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. The backlash seems to stem from an assumption that even to pretend that the terrorists had a point of view at all is dangerous, and needs to be suppressed. But, even if we think the assignment is offensive, and ultimately useless, to have young people see what happens to people who dare to think of our enemies as human beings is self-defeating. We need to be aware of how they see us if we are ever going to get them to change. Unless you think we can just drone all of them away.

    1. We’re never going to get them to change. It may be that the actuarial tables clean out their ranks. Between now and then what we can do is kill enough of them so the rest get demoralized and go back to mundane life.

  2. As an Iowan I applaud free speech and see nothing wrong with the Iowa State assignment. But you have to remember that Rep. Steve King is one of Iowa’s congressmen – if that doesn’t tell you how conservative part of our state is, I don’t know what does.

  3. Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes is an incredibly difficult exercise except in the most superficial sense. To do so in those of M.E. Terrorists would be nigh on impossible and I suspect some degree of awareness of that is the real exercise of the class. Even a glimpse of the difficulty, never mind actually doing it, could be very useful information.

    Doing so for military advantage, or acting, or journalism, is almost always largely fake; an approximation that is only good enough for appearances to a specific audience. I would be surprised if it has been extensively used as a formal technique in the US military since, for good reason, they have traditionally tolerated a low level of BS in their personnel as well as their techniques. I’m not talking about putting one’s self in the mind set of the opponent for the next military strategy. That is completely different from walking in their shoes, temporarily absorbing their point of view as one’s own, which requires empathy as well as great focus of attention. That said, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of the truly exceptional military leaders down through history have done so on their own with varied success depending largely on just how far apart their culture was from that of the enemy.

    As to freedom of speech, of course it would be hypocritical to allow only those opinions or exercises one agrees with.

  4. This is a sample of an ISU writing project of a smiliar nature my sister sent to me

    500 words or less abut Senior Citizens in the world of new technology.

    Please enter your new password.
    Sorry, the password must be more than 8 characters.
    boiled cabbage
    Sorry, the password must contain 1 numerical character.
    1 boiled cabbage
    Sorry, the password cannot have blank spaces
    Sorry, the password must contain at least one upper case character
    Sorry the password cannot use more than one upper case character consecutively.
    50DamnBoiledCabbagesShovedUpYo urAssIfYouDon’tGiveMeAccessNow !
    Sorry, the password cannot contain punctuation.
    ReallyPissedOff50DamnBoiledCab bagesShovedUpYourAssIfYouDontG iveMeAccessNow
    Sorry, that password is already in use

    Purportedly or reported the sister unit finished. it was written as bill to fix health care that never got past the offering to help stage due to known but unrepaired problems on the DNC computer server. They had made an illegal copy from a cheapo they previously acquired for use by the VA under the previous administration.

    My sister says that is only unsubstantiated hear say which means NYT, WaPo and NBC should have it intime for the afternoon edition and the early evening news.

    1. Michael Aarethun – I am sure it is anecdotal, but funny none the less. 🙂

  5. I seem to recall that either Iowa or Iowa State has a prestigious, highly ranked creative writing program.

  6. From JT’s linked article:

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

    The spokesperson added: “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.”

    The class is taught by lecturer James Strohman,a member of the Iowa Employment Appeal Board and a registered Democrat. Strohman has taught at ISU for 10 years, according to his biography on the university’s website.

    The assignment was given out during the first week of class and was worth a total of four points, according to the online description.

    ISU is located in Ames, about 35 miles north of Des Moines.

  7. The lead up to this assignment might be pertinent as to what the political intentions of the professor are.

    1. Perceptive question, Mr. Smith. Maybe the professor is doing a favor for some friends in Langley.

  8. Moreover, this assignment is nonsensical when there is an absence of knowledge to back up this lesson in “perspective.” What do the snowflakes think of the teaching ha of radical Islam would be a better topic. Then they would at least have to research the facts and educate themselves – perhaps by reading Michael Scheuer’s book, Osama Bin Laden, rather than engage in vacuous dimestore psychoalysis based on nothing more than their ignorant sense of nihilistic “empathy.” Again, Iowa is not the college I had hoped.

