Iowa State University Under Fire For Essay Assignment On 9-11 . . . For The Viewpoint of Al Qaeda

There has been an outcry against Iowa State University over a short essay assignment for International Studies students.  It is a firestorm that most faculty hardly expect with regard to a singe essay assignment of a minimum of 500 words.  However, students were told to “Write a paper that gives a historical account of 911 from the perspective of the terrorist network. In other words, how might Al-Qaeda or a non-Western historian describe what happened.”  There have been calls for action by the state legislature.  I hope that the state legislature will consider the impact of such action against the values of academic freedom.  Faculty often try to force students from looking at issues from different perspectives, particularly in the area of international studies.  That does not mean that the school favors Al Qaeda or belittles 9-11.

The assignment itself describes the terror attack was a “heinous action.”  However, it is often educational to force students to think like criminals or terrorists to better understand them.  In the same way, history departments have long asked for students to write about Pearl Harbor from the perspective of the Japanese or Vietnam from the perspective of the Viet Cong.


These are college students who are old enough to understand the difference.  If Iowa State University is to commit with the top schools in the nation, it must be able to afford faculty the essential protections of academic freedom.  Moreover, conservatives cannot object to the reduction of free speech on campuses (as I have), but then move to silence teachers who assign challenging essays from different perspectives.  Understanding Al Qaeda does not mean agreeing or supporting Al Qaeda.

Simply assigning such an essay should not be an invitation for the intervention of politicians into classrooms at Iowa State University.


What do you think?

150 thoughts on “Iowa State University Under Fire For Essay Assignment On 9-11 . . . For The Viewpoint of Al Qaeda”

  1. I actually gave this exact question a lot of thought on my first deployment to Afghanistan more than a decade ago.

    For myself, it was a good thought provoking exercise. Why did they attack us? What was their motivation? Why use the methods they employed? These things made for many days of thought and research while in the desert.

    I figured out some of it, the rest was unknown at the time. I understood some of their positions on things, and could understand some of their motivations. Still more was centered around fanaticism that I still find baffling and inexpiable. I felt bad for the people we were fighting because I figured they got a bit of a bad deal with the illiteracy, and easily manipulated populace (religious leaders using altered texts to get people to do what they wanted).

    As someone who was required to shoot at these people, it was important to me to know WHY I was there, beyond the simple fact that it was my duty. I was there because I was ordered to go, but why were we attacked in the first place, which necessitated my deployment?

    As an intellectual exercise, I do not see anything wrong with this type of assignment in general. I think the question isn’t worded that well though – I don’t think speaking from the point of view of the enemy is particularly useful in itself, but putting yourself in their shoes and trying to understand their perspective gives you a unique insight into the “why”, as well as the “how”. Knowing the “why” and “how” can tell you more about how to defend against subsequent attacks in the future, and identify when some group may take offense to some action we take as a country. Not to necessarily alter our actions, but be able to identify when someone may not take them well.

    Just my thoughts, hopefully they’re not too rambling.


    1. Armyofficer…..
      – I’m curious……did you or other officers ( or enlisted men) receive an “orientation” before being deployed to Afghanistan?
      I.E., a “this is why we’re here and this is what we’re trying to do” and “this is what you might experience with the people( civilians)” kind of orientation?

      1. tnash,

        We always did receive an orientation as a matter of fact. There are also guidebooks given out with various bits of information as well. The sort of orientation received varies based on the audience, but rarely does it venture into the philosophical; it’s always practical in nature.

        The why was usually very simple to start – We were ordered to go, so we’re going. We were ordered to go because the people who attacked us are there, and we’re going to support the effort to find them, etc. But we were more focused on the tactical goals vs. the strategic goals.

        Depending on your role in theater you might have different briefings on the populace. Everyone did get a basic brief on the people and culture, but if you were going to be doing patrols, or you were in some sort of role that had you circulating in the populated areas, you received more thorough information. We also were afforded the opportunity to talk to people who had been there, and sometimes people who were FROM there. It makes a difference.

      1. Thanks Mike!

        I don’t comment often here – mostly because I’m no lawyer (though I wanted to be one many many years ago) – and I stay out of politics. I figure it’s better for me to only open my mouth (type) if I can articulate my points in a way that’s useful. I’m glad I managed a decent job this time 🙂

  2. I didn’t read all the comments, so someone else may have already made this point, and if so I apologize, but what if the assignment was to right about the Jewish Persecution from the Nazi point of view? I mean there were truly some good reasons for the Germans to be pissed at the Jews prior to World War II, but nothing that would justify the Holocaust.

