Online Journal of Education, Media,
This issue on Terrorism is inspired by the events of 9/11, to combine
academic inquiry and discourse with journalism, personal testimony, poetry
and artwork. In addition to previously stated goals,
(see archived edition), this edition of OJEMH 1) encourages the development
and exchange of an international group of professors and students to cross
national boundaries in the discussion of terrorism; 2) incorporates current
events and media analyses into multidisciplinary/multigenre curricula
to help students deal with crises and catastrophes, 3) weaves personal
testimony, essay, memoir, poetry around academic writing not only as a
catharsis, but as a way to validate self in the midst of dangerous mass
The name of the journal has been changed from The Journal of Online Education (1998) to The Online Journal of Education, Media and Health in order to reflect its true cross disciplinary focus. The focal point of controversy of this edition is terrorism -- its causes, methods, goals and objectives, propaganda, coping, and then rebuilding and preventing future attacks. It includes all clashes and conflicts, whether you want to focus on the attacks on or by America, or the struggles between Israel and Palestine, India and Pakistan, the Philippines and their internal outlaws or any other place in the world, through historical or current studies.
The Table of Contents is in a "fluid state," as is the war
on terror, and you can submit at any time. Don't expect to see standard
web design or a consistent interface with this Journal.With all the online
education platforms such as Prometheus, Blackboard etc. there is a tendency
to package education into information boxes. As we struggle to make technology
"user friendly," we risk dumbing down our complex heritage of knowledge
into tight little info templates. If online education in 2002 is an effort
to create an objective body of knowledge that can be accessed by anyone
anywhere anytim,e this Journal is a deliberate attempt to mess up the
box.The internet is an excellent medium for the uncensored exchange of
opinions, multimedia expression, and information, hopefully knowledge,
from around the world. Because terrorism by its nature paralyses and locks
down its victims, the internet can be used as a medium to open up channels
of communication and to mitigate the impotency caused by terrorism's stultifying
blows. In this editorial, I will describe my approach to education and
terrorism in contrast to two other approaches: 1) to use education as
indoctrination or propaganda for terrorism, counter-terrorism or nationalism
and/or 2) to avoid all responses to current events and adhere to the tried
and true curricula at all costs.
On September 11, 2001 when the phones were down and the television stations kept replaying the destruction of the Twin Towers in Manhattan, the only communication possible with the world was through the internet. I received a message from my brother in Missouri about the World Trade Center attacks before I actually saw and smelled the smoke blowing north. If the media theorist Marshall McLuhan called radio hot and TV cool, I would say that the internet moves from freezing (all those frozen websites preserved in pixel immortality) to boiling, as in flame wars and hot new websites. However the medium is always fluid; cyberspace lacks the finality and closure of books, newspapers and magazines, and thank God, it cannot burn literally. It bubbles and boils but does not burn. Ironically, the Al Qaeda terrorists used the internet to communicate with each other, logging on at Kinko's, reading and writing the coded messages, and then disappearing without a trace, as anonymous as most internet users. Because of the dialectical nature of human intercourse, anything that can be used for a good purpose can also be abused for a bad one. We are here to discuss all these uses.
The attacks of September 11 were not the worst nor the last acts of terrorism. Israel insists that it has suffered more, and Palestinians say that the Israeli occupation is perpetual terror. 3000 victims pale in comparison to the 90 million killed in twentieth century wars. The fires of Hiroshima were hotter--5,400 F. and the aftereffects were far worse than the WTC cough and asbestos contamination. Innocent civilians in the Middle East have faced a far more perennial threat of terrorism than New Yorkers. But these attacks were visually dramatic, about as dramatic an image that could be captured in one shot through a camera lens. These events revealed a vulnerability in American hegemony previously undetected and the melting icons of wealth and power symbolized something, bad or good, to everyone in the world. After a suicide/homicide attack, Israeli medics and cleaners erase the damage as fast as possible, trying to destroy its memory, while New Yorkers are still arguing about how Ground Zero should be remembered. By connecting education with terrorism, we choose to remember, but remember creatively and cathartically, so that we are empowered rather than quagmired in the tragedy.
