Battell Chapel was somberly attentive Sunday night as an audience of about 50 listened to a lone figure dressed in the suit and collar of a Roman Catholic priest.
The speaker was Harvard professor and priest Bryan Hehir, who discussed the moral issues of terrorism and war brought up in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.
“A morally legitimate use of force must be a limited use of force,” Hehir said, summarizing the theme of the night’s lecture.
The lecture was part of the ongoing University Lecture and Discussion Series commissioned by President Richard Levin and sponsored by the center for International Security Studies in response to the events of Sept. 11.
Lamin Sanneh, professor of history at the Yale Divinity School, also spoke, particularly on the culture, religion and issues of the Middle East. The lecture ended with a question and answer session.
Hehir, who has been a professor at Harvard’s Divinity School and Center for International Affairs since 1993, emphasized the importance of studying the ethical and moral side of war.
“For some it seems useless to set the dynamic world of modern warfare within the universe of moral order,” Hehir said. “Yet developing an ethic of war is necessary [in trying to understand international conflicts].”
This inclusion of morality in discussions of terrorism and conflict seemed to be particularly controversial for many of the audience.
Blake Wilson ’02 expressed some ambivalence about the lecture’s discussion of the morality of war.
“It’s both a privilege and a frustration to see someone who’s grappled with these moral issues his whole life, because you can’t ever completely agree with all the conclusions that someone’s come up with,” Wilson said. “You can’t help but feel a certain repugnance for schematizing or quantifying moral issues, but at the same time you have to admire the moral courage of someone who’s given such thought to these issues.”
But Jack Rubin ’02 said the focus on morality was relevant and helpful.
“There’s been a great deal of discussion about the separation of religion from this conflict,” Rubin said. “The purpose of tonight was to evaluate the crisis in a more ethical light, which was very valuable.”
Among the moral topics brought up in Hehir’s lecture was the ongoing U.S.-led bombing of Afghanistan.
“Civilians are never to be directly, purposely and deliberately targeted, [as they were when] two airplanes flew into the World Trade Center killing 6,000 people,” Hehir said. “Yet there is a questionability that arises as civilian casualties increase due to U.S. policy. War is simply not that perfect: you will never get away without killing a single civilian, even if they are not targeted,” he said.
Hehir also discussed the danger of discrimination and the importance of recognizing when terrorist behavior goes against the religion of which it claims to be a part.
“It is necessary to explicitly, concretely make the differentiation between abuses of a moral or religious tradition and the true religion,” Hehir said. “It is so important to give voice and support to scholars of Islam to say whether the religion invoked on Sept. 11 is the religion that really exists under the name of Islam.”
The next lecture of the series will feature Yale history professor Donald Kagan this Sunday. Cynthia Farrar and John Gaddis are the co-organizers of the lecture series.