    But what if that was the assignment? To write about why the Nazis felt obligated to get rid of the Jews in Europe. There are still people alive who were in the camps, and they have family and friends who know them, and have heard the stories. Does anyone think that would go over very well, say in New York City???

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

    1. Squeeky,…
      – I touched on that subject in comment (timestamped 3:01AM today).
      Hitler laid out a clear set of grievances/” justifications” that motivated his behavior.
      And a lot of people are STILL pissed at him.
      I do think that there is something of a comparison to be drawn to the apologists for Bin Laden, who bend over backward to “explain/justify” his atrocities.
      IMO the CONTRAST is that, once America went to war in WWII, there weren’t a lot of Americans around making excuses for Hitler or the Japanese militarists.
      And by contrast, there seems to be a sizable, vocal minority today wringing their hands about how we must have somehow offended the sensitive feelings of Islamic terrorists.

  3. It’s fine that a professor has his/her academic freedom, but it seems to me that a professor should grant the student the freedom to opt out of an unpalatable assignment and given the choice to write on a different subject, particularly on a hot-button subject like this.

    1. WarrenPeese – not sure how this professor set up his class, this assignment was 4 points (not a lot). It is a legitimate assignment, possibly used to get the students to think outside the box. This is the sort of exercise that can force your students to become intellectually and emotionally engaged, which is what you hope for. That leads to great discussions in the classroom as the class goes on.

  4. The existence and the relevance of the government Cointel Program is something to consider here. For those who think there was something behind the scenes in various assassinations in the 20th Century, such as Kennedy, Martin Luther King, perhaps you might look up that word (COINTEL) on Google. How did James Earl Ray get out of prison and then have money to banter around to Europe or whatnot and end up in some spot to kill MLK? Who in Missoura got him out of prison? What was the group known as The Southern Cross? Why did the government have a part in killing MLK? What motive? What mindset?
    In this weeks diatribe about who was talking to who, where, about what, and when you might see the relevance of COINTEL. What was MKULTRA? Why would the CIA experiment on mental patients with LSD? Look that one up on Google.

    1. Here is a tidbit:

      CIA Forced out Richard Sprague – JFK/MLK Assassination Probe

      1 Votes

      Opinion by Gary Revel -A Little Piece of History

      On March 22, 1977 I met Richard Sprague. He was Chief Counsel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations and was committed to finding the real killers of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.

      In a conference room behind the walls of Brushy Mountain Prison we began the first HSCA interview of James Earl Ray. With Chief Counsel Sprague was Deputy Chief Counsel Robert Lehner and several other investigators. Also in the room was James Earl Ray’s attorneys Jack Kershaw and Mary Noel-Kershaw. I was a Special Investigator.

      Mr. Sprague made it clear to us all and later reaffirmed his committment to me that he wanted our help in finding the killers, whomever they might be. He wanted to find and prosecute those that had killed JFK and MLK.

      He believed that the key to uncovering the CIA’s involvement in the crimes would be found via subpoenas for all materials related to the murders that the CIA possessed. That included all documents, photographs, transcripts, recordings and memos of CIA officials pertaining to any aspect of the entire matter at hand. He especially was interested in those items from the CIA Station in Mexico City where E. Howard Hunt had been such an influence so many years.

      He flew back to Washington D.C. that day and one week later on March 29, 1977 I took a call for Jack Kershaw in his law office (he was in court) from the HSCA. It was from a woman with the Committe asking for James Earl Ray’s attorney, Jack Kershaw. I told her he wasn’t available but I coud take a message. She told me to please be advised that Chief Counsel Richard Sprague had resigned. She went on to say that we would not want to speak to him again, about the case, as he was no longer associated with the Committee in any way. I would later learn that the CIA had forced him out.

      Robert G. Blakey became the new Chief Counsel and the zeal for finding the real killers disappeared with Sprague.

      It wasn’t long before the CIA made their presence felt in the ‘tampering of evidence’ arena. Regis Blahut, a CIA Security Agent was assigned to the HSCA by the CIA. I never knew why since they were refusing to provide the documents we wanted anyway but I digress. Regis Blahut’s fingerprints were soon found on the safe that contained much of the JFK assassination evidence and on JFK’s autopsy photographs. In several different interviews and confrontations with HSCA members and staffers he readily admitted to leafing through evidence folders and reporting back to CIA personnel as to some of his observations. He never admitted cracking into the safe or taking photos and other evidence out of their protective sleeves (even though his fingerprints on them proved he did). Nothing else happened to him regardless of this criminal activity on his part.