As a New York University professor teaching near Ground Zero, I was confronted with the challenge of teaching courses in rhetoric, global literature and media/communication to students rendered homeless, jobless, and traumatized by the terrorist attacks. Ultimately I was struggling with the questions: How can education be responsive, integrative, critical, creative, and cathartic in the midst of terror? This is ultimately a Western point of view, stressing as it does liberty, expression and even dissension. It is not always the best way to train soldiers who must eliminate layers of complexity and ambiguity in order to engage in the binary, us-versus-them art of war. It is not what basic Islamic education stresses in the madrasas where students learn classical Arabic, memorize the Koran, and then recite it five times a day. In the better universities in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt this religious devotion is combined successfully with training in science and technology, but the Western tradition of dialectical discourse in the humanities encouraging freedom of thought and expression is not always adopted. The more significant players of terrorist groups train in the best western schools but usually just for science, technology and/or business. Ironically, the Aghan training camps are responsive, integrative, creative, and cathartic from their point of view which is why so many talented, educated young men love to go there to fight the jihad, learn biochemical secrets, camp out and climb mountains, engage in role playing and terrorist skits and analyse the evils of America from their point of view. Still the goals of these camps were to create true believers not critical thinkers--romantic jihadhis who did not envision the ugliness, betrayal and pain of actions that would lead them to hell in a prison camp instead of that paradise where Allah waits for them with ruby crowns, honey, melon, grapes and 72 black-eyed virgins. The western world also harbors its share of true believers and some of my students from the Middle East felt that because of their homogenized media and education, Americans are the truest believers of them all. What can we, as educators, do about this?
I am advocating that when confronted with terrorism or a similar disaster, education should be responsive, integrative, critical, creative, cathartic and compassionate. One could argue that all education should be like this but I am talking about being directly responsive to the catastrophe, not ignoring it, as many professors did. There is a time and place to ignore reality: I never changed the curricula of my screenwriting classes because the students voted to continue with their stories. However, in rhetoric, media studies and global literature we were directly responsive to current events, which gave students a perspective on the horror that they would not otherwise have had.
When the hijacked planes slammed into the WTC on September 11, I was
in Starbucks, one of McWorld's castles. I had not seen the news that morning,
because before 9/11 I was so disgusted by the triviality of American network
programming, I never turned it on.(Now I watch Digital TV in French and
Arabic.) Anyway, when I began to pay for my coffee, the server said "It's
free." What? Free coffee at Starbucks? The world must be coming to
an end. He explained: "We have been attacked. We are at war. Enjoy
it, and the free muffin too. It may be your last. We are closing now."
Because teaching in University barely pays the rent, I also work as a
health professional doing exercise therapy, massage, and postural retraining.
On Tuesday night I received calls from many investment analysts and stockbrokers
who had spent the day running out of ground zero. While they weren't injured
enough to go to the hospital, they suffered from torn muscles, aching
joints and damaged psyches. I spent the following weeks walking around
Manhattan-- there was no public transportation to speak of-- doing house
calls for all these downtown workers. Then the next day I had to risk
the Lincoln Tunnel to go upstate to SUNY New Paltz to teach. On the weekend
I had to brave the fumes from ground zero to teach at NYU.
In some ways I disagree with McLuhan when he said the medium is always
the message because after 9/11, especially during the first commercial-free
week, I was inspired and impressed by the programming, by the coverage
of the events, the questions, the aesthetics, the sensitivity, even the
historical perspectives. I thought TV has once again fulfilled its early
promise of being a great national and international unifier. Then the
commercials came back, shorter more superficial coverage, censored events.
We no longer saw the rhetoric of the other side, as bin Laden's tapes
had been deemed inappropriate for Western broadcast. A month later, the
usual trivia reemerged and TV once more became a playground where we could
amuse ourselves to death.
The American media chose to depict 9/11 and its aftermath with the one
note purity of a tragedy, avoiding everyday clutter, ambiguity and mundanity.They
even cancelled the clutter of commercials for a week to keep their genre
pure. The following photos show the clutter when we actually walked through
the area. On television Ground Zero was immortalized with pristine images
of tragedy. Yet in actuality it was an untidy mess of damaged McWorld,
tattered memorials and
The students who lived near the WTC and had to evacuate their homes felt better when they could finally return and own their dust-covered rooms. The ones who just witnessed the event on television felt better when they could own the site, take pictures, stand on those grids and be comforted by the sight of the Statue of Liberty against the setting sun.
So how does one integrate these horrific events into a traditional academic
syllabus? Terrorism is the most relevant thing of the day as it has taken
over the real and electronic environments. Therefore the syllabus must
Jihad vs McWorld was my course theme for fall 2001 at NYU and SUNY, the theme I had chosen BEFORE 9/11. It was the way I would tie together the five courses I teach across four departments of writing, literature, media and communication. Inspired by Benjamin Barber's book Jihad vs McWorld, I had spent the summer collecting a bibliography that explored the Twilight of American Culture with such books as Amusing Ourselves to Death, White Noise, the Great Gatsby and global literature, God Dies by the Nile, Things Fall Apart, The Plague, No Exit. Little did I know how congruent my reading assignments were going to be with world events. The anthrax attacks occurred as we were reading Albert Camus' The Plague and students not only understood French existentialism better than before but were comforted by the way humans ultimately triumphed over the one of its greatest threats. My students have asked whether or not I'm psychic; my family was worried the FBI would call and ask if I knew anything about 9/11. Jihad vs McWorld: Whose Paradise is Lost is a syllabus instantly designed and sensitive to students needs and current events. The objectives and requirements of the course did not change-- only the focus on the specific readings.
