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James Lennertz, associate professor of government and law, spoke on “Bring ‘Them’ to Justice: Making Justice More Than Just a Buzzword,” at noon today in Interfaith Chapel, Hogg Hall.

The talk was part of the Campus Conversations series, which addresses issues related to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. The next confirmed Campus Conversation will feature an explanation of anthrax and its dangers by Laurie Caslake, assistant professor of biology, noon Friday, Nov. 9. Plans also are being made for a Campus Conversation on Friday, Nov. 2.

Lennertz began his talk by recalling his Comparative Law and Justice class on the morning of Sept. 11. After watching the “horrible images on screen” for the first half-hour, the class turned off the television and engaged in a thoughtful — and at times contentious — discussion about justice in regard to the terrorist attacks and possible responses to them.

The good news today, says Lennertz, is that the word “justice” is being used prominently in leaders’ statements about responding to the Sept. 11 attacks. The bad news is that there is no articulate discussion about what justice means and how it should guide the response to the attacks, he said.

Lennertz encouraged the audience to read newspaper articles and analysis of legislation signed by President Bush today that he believes essentially suspended the Bill of Rights for suspected “bad guys” related to the attacks.

He noted that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld recently admitted that suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Laden may never be found and brought to justice, downplaying the absolute need to capture him in order to defeat terrorism.

“I don’t understand,” said Lennertz. “One day bin Laden is in the crosshairs, and another day he’s a bit player in the script.”

Lennertz said that although President Bush has declared war on terrorism, some forms are given less attention than others. “Some terrorists are enemies and some are misunderstood freedom fighters,” he said.

Justice is important in cultures outside the West, said Lennertz, quoting Qur’an 17:33 –“You shall not kill any person – for God has made life sacred – except in the course of justice.”

“What’s bin Laden’s response to that?” he asked. “Is he faithful to Islam or is he not? We won’t know unless we work out what justice is.”

“Justice” is a buzzword with visceral appeal, said Lennertz, who spent much of the rest of his talk giving various definitions and perspectives on justice. The “realist view,” for example, is that justice is defined as the interest of the stronger. Attempts by President Bush and bin Laden to convince others that “right makes might” and not vice versa, said Lennertz, should be viewed with a critical eye.

Another perspective is to avoid defining justice at all, focusing instead on identifying blatant examples of injustice, such as the Holocaust, says Lennertz. He quoted Karl Popper: “Our task must be the more mundane one of limiting hell rather than attaining heaven.”

The approach of “justice and love” avoids conflict as the Old Testament prophet Nathan did when confronting King David of his sins, said Lennertz.

“The prophet Nathan’s goal was less to punish David than to win him over to righteousness,” he explained. “This approach is an approach that says your enemy is not your enemy, but your challenge. We should care, if not what bin Laden thinks, than what the 10-year-old boy in Ramallah thinks.”

Other approaches to justice described by Lennertz included “an eye for an eye,” “sincerity” defenses that deny guilt due to ignorance or lack of intent to harm, and comparative injustice, in which one side asserts that its injustice is less than the enemy’s. “We’re curving the exam and the U.S. has a lower injustice score,” said Lennertz.

“I served two-and-a-half terms on the Student Conduct Committee, so I’ve seen all these defenses,” he noted, drawing laughter from the audience.

“I didn’t mean to do it” is the classic American cultural response to claims of injustice, said Lennertz. He also chided Americans for not learning more about other countries, noting his own guilt in the 1960s. When protesting the Vietnam War, Lennertz said, he was surprised to learn that the French had preceded U.S. troops in Vietnam.

During a time for audience questions and comments, Ilan Peleg, Charles A. Dana Professor of Government and Law, noted that cultural differences make dialogue in the present conflict difficult. He asked Lennertz for his opinion on which paradigm for justice would be the most effective for negotiations.

Lennertz favored two approaches. He typified the first, “justice and love,” in a quote by Mahatma Gandhi: “That action alone is just which does not harm either party to a dispute.” The second was establishment of a permanent international criminal court.

Mehmet Uz, professor of chemical engineering, questioned whether the U.S. truly won the Gulf War, considering that Saddam Hussein strengthened his hold on the country, and asked whether the U.S. in turn would leave Afghanistan in the hands of the Taliban. “Will there really be a winner?” he asked.

“We’ll have to declare victory and leave, which is what we did in Vietnam,” Peleg responded.

The Campus Conversations series is sponsored by the offices of the college chaplain, dean of students, dean of studies, and intercultural development; the Lafayette Activities Forum; the International Students Association; Student Government; and members of the faculty.

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