News From Terre Haute, Indiana

9/11: 10th Anniversary Coverage

September 10, 2011

TEACHING TRAGEDY: 9/11 attacks were a ‘historical turning point’

TERRE HAUTE — Incoming college freshmen this fall would have been about 8 years old when 9/11 occurred, and college faculty find that with each passing year, students know less and less about the terrorist attacks.

But they need to know and understand, says Mark Hamm, Indiana State University criminology professor. The 9/11 terrorist attack “is a historical turning point for this generation. It’s important they understand what it was and why it happened. … They need to understand why there has been such hatred against the U.S.”

Faculty from various disciplines at ISU, St. Mary-of-the-Woods College and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology incorporate 9/11 into their classes.

Hamm’s course, Introduction to Terrorism, includes 9/11 but doesn’t focus exclusively on it.

He provides background on Osama bin Laden and al-Al-qaida and why and how they orchestrated the attacks. Hamm incorporates readings as well as PBS “Frontline” videos.

Hamm teaches criminology and the class reflects that. “I put more emphasis on the criminology of the terrorist conspiracy as opposed to the underlying geopolitical event,” he said. “My emphasis is sort of along the lines of having students identify what the precursor crimes were.”

All acts of terrorism are preceded by a series of crimes that are necessary to carry out a terrorist attack, he said.

The terrorists made many mistakes, Hamm said, and if authorities had been more vigilant, they could potentially have stopped or lessened the magnitude of the 9/11 attacks.

Terrorists “are not criminal masterminds,” he said. Many times, there are multiple instances where they could have been arrested on minor charges, which could have pre-empted the attacks.

Mohamed Atta, the hijacker-pilot of American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the World Trade Center, had at least two visa violations and, in one instance, flew into the United States on an expired visa. Immigration authorities “let him in anyway,” Hamm said.

On the day of the terrorist attacks, Atta had an expired driver’s license, yet he still was able to fly out of Portland, Maine, and on to Boston. “Now if a driver has an expired license, we don’t get on the plane,” Hamm said.

There are several similar examples. An  FBI agent reported to superiors that several individuals from the Mideast were coming to the United States to take flight lessons, information initially provided by a concerned flight instructor. The report made it to Washington, D.C., but “got buried in a stack on a supervisor’s desk,” Hamm said.

Highlighting those errors might be considered Monday morning quarterbacking, but Hamm said it’s a way to learn from mistakes.

In explaining the terrorists’ hatred toward America, Hamm says that bin Laden laid out the reasons in his own words: U.S. troops in Arab lands; the Israeli/Palestinian conflict; the materialism of western culture and bin Laden’s “puritanical orientation toward Islam,” in which he believed the Islamic faith must return to its fundamental 7th Century principles.

A historical perspective on the present

ISU history professor emeritus Robert Hunter teaches about 9/11 as part of an upper division Modern Middle East course. He’s also lived in the Middle East for seven years, including three in Egypt, one in Lebanon and one in Tunisia.

He noted that the terrorist attacks sparked “an intense interest” among university students to learn more about Islam and the Middle East generally. “New positions were created in universities around the country for people like me, and enrollments in Arabic classes soared,” he said.

At ISU, his courses on the history of Islam and the modern Middle East are filled within 48 hours after pre-registration begins, he said. The Modern Middle East course deals with long-term patterns, trends and changes in the Middle East, and can provide context to understand the 9/11 attacks.

“To understand 911, you need a lot of background in Middle East society and culture,” he said.

He talks about 9/11 as an outcome of a whole series of developments in the region since 1967:

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