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Part I: Terrorism and Social Change

By Mark Hamm
This essay in an introduction to a section of Teaching and Understanding Sept 11 at

This section explores the historical context of September 11th and its consequences. In Chapter 1, “September 11th and its Aftermath: Some Questions for Consideration and Discussion,” criminologist David O. Friedrichs of the University of Scranton lays out a series of options for teaching about the catastrophe. He identifies two pedagogical challenges: (1) to prepare students for the possibility of further, and potentially more devastating, attacks against America, and (2) to enhance students’ understanding of the social and political conditions in the world which foster hatred of America. Friedrichs then reviews the state of criminology under the Nazi regime, arguing that these German academics simply “remained focused on conventional forms of criminal behavior,” while their state was in the process of implementing the Holocaust. Friedrichs implores us to think about our own future. “If it is the case that at the outset of the 21st Century we are contending with a significant crisis and threat,” he pointedly asks, “will some future generations look back to the preoccupations of contemporary criminologists–as teachers and scholars–with bewilderment or disdain?” Friedrichs concludes his essay by identifying some preliminary steps that can be taken to avoid this cheerless condition in the years ahead. These steps coincide with the central theme of the syllabi and teaching materials presented throughout this book: that is, enabling students to see connections between the substantive focus of particular courses and the issues arising in relation to September 11th and its aftermath.

Our first practical step on that journey is an essay by criminologists Rebecca Maniglia and Matthew Lippman of the University of Illinois Chicago (Chapter 2). In their “Reflections on Teaching About September 11,” Maniglia and Lippman recall the overwhelming fear and rage felt by their students following the attacks. In response, they decided to make the classroom more than an arena for sharing information; they transformed it into “a haven” for offering varying, and often conflicting, points of view. The result, according to Maniglia and Lippman, was an increase in student tolerance for ambiguity as well as a more critical contemplation on the nature of patriotism in a time of crisis.

Maniglia and Lippman’s syllabus, “Terrorism: September 11 and Beyond,” outlines the material and activities making this adaptation possible. The web-enhanced course has two goals: (1) to present fundamental concepts, theories, and historical information on terrorism, and (2) to address the crucial issues and challenges facing the United States in the wake of September 11th. Maniglia and Lippman create a “learning community” by allowing students the opportunity to introduce topics of interest to them, to invite guest speakers, to “take the podium” when they have a serious contribution to make, and–most interestingly–to exchange questions and perspectives via an Internet listserv. with students at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah, West Bank.

Teachers will find an abundance of relevant information in this syllabus. It features a broad range of readings from scholarly, professional, and popular literature; documentary films; numerous writing exercises, ideas for discussion, oral presentations, extra credit assignments, and exams; and an impressive number of Internet resources. The syllabus cuts a wide swath across the spectrum of terrorism, beginning with an overview of suicide bombers and their martyrdom. Several case studies are then examined in an attempt to set 9-11 in its proper context. These include the terrorist events at the 1972 Munich Olympics, Ted Kaczinski (the Unabomber), Ahmed Ressam (the “millennium bomber”), the first World Trade Center bombing, Timothy McVeigh, and the Aum Shinrikyo cult of Japan. The course then moves to an overview of bin Laden’s personal history and his role in international terrorism. The reading assignments cover all of the competing paradigms for understanding this terrorism. The presentations include four Frontline documentaries on September 11th. Importantly, in their essay Maniglila and Lippman note that the use of these videos overcame some daunting challenges in getting students to “think globally” about September 11th.1 Interspersed between the video presentations are sections on historical trends in terrorism, gender and the Middle East, military interventions in Afghanistan, the role of the media in reporting 9-11, bio-terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, civil liberties, and military tribunals.