    1. And again, there’s Iowa State — the school referenced in this article — and “Iowa” — which is sometimes the shorthand used to refer to the University of Iowa.

  9. As a former teacher, I think it is a valid essay exercise. It is thought-provoking, which is what you want in your classroom. A quiet classroom is a classroom of sleeping students. Each of those 19 thought he had a valid reason for what he was doing. If you can find a commonality, you can stomp it out.

    1. In a typical debate exercise, the aim is to show that both viewpoints are equally valid, have merit, and the better, more cogent argument wins.
      Here, we have a Muslim terrorist organization that flew passenger planes into buildings and killed three thousand innocent people. If that organization were a government, it would be an act of war, and it was an act of war that warranted a legitimate response.
      How on earth can you say that the point of view of al-Qaeda has merit?! What kind of debate is that?
      Are you asking if a mass slaughter of innocents is understandable and acceptable only because it was perpetrated against the United States?

      1. Sandra – the slaughter of innocents and suicide was clearly motivated by a purpose. This is like profiling a serial killer.

        1. The assignment is purely political, in that it must assume an anti-American viewpoint for it to be completed. This is no profile of a serial killer. That is a false analogy.

    2. PS

      It can’t be valid because the premise is false. 9/11 was a covert false flag operation. You should study the evidence which supports that – then you might rethink your prejudices.

      1. bill mcwilliams – I have studied the evidence, both pro and con and have decided that 19 terrorists hijacked 4 planes with the intention of flying two of them into the Towers, one into the Pentagon and one probably into the White House.

        1. What you “decided” is not based on the evidence – rather what Bush told you. You believe everything the government tells you …except what Obama told you. No, wait. He supports the lie – in public. However; in private he knows the truth. After all, he’s a creature of the CIA. Only business job he had was w/IBC – a CIA front.

          1. bill mcwilliams – my decision is based on a documentary that showed both sides of the argument. After all was done, I picked my side. If anything, you should know I am my own man.

            1. What documentary? And what are the two sides you are talking about?

              1. bill mcwilliams – don’t remember the name, however I think Nova produced it.

        2. If you’re self-image is dependent on believing you know something the sheeplle don’t, you can get right creative, and inductive reasoning gets in the way.

        3. PS

          What “con” evidence are you claiming to have studied? If you had ACTUALLY studied the evidence, you would KNOW the truth. Belief? as in Belief/faith in bush? I thought you were more rational than that. Do you BELIEVE in what Jimmy Swaggart says? Faith-based opinions aren’t rational, by definition.

          1. bill mcwilliams – I believe my lying eyes and ears. What can I say.

            1. Whoa, you don’t even realize you’ve been duped. Aren’t you embarrassed to admit that?

              1. The only person duped is you, and the person doing the duping is you. You fancy you’re knowledgeable and you’re really a psycho-clown.

              2. bill mcwilliams – you are duping yourself. At least I have a logical basis for my conclusions.

  10. Sounds like the narrow minded left has stuck their foot in their butts again to the narrow minded right. Right on the heels of seeng my own words not echoed but presented as orignal thinking from another source. Left Right no matter if you put it proper order and properly defnined doesn’t really work It’s horizontal thinking. Vertical is much better

    The vertical picture goes like this

    Rule by direct vote of all citizens in control
    Rule by representative democratic principles citizens still in control
    Rule by the indirect Republic System with the citizens still in control
    Government Employees
    Those who want the vertical description reversed.

    Exactly in that order with reference to any ideologies except the one I just typed is a description of Self Governing citizens (where all decisions all of the time are made by a vote of all francheiseds) directly choosing and controlling their local governments (using representative democratic principles) and then indirectly choosing and still controlling which is the Republic system based on a social constitutional contract as it’s center.

