Last night I was delaying the process of going to bed. My mind was spinning a bit with the question of how to appropriately honor what this day means for our community.
At some point, I was thinking back to a dinner I had attended a year before the OKC bombing. One of my favorite theatre professors at UCO was one of THOSE people - Dr. Roberta Sloan was the kind that opens her heart and her home to her students and had asked us over for what was, to me, a gesture of extreme kindness. I wasn't used to seeing professors in social situations.
I have a soft spot in my heart for historic homes, so when we pulled up to her driveway that night in the historic Nichols Hills neighborhood in Oklahoma City, romance filled my brain. I looked up and down the street and wondered how many dinners had been attended by how many people since the turn of the century on this block. That evening we all met our professor's husband, Dr. Stephen Sloan. He was one of the few and most noted terrorism experts in the U.S.
Just months later, the Oklahoma City bombing happened and Dr. Stephen Sloan was on both the local and national news frequently. Their lovely home was only ten blocks away from the Murrah Building. Ironically, Sloan had identified the federal building as one of the most vulnerable targets for a terrorism attack in years past. But when he started his profession in the 70s, "terrorism" wasn't really on the U.S. radar. And, at some point in between those early years and 1995, I read one article that quoted Sloan saying there were "only 12 specialized academics" who studied terrorism as part of their political science agenda in the U.S.
Sloan actually created and started teaching the first university course on terrorism during his long tenure at the University of Oklahoma. In other words, he was truly a pioneer in a field that is now fraught with university degrees of Emergency Preparedness across our country.
So last night, my thoughts settled on him for a number of reasons. I wondered what he was currently working on, how Roberta was, and if he would be doing a TV interview today. I pulled up a profile of Stephen Sloan produced by the university he had moved to a few years ago and watched for a while. One of the quotes he shared hit me. He said a colleague of his, Bryan Jenkins, once said, "Terrorism is a form of theater, aimed at the people watching." Many of his messages in the piece were aimed at sharing information about how people react after becoming the achievement of a goal by the perpetrators.
Sloan furthered that quote, however, by adding his own spin: "Terrorism is the theatre of the obscene."
And it is. Sloan's wife, the theatre professor, had made an impact in her own right sending many students over the years to Irene Ryan competitions and bringing back awards. But her students were acting within a controlled environment, creating for their audiences planned and intentional images that had been scripted and rehearsed. People chose to attend their shows.
Dr. Stephen Sloan, however, was speaking of something entirely different. Terrorism is obscene. And those affected by the Oklahoma Bombing this morning are still influenced by that obscenity that took place17 years ago.
I'm incredibly grateful for the years of learning and years of wisdom Dr. Stephen Sloan provides our country. I'm grateful for the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial and all the work developed through that project to fight terrorism. But I will always be repulsed about the obscene terrorism acts around the world that happen daily.
And I will always be sorry that my homeland and my heartland had to witness our own obscenity in 1995.
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