Chapter 3 features an equally comprehensive syllabus developed by political scientist Christine Barbour of Indiana University. Also a web-enhanced course, “September 11: Before and After,” begins with the premise that the event was a “defining moment” for the current generation of college students, a moment that has shaken their core beliefs about government and caused them to re-evaluate their lives. The course is organized around three questions: (1) What Happened on September 11th?; (2) Why Did It Happen? and (3) How Can Political Science Help Students Understand the Catastrophe? Drawing on the expertise of fourteen Indiana University political scientists and guest speakers, lectures and assigned readings start with the history of mass killing in the 20 Century; the colonial legacy in Middle East politics; Middle East internal conflicts and U.S. involvement. Drawing on Samuel Huntington’s seminal work on the “clash of civilizations,” the course then takes a journey through cultural and ethnic conflict in Central Asia. This includes a history of Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, women under Taliban rule, the politics of oil, and the global economy. United States intelligence and military responses to international terrorism are also considered: Topics include the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Osama bin Laden, the U.S. war on terrorism, diplomatic responses to 9-11, and homeland security. The course closes with a series of lectures and films on various domestic consequences of the attacks, including civil rights, racial profiling, public opinion and media responses.

The fourth chapter is “September 11: Causes, Context, and Consequences” by criminologist David Emmons and Paul Lyons, a professor of social work, at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. Using a variety of teaching resources–including outside funding for prominent guest lecturers, a photo exhibit from September 11thth, and documentaries–this interdisciplinary course takes the position that the catastrophe “resists, but does not defy, comprehension.” Emmons and Lyons use novel approaches to team-teaching, including lectures followed by a debate between the instructors in a “Firing Line” format. The course includes an overview of America in the world and the competing paradigms of world conflict (e.g., clash of civilizations v. Orientalism). The class also reviews the terrorism literature, historical features of the Afghanistan region (e.g., the Soviet-Afghan War, the Taliban, and the challenges of modernizing tribal lands), political Islam, the politics of oil, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Finally, students are challenged to think about the ways in which American life has changed since 9-11, thereby considering the culture of remembrance, patriotism, national security, and redefining “normal.”

Chapter 5 features “Danger and Disorder: September 11th and the Criminology of Terrorism” by co-editor Mark S. Hamm of Indiana State University. The course examines 9-11 by incorporating various schools of criminological thought into the study of terrorism. Attention is also given to the ways in which American criminal justice has changed since the attacks. Each section of the web-enhanced course features essay questions, discussion points, and documentary films. The course begins with an overview of the major criminological theories of violence, including the role of cultural influences on the etiology of, and tolerance for, violence in the United States. Terrorist subcultures are also examined, as students explore the resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism, Ramzi Yousef and the first World Trade Center bombing, bin Laden, and the future of terrorism. This is followed by an examination of the rise and fall of the American militia movement, Timothy McVeigh and the conspiracy to bomb the Oklahoma City Federal Building. The course then peels back the veil of mystery surrounding law enforcement responses to terrorism. Students are then exposed to the ways in which terrorism is filtered through media constructions. Finally, the course explores the means by which students can become contributing members of post 9-11 society through participation in the criminal justice system and/or through collective struggles for social justice and human rights.

One reason why students were so shocked by September 11th is that they failed to appreciate the history of political conflict from a global perspective. This concern is addressed in Chapter 6 by Eastern Michigan University political scientist Richard Stahler-Sholk “Political Violence and Revolution” focuses on theories and comparative analysis of 20th Century rebellions and social upheavals occurring on the periphery of the global village. It begins with an overview of the concept of political violence by critically examining the institutional forms of violence built into structures of states and societies and the international political system. The course then takes a look at theories of revolution, including various perspectives for understanding when and why revolutions occur. Several cases of revolution are explored in an effort to take a comparative look at recurring themes, including issues of equality and democracy, terrorism and world order, and the relation between armed struggle and non-violent social movements. The goal of this course, then, is to help students gain insights into the general political dynamics of terrorism that can be used to more fully comprehend the catastrophe of September 11th.

