of September 11 prove that engineers' responsibilities to society must
now include the protection of the public from terrorism. The engineering
community has responded with vigor and enthusiasm to this challenge,
as evidenced by the February issue of Prism. Several feature articles
describe the determination and skill of engineers in infrastructure
security, defensive biotechnology, and identification of criminals.
The article 25 Ways to Fight Terrorism illustrates how sophisticated
technology can be applied to fighting terrorism, and the Last Word,
Combating Terrorism Through Engineering, encourages engineers
to use this technology. I agree with this call to arms and fully support
the efforts of engineers in preventing harm to our citizens.
the end, I have to conclude that people with malicious intent can always
find ways around these technical barriers. If we depend only on technology
to fight terrorism, then we will eventually lose. The terrorist will
always figure out ways to outsmart the latest technology and even use
our own technology against us.
to developing defensive weapons then, what else can engineers do in
the fight against terrorism? First, we need to reconsider the problem
and remember that often the best solution to a problem lies upstream.
Pollution prevention is what we call it in environmental
engineering. Solve the problem by eliminating it. And in the case of
terrorism, the problem is not how to develop better technology (the
end-of-pipe solution), but rather how to prevent terrorist acts from
begin by asking who these terrorists are. What is so important to them
that they are willing to die in furthering their cause? It seems to
me that terrorism can occur when the perpetrators:
an identifiable group who they believe is not deserving of moral consideration.
* Believe that they are on the moral high ground or that their religious
beliefs allow them to commit such actions.
* Believe that they are acting for some greater good.
bin Laden's attacks on the World Trade Center clearly fulfill these
criteria. He and his followers have demonized the American people and
American culture. They believe they are morally right and that their
religion (even though they misinterpret it) encourages them to commit
these acts. And finally, they believe they are doing this for the greater
take the proper engineering approach to fighting back, we first have
to determine what their rationale is for attacking us. How could they
demonize America and Americans? We are (in our opinion, anyway) the
good guys. The answer is in our historic attitude toward the Islamic
world. Most of us have such a limited understanding of Islamic culture
that we are able to think of them as the other. And some
of our actions may have convinced the Islamic world that we are evil.
A better understanding of those views, generous assistance to those
less fortunate than us, and the education of our children to appreciate
other cultures will eventually lead to a greater understanding of each
other's societies and a reduced threat of terrorism.
we have to have a rational and reasoned response to those who label
themselves as fundamentalists but in fact misinterpret and distort a
religious dogma to meet their own political or social agendas. In this
country, we have tolerated the zealots among us warily, but threatening
and harming others or limiting their freedoms under the cloak of religious
doctrine is unacceptable, and we should say so boldly and publicly.
Overseas, we should cease to be hypocrites and stop supporting states
that discriminate on the basis of religion or ethnicity. Warped fundamentalism
leads to intolerance, and intolerance gives way to hatred.
we have to recognize the rights and aspirations of all people. Do the
Basques have a case for establishing an independent homeland? Do the
Kurds deserve to live in peace without being decimated by Sadaam Hussein?
And do the Palestinians have some legitimate gripes against Israel?
the aspirations of all people and working with them to achieve lasting
peace is not easy, and this approach to combating terrorism is not a
quick fix. It is far easier to just bomb them (we don't know exactly
who) into the Stone Age. But killing some of them will not prevent acts
of terrorism. We have to ask why people hold such strong beliefs that
they are willing to die for their cause, and then we must do what we
can to resolve our differences. These people may actually have valid
concerns, and we would be a far better nation if we at least listened
educators, we should rightfully applaud the technological advances that
help us protect the public from terrorism, but we should also make sure
our students understand that the final solution is not in technology
but in greater understanding and justice among all people. Only this
approach will work in the long run, and the sooner we adopt this strategy,
the safer we will be.
Aarne Vesilind is the R. L. Rooke Professor of Engineering in the Historical
and Societal Context at Bucknell University. He can be reached by e-mail