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US univ students told to write essay on 9/11 attacks from al-Qaeda’s perspective

“Let’s focus on the 9/11 terrorist attack and how it might be interpreted differently by different people around the world,” the instructions read.

world Updated: Mar 29, 2017 19:53 IST
Iowa State University

Smoke billows from one of the towers of the World Trade Center and flames as debris explodes from the second tower in New York.(AP File Photo)

Students of international studies at a US university were asked to write a paper that gave historical account of the 9/11 terror attacks from the perspective of al-Qaeda, sparking outrage.

The assignment was part of an International Studies course at the Iowa State University taught by lecturer James Strohman, who has taught multiple political science and public administration courses at Iowa State over the years.

“Write a paper that gives a historical account of 9/11 from the perspective of the terrorist network. In other words, how might al-Qaeda or a non-Western historian describe what happened,” stated the assignment, according to The College Fix, a news website on higher education.

“Don’t worry about the fact you don’t agree with the terrorists, the point of the exercise is to consider completely different perspectives,” the assignment stated.

Many expressed their outrage online, describing the assignment as “sick” and “shameful”.

“Let’s get Hitler’s point of view on the Holocaust!” a netizen wrote.

The assignment aimed to view history from “different contexts”.

“Let’s focus on the 9/11 terrorist attack and how it might be interpreted differently by different people around the world,” the instructions read.

“For this exercise, you have to ‘get out of the box’ of our thinking about what happened on 9/11 and view it from a completely different perspective,” it said.

The assignment tells students this may be difficult to do, but that it is an exercise examining the differences of people, cultures and historical perspectives.

Students were encouraged to use their imagination and make their papers as interesting as they would like in the 500-word minimum assignment, and the instructions stated that that there was no correct answer, “just your ability to look at what we consider a heinous action from other perspectives.”

Strohman, a Democrat, former member of the Story County Board of Supervisors, and current member of the Iowa Employment Appeal Board, did not comment on the assignment.

A university spokesman provided a statement on his behalf.

“As you can see, the assignment was in no way an attempt to diminish the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Nor was it designed to support the goals of Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations,” said Rob Schweers, ISU’s director of communications, in an email to The College Fix.

Schweers added the assignment is simply an exercise in expanding critical thinking skills and analyzing international events through a “different lens.”

“This is similar to the vital work being performed in our nation’s diplomatic and intelligence operations, such as the Central Intelligence Agency, or the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research,” he said.