These issues are fleshed out from a communications perspective in Chapter 7 by Daniel D. Gilfillan, an information literacy professor at Arizona State University. “Devices of Protest: Technology and Social Change” explores the various methods used by terrorists to promote the goals of armed struggle through a subversive use of technology. What is most helpful about Gilfillan’s chapter is his use of primary source material. Course readings run the gamut from such arcane texts as Ted Kaczynski’s The Unabomber Manifesto and the Red Army Faction communiques, to Every Secret Thing, Patricia Hearst’s tell-all autobiography about the Symbionese Liberation Army, to classics like Doris Lessing’s The Good Terrorist and Elie Wiesel’s Dawn. As evidenced by preceding chapters, teaching the so-called “MTV Generation” about terrorism requires an understanding of the visual arts. In this respect, Gilfillan effectively distinguishes the good from the bad and the ugly. Masterpieces like Preminger’s Exodus and Bugajski’s The Interrogation are presented alongside such low-brow films as Arlington Road and The Crying Game.

One of the most compelling questions of the post-9-11 world is precisely how have we changed? Michelle Brown, an instructor in the American Studies program at Indiana University, proposes an intriguing answer to this question in Chapter 8: We are at risk. Brown’s “At Risk: Anxiety and Insecurity in America” is designed to teach the nature of anxiety and insecurity by deeply probing the meanings of panic, fear, crisis, and terror. The course is based on the assumption that although the dimensions of risk may have changed in American society, its presence is nothing new: From its inception, the nation has experienced natural disasters, plagues, and man-made catastrophes. Case studies of Native American culture, the trauma of slavery, and the AIDS epidemic are used to make this point. Drawing on various theoretical perspectives (sociology, criminology, and religious studies) and learning materials (novels, art, and numerous films), students are challenged to explore how Americans have attempted to render comprehensible a world of risk; and how these experiences have in turn shaped the national identity. The course closes with an exploration of the American tendency toward dystopia that accompanies “risk society” as it contemplates a future brimming with apocalyptic overtones.

That dystopian nightmare is confronted in Chapter 9 by political scientist Deborah Louis of Carroll Community College. The starting point for her “In the Presence of Fear” is that the whole point of terrorism is fear–fear is not only the cause of terrorism, but fear also becomes the foundation of all responses to it. Lewis reminds us that we are capable of much more than that, for choices made out of fear “are staggering in their implications for the course of world events from this point forward.” Assuming that knowledge is the antidote to fear, the objective of Lewis’s course is to introduce students to the issues, the people, and the vocabulary (the final two points are often overlooked in courses on 9-11) associated with events of September 11th. The course begins by exploring the evolution and context of terrorism as a strategy to accomplish political goals. It turns to a rigorous analysis of September 11th, including readings and presentations on the psychology of the attack, the sociology of collective hatred, and an exploration of the dark side of globalization–or, to use the words of Jean-Bertrand Aristede in one of Lewis’s readings, “A Choice Between Death and Death.” Like Michelle Brown’s course, this one ends with an overview of living in anxious times.

Part I closes with two syllabi on memorialization. The first is “Memory of Catastrophe” by religious studies professor Edward T. Linenthal of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh (Chapter 10). Designed as an intensive seminar centered around pioneering works on the sociology of disaster, Linenthal focuses on a series of questions that now have profound implications for American. For example: Why do we so intensely remember sites of violence in our culture (i.e., the Oklahoma City Federal Building and the World Trade Center, or “Ground Zero”)? Why are there so many spontaneous shrines erupting at these sites? How does the media affect remembrance? And, what happens when catastrophe becomes social spectacle? The syllabus also includes several interesting student activities, including an assignment to plan for and design a memorial to those killed at Columbine.

Finally, in Chapter 11 sociologist Jeff Ferrell of Southern Methodist University presents a seminar syllabus taking the position that most of the memorials commemorating 9-11 were not public, but personal responses to the catastrophe. In “9-11 and the Public Construction of Commemoration,” Ferrell offers a series of in-class and out-of-class exercises designed to offer students the opportunity to think critically and creatively about September 11th. Using images of shrines emerging at Ground Zero and elsewhere, he asks students to consider a number of introspective questions focusing on images of American values–images of patriotism, public emotions, personal identity, and grief. Among his student activities are the planning and construction of their own public shrines; as well as memorials to others, including a shrine to an al Qaeda fighter killed by U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

1The Frontline videos are In Search of Bin Laden, Trail of a Terrorist, Saudi Time Bomb, and Target America. They are available at

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