This essay in an introduction to a section of Teaching and Understanding Sept 11 at http://stopviolence.com This section examines relationships between the historical backgrounds of the Middle East and Central Asia to their contemporary cultural adaptations and political conflicts. We begin with a reflexive statement on teaching about September 11th by Eugene V. Gallagher, professor of Religious Studies at Connecticut College and co-author of the definitive academic work on the Branch Davidian tragedy, Why Waco: Cults and the Battle for Religious Freedom in America.
In recalling how his university reacted to news of the attacks on the morning of September 11th, Gallagher’s essay provides a model for understanding how learned people can collectively cross the delicate terrain of crisis in a conscientious fashion (Chapter 12). “I thought that as a college, and not a congregation,” Gallagher writes, “that we had a responsibility to help our students respond to events intellectually, as well as emotionally and religiously.” After participating in a series of university panels, Gallagher developed–without remuneration-- a special course on 9-11 organized around a “town meeting” format. The course drew more than 10 percent of the student body population. Gallagher offers six recommendations for implementing a course on 9-11 that may well serve as a prototype for others.
Gallagher’s course, “Religion and Terrorism,” explores the intersections of religious convictions and terrorist acts. Readings and presentations are then used to compare 9-11 with other cases of terrorism, including the Oklahoma City bombing, abortion clinic bombings, suicide bombings in Israel, the Aum Shinrikyo cult of Japan, and the rise of Islamic terrorism in India. Gallagher wraps up his course with a series of lessons on such important issues as the medieval origins of al-Qaeda, the personality cult of Osama bin Laden, and weapons of the apocalypse.
Chapter 13 features UCLA political scientist Andras J.E. Bodrogligeti’s “Usama Bin Laden and Terrorism Outside the US: The Case of Uzbekistan.” This syllabus contains information not found on television in North America, as well as a bibliography unlikely to be seen in other courses on Islam. At the outset, Bodrogliegeti asks: “In the 9-11 attack, who were behind the terrorists?” The course offers material showing why the little-understood nation of Uzbekistan is a prime target for the development of fundamentalist Islamic efforts. Moreover, Bodrogligeti explores the connection between bin Laden, the Taliban of Afghanistan, and the radical Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan–referred to by U.S. intelligence sources as “one of the most dangerous terrorist groups [in the world].”
In Chapter 14, Eastern Michigan University political scientist Barbara Bilge offers a syllabus entitled, “Peoples and Cultures of the Middle East.” Bilge’s readings and presentations explore concepts, theories, and information organized around the notion of Orientalism: the abiding, ethnocentric “Crusader mentality” of Western scholars’ interpretations of the Middle East and Islamic societies. In so doing, she surveys the peoples of Algeria, Egypt, Turkey, Israel, and the Palestinian territories. Special emphasis is placed on the role of environment in defining the cultural history and political conflicts of these populations. Last, Bilge’s syllabus covers the lingering social and political effects of the Gulf War.
Following the September 11th attacks, many Western eyes were opened to the relative oppression of women under the iron fist of Taliban rule. In Chapter 15, Barbara Bilge presents a second syllabus; this one–“Women of the Middle East”–explores the conditions of Middle Eastern women’s lives from a multi-disciplinary perspective. Among the wide range of topics covered here are the problems associated with scholarly attempts to theorize about the origins of patriarchy and Orientalism in Middle Eastern cultures, and how these origins have been variously transformed under Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Drawing on a wealth of social science research and popular literature, Binge’s course goes well beyond the day’s headlines as she delves deeply into the traumatic impact of European imperialism upon the Middle Eastern Islamic states, especially upon gender relations.