      I think now that had Richard Sprague still been Chief Counsel at this time things would have turned out differently.

      Gary Revel

      1. The real killers of John Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were Lee Harvey Oswald and James Earl Ray, respectively. They were ‘discovered’ in 1963 and 1968, respectively. The House Assassinations Committee convened in 1975.

        1. “A jury in a civil suit brought by the family of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. decided today that a retired Memphis cafe owner was part of a conspiracy in the 1968 killing of Dr. King.

          The jury’s decision means it did not believe that James Earl Ray, who was convicted of the crime, fired the shot that killed Dr. King.

          After four weeks of testimony and one hour of deliberation, the jury in the wrongful-death case found that Loyd Jowers as well as ”others, including governmental agencies” had been part of a conspiracy.”

    2. ow did James Earl Ray get out of prison and then have money to banter around to Europe or whatnot and end up in some spot to kill MLK? Who in Missoura got him out of prison?

      The method by which he escaped from the Missouri State Penitentiary has been known for five decades. As for the funds, you might have consulted with his lawyer, Percy Foreman, who’d have told you that his savings were sufficient to finance his travels (“I grilled him down to the last 25c for a shave and a haircut….”).

  5. At the Jesuit high school I attended, participation in intramural debate was mandatory for all students, and the faculty did not hesitate to assign controversial topics. The controversy in this instance makes no more sense than the occasional banning of Huckleberry Finn over the n-word.

  6. Maybe have an essay on the killing of Bin Laden. We could call him Ben Laderhosen. Or maybe one on the killing of Lee Harvey Oswald. From the perspective of those who approve.

  7. Idiots dribble there snuff here, while idiots try and run the country.

    1. One of the rules of the internet is anyone commenting on someone’s intelligence is almost certain to make a grammatical or spelling error.

  8. Jon Turley writes: “However, it is often educational to force students to think like criminals or terrorists to better understand them. In the same way, history departments have long asked for students to write about Pearl Harbor from the perspective of the Japanese or Vietnam from the perspective of the Viet Cong.”

    False. Although learning to think like a criminal or a terrorist has its benefits, that was NOT the purpose of the assignment. The REAL purpose was, of course, to get college students to IDENTIFY with the enemy and to promote an anti-American agenda. If you’ve read my posts, then you know what comes next. The college is promoting a LEFTIST AGENDA and is simply using another tool to get college students to identify with, mimic, and repeat the leftist agenda like automatons.

    The objective is NOT to get the students to think like criminals or terrorists. Had that been the objective, then the assignment would have been to require students to address BOTH the criminal AND the opposing PREVENTIVE programs to PROTECT against the criminals/terrorists.

    But this assignment is merely asking the students to come up with some Leftist anti-American propaganda. And students will learn NOTHING beneficial from that–unless of course, you hate America too, Mr. Turley. Why then, under those circumstances, it’s a GREAT assignment.

  9. Islam planned and perpetrated 9-11 because a large swath of Islam’s 1.6 billion members perceive (correctly or not) the West in general, and the USA in particular, present existential threat to Islam. These are the first three reasons why Islam perceives an existential threat:
    1. The USA is politically wedded to Israel, clearly violating G. Washington’s first diplomatic rule that “all foreign entanglements are temporary.” Israel is the most hated nation on earth. Israel’s sum total significance to the USA is exactly zero/nothing.
    2. The USA almost universally supports the most evil, most hated, and most blood thirsty ME tyrants, who rule over Islam like dogs. A perfect example is the Al Saud crime synidicate, but the list covers almost every ME nation, Egypt, Jordan, etc.
    3. The USA military history occupying the holiest of all Islam holy sites, Mecca located in Saudi Arabia, ruled by the Al Saud crime syndicate.

    The more secret Western powers that be keep the above info from the general population, the easier is it for TPTB to maintain the status quo. The stronger is the debate on the subject (such as might happen in the essay article subject), the more likely might Americans vote to cease the above three activities that directly cause the current Islam World War against the West. And have no doubt: this current war is a war to the end for Islam, the West, or both.