    Exactly what he founders and framers developed to both fit the context of their times and leave flexible enough to allow changes when necessary and approved by a majority of the self governing citizens.

    Leaves little room for snow flakes or fascism which is what the Iowa group is proposing.

    *When the citizens lose direct control of elected officials that is where the difference between representative democratic principles or a true Democracy which we don’t have and a Republic system which we do have may be found.

    The test is simple. At what point were you allowed to vote for a delegate to represent you in the government but not allowed to mantain control and that point is when they are no longer subject to recall. or where direct intiatives are not allowed.nor direct referendums not employed.

    The answer explains the problem only 19 states have recall up to the State level and zero are allowed the use of that tool to the federal level The rest are slave states with only the elections after full term as a recourse. If you are not on this list you do not live in a democracy or representative democracy but in a Constitutional Republic For those on this list you enjoy the benefits of democratic principles except in the selection of the two federal officials (President and Vice President) Democratic system is found ONLY at the lowest levels and then only if the recall is in force.

    New Jersey
    North Dakota
    Rhode Island

    Recall trial of state officials

    The recall varies state to state in the 19 states

    Add it up and the word democracy does not apply anywhere in our system of government except perhaps and it’s limited in the 19 politically free states.

    Whose fault is that?

    Do you know the meaning of self governing citizens as the founders and framers used it? It’s the opposite of the the foreign ideology system of one collective.

  11. He appears to be a local Democratic pol who landed a teaching gig there. Since Iowa State qualifies as a research university and there’s no shortage of idle poli sci PhDs in this world, his appointment there seems irregular. A GoogleScholar search turns up no dissertation under the name of ‘James Strohman’. Their search routines should pick up similar entries.

    Ironically, he’s likely a man of banal political views who has no use for malicious foreign paramilitaries. Arts and sciences faculties are so chock-a-block with weird and obnoxious sectaries that people likely assumed he was one such person.

    1. From JT’s linked article:

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

      The spokesperson added: “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.”

  12. It’s free speech but I have to believe that someone was looking for backlash when they posed this assignment. And backlash they received. That is what free speech is all about.

    I have to say that Karen S. makes a good point. Assignments of the kind she suggested might have resulted in a firing!

    1. After reading Mike’s comment, I acknowledge that we need to find out what type of class this was – if it was a forensic profiling class, for instance, which does indeed use case studies of murderers and other heinous criminals to try to predict how they will react.

      If it was merely another America bashing assignment at a university, then they are going to experience rather robust free speech in reaction. And I do believe they often pick and choose their topics with an agenda. Why, for example, did they not use the Orlando gay nightclub terrorist attack, innocently asking students to write the paper from the perspective of a homophobic terrorist targeting gay men because Sharia Law demands their death? They chose a topic that does not reveal the deep prejudices of the extremist form of religion driving the terrorists, which would have been useful if they were indeed profiling terrorists.

      1. He’s a local pol assigned to teach IR courses. I cannot find a copy of his CV and no dissertation under his name turns up on GoogleScholar. I’ll submit the real scandal here is they assigned a class to an adjunct who has no reason to know squat about this particular subject.

          1. You men the agency which hired Aldrich Ames and promoted him multiple times? The agency which hired Michael Scheuer? A Nicaraguan politician who’d had dealings with John Kirkpatrick, a key cog in training the Nicaraguan contras, described him thus: “he drank too much and cried a lot”.

            1. Ditto LEE and HARVEY Oswald, Usama bin Laden, Clay Shaw, George deMorhenschildt, Ruth Paine, and Lord only knows how many others. THAT agency?

        1. DSS- Then I guess I have my answer on the intent of the class. Sometimes higher education is disappointing…

  13. Know your enemy. If you cannot give a realistic statement of the the perpetrators point of view then how can you possibly understand their strategy or make a reasonable forecast of their future actions?

    If the view of some conservative politicians becomes widespread, they will be forcing us to fight one eye blind – likely with tragic consequences.

    If you oppose Al Qaeda, know Al Qaeda.

