened foreign policy to negotiate the captive's lives.

In the debriefing and Socratic discussion following the simulation, we took Kennedy's further writings to deepen our understanding of this terrorism conflict that is still with us.

We began with the roots of the Iranian crisis: the Shah of Iran has been in power for 30 years with the support of the United States. This friendship supports our oil and business interests and keeps our fist in the middle of a volatile area. Over time, amidst opposition and a growing tide of religious fanaticism, the Shah evolves into a despot. His creation of the secret police SAVAK, furthers his unrighteous rule. In part, the great unshared, unequally distributed wealth from oil revenue is the problem. The Shah's wealth and lavish lifestyle when people are still illiterate, when the infrastructure lacks amid abundance, it all causes discontent. Discontent (and a lot of other factors),created a schism for Ayatollah Khomeini and....chaos. The Shah's life was in danger and it was the US that brought him to safety in America.

First diplomatic problem the students must relate to: what are the obligations to America's allies and friends? What happens when those friends turn into dictators?

Festering anger and protest drove students to storm the embassy in November of 1979 and take the hostages. They wanted the Shah to be accountable for his crimes, they wanted America to return him. Fifty two hostages was their bartering power. History teaches us not one life was lost and all hostages  were eventually returned---but never the same.

The students' simulation result mimicked what had happened in Iran 37 years earlier.

An especially haunting prediction came from Mr. Kennedy: the copyright of his book, The Ayatollah in the Cathedral, was written in 1986--he predicted terrorism would be with us for at least another decade. Three decades later...

With the fake-experience under their belt, with just a little bit of understanding, they would now listen to some of Mr. Kennedy's advice.

1. Travel. Learn and know about other people's cultures, sufferings, and triumphs. In travel comes compassion and understanding of the human family.
2. Parts of the world disdain our country's dominance and success. It is important to let people see that actual people represent the "America," they categorize as an entity void of people who feel, laugh, and suffer as they do.

And a few thoughts from the teacher:

3. Never has a greater responsibility rested with Americans to be good representatives of their country than in this century. Great blessings require humility and respect of others.
4. Acknowledge the shortcomings and mistakes of our country's past--it doesn't diminish from its greatness--greatness comes from learning from the hard-to-reconcile past if we implement it into the present and the future. Mistakes can be a catalyst to greatness.

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