    IMO anyone assigned this essay could not find a better primary source for the current West/Islam war than OBL himself, in his 1996 Declaration of War against the West, published on the net for free. OBL clearly covers the three items I listed. If you want to deny the three points, first prove OBL lied, explain why he lied, and then list your alleged “real” reasons for Islam’s war against the West and the USA. Be very specific.

    Don’t blame me nor the Iowa U. We’re only messengers.

    1. Joseph Jones,…
      -Bin Laden resented the presence of foreign, non-Islamic troops in Saudi Arabia.
      I think a major turning point for Bin Laden’s objectives and tactics came during and after Gulf War I.
      His offer to defend Saudi Arabia with his fellow jihadists was rebuffed by the Saudi government.
      The Saudis could have mollified Bin Laden by entrusting their defense to him.
      What worked against the Soviet in Afghanistan’s terrain was not likely to be nearly as effective in the deserts of Saudi Arabia against a far superior Iraqi army.
      Even IF a bin Laden led insurgency against an Iraqi invasion could ultimately succeed, there would be the “inconvenience” of Iraqi occupation and turning the country into a major battle ground for years.
      Bin Laden did have some support from some Saudi citizens, but overall I don’t think that the Saudi population wanted to see the devastation that “the BinLaden Defense Plan” would bring to their country.
      I don’t think Bin Laden himself claimed that the U.S. military was in Mecca, but there seem to be plenty of people who continue to spread that lie.
      Another guy put forth his set of grievances and objectives in a book called Mein Kampf.
      While some of his complaints had some legitimacy and some basis in fact, his legacy does suffer from the realization that his grievances didn’t justify some “rather excessive” actions on his part.
      He still has some supporters, but he was born too soon for his apologists to come out of the woodwork on the internet.

  10. The Pearl Harbor, etc., references are not apt. Analogising an ongoing conflict where people frequently die, 9-11 onward, to a war long over is truly apples and oranges. A better analogy would be an essay on the Japanese view of Pearl Harbor in 1943, or the Vietnamese perspective in 1970.

    Without taking issue on the propriety of the assignment it troubles me how people here and perhaps at ISU might fail to understand the assignment by using false or misleading analogies. ISU is asking for the enemy point of view during an ongoing conflict. Whether or not that assignment has value should begin with an honest assessment of what is being asked. I can certainly understand the feelings of, e.g., parents who lost a child on 9-11 when they hear someone in Ames is asking students for essays that defend the terrorists who killed their son or daughter.

    1. There is no evidence that any child was killed by a terrorist on 9/11 – unless you mean the fake terrorists who were acting on the instructions of their handlers in U.S., Saudi, and Israeli military/intelligence agencies.

      Until you have studied the evidence that 9/11 was a false flag operation, you should refrain from making false claims – unless you are being sly – and you know that the only terrorists that were all actors.

      1. I truly can’t understand how someone believes something as stupid as 9/11 being faked is able to do anything over then droll non- stop in front of a test pattern all day.

        1. They also fancy a man who could hardly get through the 9th grade, got tossed out of the Marines after a series of disciplinary infractions, and was fired from his job umpteen times over a period of nine years is some sort of international man of mystery. Others fancy that the military-industrial complex took down Pres. Kennedy by subcontracting the job to a bunch of French Quarter homosexuals.

          1. DSS….
            Those who have “established” Oswald’s innocence can now focus on rehabilitating the image of John Wilkes Booth, another maligned “patsy”.

            1. The person who shot Oswald should not be blamed for shooting an innocent man.

              1. Your ‘innocent man’ shot the President and then gunned down a Dallas police officer in front of a scrum of witnesses.

                1. dds – Oswald had not been charged with any thing when he was shot and killed.

                  1. Paul Schulte…..
                    According to the Warren Report, Oswald was formally charged with the murder of JFK at c
                    1:30 AM, NOV. 23, 1963.
                    (A little over 12 hours after the assassination).
                    I’m not sure about if/ when formal charges were made for the Tippet murder.

                    1. Paul Schulte…..PS
                      Re the charges on the murder of officer Tippet….Oswald was formally arraigned at 7:10PM NOV.22, 1963 before Justice of the Oeace David. L. Johnaton.
                      So the Tippet murder charges came c. 6 hours before the JFK charges.