    1. You don’t have to immerse yourself in their delusions to be able to game ways to destroy them militarily.

      1. That is correct. You do not have to immerse yourself in their delusions.

        But if you do, your are much more likely to be successful in defeating them.

        1. “But if you do, your are much more likely to be successful in defeating them.”


        2. No. Military tactics and strategy are not a department of psychiatry.

          1. “A Psychological Analysis of Adolph Hitler: His Life and Legend”. The report is one of two psychoanalytic reports prepared for the OSS during the war in an attempt to assess Hitler’s personality; the other is “Analysis of the Personality of Adolph Hitler” by the psychologist Henry A. Murray who also contributed to Langer’s report. The report eventually became 1000 pages long.”

            I do mean everything within quotes. These are no alternative facts

            1. Psychoanalysis is nonsense and anyone who ploughed through 1,000 pages of Freudian-inspired babble was wasting their time. Even were it valid, it’s still not going to help you defeat the German military.

              1. dds – the psycho-babble that was put together for Hitler included a lot of rumors. They were analyzing him at a distance, about 3000 miles. They did not have access to the historical record about Hitler. Much about him is still rumor and supposition. Also, remember homosexuality was a mental illness when that report was done.

                1. No clue what homosexuality has to do with this discussion.

                  Homosexuality is a disorder. It remains a disorder no matter what the mental health trade’s moral fashions are or what the dynamics of their status games are.

                  1. dds – since that Hitler report was written, being a homosexual is no longer considered a mental disease. A lot of the conclusions in the Hitler report are not valid, now or then.

    2. BFM: Sigh. I hate to say this on this topic, but you are right.

      IF the class was to give insight into terrorist organizations’ MO, such as intelligence or forensic training, then of course they have to deeply understand their twisted logic.

      So I suppose it depends on the class. Was this merely yet another Left leaning current events class bent on moral relativism and excusing terrorism? Or was it a class teaching a technique on profiling murderers?

      So I suppose the purpose of the class is crucial.

      1. No, they have to understand their methods. Their motives are not that important.

    1. In order to fully understand, argue three sides, three points of view.

  14. Considering that it was the U.S. that created an “organization” out of a database of extremists with violent tendencies I would have some trouble with that essay Guess it would have to be something along the lines of “Crazy Americans knocking down good buildings to scare themselves. What are they hiding, theft of gold, trillions of dollars, asbestos filled buildings, paperwork that would put someone in prison?”

    1. There was an actual organization, based in Afghanistan. That that fact is inconvenient to your worthless worldview is immaterial

      1. You mean the organization created by the CIA – which named it “The Base” or Al Qaeda – and put longtime Bus family business associate and CIA asset Usama bin Laden in charge of recruiting fighters to be used against soldiers sent to Afghanistan by the USSR?

    2. Just to be clear, Bettykath. We have recordings of the cockpit being taken over, and phone calls from doomed passengers stating in real time that terrorists took over the plane. They were planning a desperate attempt to retake the plane, which ended up crashed in a field instead of killing more on the ground.

      But…you think the government faked it all and got those people to lie on their last phone call with their loved ones? Set up the Saudis who overstayed their visas and had those connections to Al Qaeda and the written plan to use plans as WMD? And when we all saw the planes fly into the buildings…that was staged?

      And Al Qaeda’s taking credit for this was really a plant?

      I’m sorry, but we disagree on this.

      1. Bettykath’s last intervention was to tell us all that Tawana Brawley was telling the truth and that among her rapists was the son of Thomas Constantine, the superintendant of the New York State Police. Neither Maddox, Mason, Sharpton, nor the Brawleys ever accused Kevin or Thomas Constantine, Jr of raping her. Bettykath lives in a world of malicious fantasy.

      2. Two of the airplanes said to have flown on 9/11 were NOT taken out of service until 2005.

        The alleged phone calls could not have occurred at 30,000 feet. They were recorded somewhere on Earth.

