Professor asks students to write 9/11 essay from terrorists' perspective, sparking outrage

An international studies course assignment at Iowa State University asking students to explore 9/11 and al-Qaida's understanding of it is eliciting a strong reaction on social media.

Although the assignment says in its description that the exercise is not about “agree[ing] with the terrorists” but about “consider[ing] completely different perspectives,” it is nonetheless being interpreted differently.

For example, Fox News says in the opening of its story: "9/11 was bad. But let's pretend it wasn't. That's the challenge some International Studies students at Iowa State University faced."

The story was first reported by the College Fix. Here is a transcript of lecturer James Strohman's assignment for college students:

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"Let’s focus on the 911 terrorist attacked and how it might be interpreted differently by different people around the world. For this exercise, you have to 'get out of the box' of our thinking about what happened on 911 and view it from a completely different perspective. While this may seem difficult to do, it is merely an exercise in how different people, cultures, and historical perspectives may actually be.

"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. Use your imagination and make it as interesting as you like. There is no correct answer here, just your ability to look at what we consider a heinous action from other perspectives. Don’t worry about the fact you don’t agree with the terrorists, the point of the exercise is to consider completely different perspectives."

Iowa State University’s director of communications Rob Schweers responded to the outrage in an email to The College Fix.

“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,” he said, calling the assignment an exercise in critical thinking. “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 story includes the detail that Strohman did not respond for comment.

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