                    2. tnash – evidently Oswald who had a long day and night and day did not remember any of this. 🙂

                    3. tnash – when you see Oswald being taken out in cuffs, just before being shot, he acts clueless as to why he is there. If you can get the video replay and see. They may have a charging document, but they never served it.

                    4. Paul Schulte…..Oswald was arrested at about 1:30 PM, arraigned for the Tippet murder less that 6 hours later, then for the JFK murder at c.1:30 AM.
                      All of this happened within 12 hours of Oswald’s artest.
                      I’m cinvinced that he remembered all of this.

                    5. Paul Schulte….it looks like you may have just posted a link…..if so, it didn’t show up on my Smartphone.
                      The “reply” word at the bottom of recent comments is often missing, and when I do get a reply box it’s as narrow as a thermometer needle.
                      Signing off now….to be continued.
                      One parting queation….do you think Oswald was really unaware of why he was arrested, and/ or he couldn’t remember events while he was in custody?

                    6. tnash – it was his interview with the press as they were walking him out of the station. He complained about no legal representation, wanted legal representation and said the first he knew of JFK was when a reporter mentioned it in the hall. He either was clueless or well rehearsed.

                  2. You’re wrong, and even if you were right, it’s a trivial point.

                    1. DSS….If Oswald had NOT been formally charged with either murder, you can be sure that conspiracy theorists would make an issue of that by claiming that “there wasn’t enough evidence to charge him”.
                      If for no othet reason than that, I think think it’s worth setting the record straight.
                      Most Americans weren’t even born when JFK was killed, and many of those get their “knowledge” of the assassination from the “Oliver Stone/ Jim Garrison school of history”.

            2. tnash – other than a full theatre saw Booth shoot Lincoln and then jump from the box seats, there is no reason to believe he is guilty.

              1. Paul Schulte…..I think there were 1500-2000 people at the Ford Theater when Lincoln was shot.
                Few, if any, actually SAW Booth shoot Lincoln.
                And out of that large audiencd, I’m sure that “an 1865 Oliver Stone” could have found some who could not positively identify Booth as the man who lept to the stage.
                Even if all agreed that it was Booth who jumped to the stage, then you can “clear” Booth by insisting it was not really Booth, but “a double”.
                I see a whole new Oliver Stone movie setting the record straight; if one can dismiss the mountains of evidence against Oswald, clearing Booth should be a breeze.

                1. tnash – there is some controversy over whether is was Booth who was killed in the barn or not. Stone could certainly do a movie about that. BTW, the Ford Theatre seats about 680 with additional bench seating.

                  1. Thanks, Paul.I’ll recheck the number in attendence at The Ford Theater the night Lincoln was shot.
                    I don’t know know if Booth has a known gravesite….if so, maybe they’ll dig him up like they did Oswald yyears ago to prove that it really was Oswald in the Grave.
                    BTW, I once had a parody (written in high school) publiashed.
                    If Oliver Stone doesn’t jump on the “Booth as a patsy ” bandwagon, I think I see some good material for another parody.😉

                    1. Paul Schulte…..I did a quick check on the seating capacity at Ford’s Theater… you said, the current capacity is c. 680.
                      The Chicago Tribune, and other newspapers, covered proposed projects to restore the theater’s seating capacity to the original 1700.
                      Part of the building collapsed in the 1890s, and current fire laws were also cited as a reason for the reduced seating capacity.

                    2. tnash – the place was taken over by the military and used for storage. I saw nothing on the original seat capacity. There was no way I could tell from the pictures if seating was missing, so it is possible that at one time it held 1700. However, that is a big theatre in a small city.

                    3. tnash – I saw a news article from 1965. But they still haven’t done it. 🙂

  11. Like Darren mentioned above – it would be useful to know the lead up to this assignment. Was this a class on terrorism? If so it it would be a useful assignment to force students to put themselves in AQ’s shoes (sandals? =) because if they intend to pursue a career in foreign service, international relations, etc. they need to understand how the other side thinks.

    And don’t bash adjuncts please – some of the finest professor I’ve ever had were adjuncts and that includes my MA in International Relations where many profs were retired military officers who brought a lot to the table in terms of experience worldwide. And my prof for the Terrorism course, also an adjunct, was retired FBI – he forced us to read the materials that jihadists post and it was ugly and painful to read, but necessary to understand that demented mindset. I felt very uncomfortable accessing their media and used to joke with my husband that if he came home one day and I disappeared I was being held in indefinite detention =)

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