        Afghanistan asked for evidence that Al Qaeda was responsible, but none was forthcoming, because CIA asset/Bush family business associate was, like Oswald, just a Patsy.

        You really should study the evidence that it was a false flag operation before rendering an opinion/conclusion based on the Bush 9/11 fairy tale.

        No planes crashed on 9/11. Our government lied to us about what happened that day, and untold thousands of lives have been lost because of the invasions that were justified – based on lies.

        1. I take that to mean that you can’t respond to the argument, so you resort to a lame attempt to insult the messenger.

  15. I agree that no legislative action should be taken, but I can’t help but think this is all part and parcel of colleges “educating” students to believe in “moral equivalence” and “nihilism” instead of making choices about right and wrong. I’m glad you posted this. My son is applying;ying to colleges and wants to be a creative writer. I don’t think Iowa is the school for him.

    1. “I don’t think Iowa is the school for him.”

      To be clear:

      Iowa State University is in Ames, while the University of Iowa is in Iowa City, IA.

      From JT’s linked article:

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

      The spokesperson added: “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.”

      The class is taught by lecturer James Strohman,a member of the Iowa Employment Appeal Board and a registered Democrat. Strohman has taught at ISU for 10 years, according to his biography on the university’s website.

      The assignment was given out during the first week of class and was worth a total of four points, according to the online description.

      ISU is located in Ames, about 35 miles north of Des Moines.

  16. My essay would begin: “How does a ragtag group of a few dozen militants get the United States to completely abandon its national priorities in less than 24 hours?”

  17. Well, while we’re at it, why don’t they create an assignment on a murder, written from the perspective of the domestic abuser who felt she had it coming because she dared to leave him? Or how about a crime from a pedophile’s point of view? A lynching from the KKK’s perspective, perhaps?

    Sure, the legislature has no business interfering with free speech or academic freedom. But when a university deliberately assigns such a topic, it should be prepared to deal with the backlash, also part of free speech and academic freedom.

    1. Pedophilia is a recognized thought/illness.

      ➡️ACTING⬅️ on those thoughts is another issue and may be a SERIOUS crime ‼️

    2. Paedophiles, wife beaters and Nazis are low-status in the view of arts-and-sciences faculties. Enemies of America are not.

      1. No kidding. I wonder what the reaction had been if they chose the gay nightclub terrorist attack instead as the topic.

        They should have expected this backlash. Even though the legislature should stay out of it, it was still a deliberate choice of a contentious topic that will, of course, prove contentious.

        1. There is nothing wrong with the Topic unless being educated in world affairs scares you

    3. Karen, As you often do, you nailed the crux of the matter. If only there were an intellectually honest and brave professor, he/she would give one of those assignments you mention. But alas…

    4. An honest response from Al Qaeda’s perspective would be an expose of the devastating consequences of the state sponsored false flag operation known as 9/11.

  18. We are a nation that loves to tell others what to do.

    I believe that our desire to judge other people’s actions come in part from our good times – we all have enough time on our hands to look around for things that offend us.

    When I was a kid, the Jesuits taught me: “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”; good advice then and now.

    1. Perhaps a better phrase would be ‘we have BECOME a nation that love’s to be busy-bodies in other people’s affairs’.

      When did people forget that the country was founded on the notion a that a free people are allowed to think and do as their conscience believes to be forthright?

    2. I disagree, an intelligent lawyer knows the opponents case better than they do, if you want to be a Nation of leaders, that is where you start.

      I recall a WWII History class I took. It was based upon microeconomics. Why did Hilter take the position that he took, knowing that the economy was dealing with Hyper inflation and why Building up the military was a just expense in this economy. The one paper was the entire grade.

      If you are not aware during WWII and before the best Psychiatrist were hired by the US Department of War to Analyze the World Leaders behaviors and how to best deal with them. One of the books I read was An Examination of Hilter from cradle to leadership. Another factor folks probably are not aware of is that the Hilters War economy was based upon expansion of the drugs makers, speed was used heavily on its soldiers.

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