One of my students, Sherida Davis-Bryan, wrote this poem/synopsis of the syllabus and how she sees the integration of the books with current events:
McWorld at Full Tilt
Sherida Davis-Bryan.The first week, while the students were reading Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman and Jihad vs McWorld by Benjamin Barber, the planes hit the towers on the fatal Tuesday, September 11.
Critical thinking requires some objectivity to analyse claims and bias, to debate all sides and to develop and refine logical arguments. After 9/11, the American media were heavily censored. My students wanted to know the other side, the stories the networks and/or Bush administration were afraid to tell. Fortunately one of my students, Fareed Tokhi, a Muslim from Afghanistan, predicted the jubilant liberation of Kandahar and other events that initially surprised us. He gave us a unique vision of how Afghans have merged with McWorld in these photos of his family in Afghanistan.When a student's emotions are subsumed by devastating world events, it is hard to hear a voice of reason that is uniquely one's own. I did not discourage emotional expression; on the contrary, I encouraged it, but developed role playing and dialectic to engage all points of view. In this diagram, Jane Schreck brainstorms the first categories that come to her mind about the Jihad vs McWorld conflict:
My Afghan student insisted that Muslims like McWorld. After prayers at
the Mosque they eat at Wendy's. All over the world they think our coke
is sweet, although our policies are poisonous. The Taliban stuff their
face with American donuts, spilling the fake chemical cream over those
long beards, even though they abhor our clothing and treatment of women.
In the clash between Jihad and McWorld students exposed my bias, the bias of an underpaid, elitist Western intellectual. Rejecting this binary thinking, Philip Simon did research on a new American syncretism. His abstract is as follows:
Nursing History's Clipped Branches in A New American Syncretism by Philip Simon
Our species memory threads through the fabric of modernity in a pattern no longer recognized for all its sublimity, terrifyingly sublime as traditions may sometimes be, yet Islams politicized tribalism itself offers a unique and adaptive vision of cognitive coherence in the model of the gnostic Ismaili sect. Can ascetic faith possibly combine with cosmopolitanism, schemes of social justice hand-in-glove with sophisticated economic exchange? Indeed the nature of both faith and material economy incline the contemporary observer and the popular mind to estimate and define the former by its fundamentals and the latter by its practical effects. All meaningful change takes place at the fundament of a system, though, and in such months as these since September 11th, 2001, when religious faiths fundamentals tend to be inductively associated with unilateral, isolated terror, and the politics of economy are called ever greater to account for discrepancies, for hypocrisy and mechanistic shortsightedness, an exploration of the material effects of spiritual belief countermand the non sequitur polarity with which the notion of absolute truth charges competing religious claims, and the social Darwinism by which one notion tends to subsume the Other. McWorld would swallow Jihad would swallow McWorld like Counts Ugolino feeding on the heads of each infernal neighbor for all eternity: the death of intellectual curiosity and spiritual courage are the death of enlightened citizenship, but the syncretic ideal upon which capitalist democracy was constitutionalized defines itself by the incorporation of effectively synergistic systems. In search of the Kantian meta-Rational noumenon, the Imams cognitive flexibility is a movement toward personal order within complex societies eternally-recurrent entropy.
When midtown Manhattan became an anthrax crime scene Jane Schreck sublimated her anguish into a collage. When all information is filtered through McNews' homogeneous channels, it is hard to be original enough to come up with something creative. In spite of its advantages, the internet is a minefield for plagiarism and recombinant thought. As soon as we get an original idea, all we have to do is type it into a URL and someone else's website with similar gems appears before our unconscious can ravel its ureka. In the past we could at least think we were original because we weren't sure what other civilisations were doing or had done. In the midst of terrorism and wars to counter terror, there is even less originality as normally creative, critical citizens are converted into true believers, swayed by the momentum of a life or spirit saving movement. What can a professor do to counteract the strong forces of conformity that wedge a terrified society into both real and imaginary constructs of safety? The first task is to nurture a sense of self through personal writing, hence the journals. Then to encourage a sense of play, an ability to take chances and risks safely, to let go of the chains of reality or at least manipulate them, to allow oneself the luxury of being wrong. While the students can play the roles of world leaders, they are fortunately still free to be themselves.The best antidote to the indoctrination that creates the true believers of terrorism is an educational process that enhances, encourages and develops self-expression, that provides a safe space for non-conforming individualists, and does not succumb to the censoring progaganda often necessary to wage war.
The homospatial imagery and Janusian thinking so often an essential part of creativity are painful experiences themselves, without the added trauma of terrorism. It's hard to capture and catharsize nightmares into art. So sometimes terrorism paralyses creativity. It is the job of the professor to create a safe, playful environment where students can explore the agony and ecstasy of their unconscious and take chances with its expression. Sometimes creativity leads to an even stronger expression of patriotism, as evidenced by this collage by Sherida Bryan-Davis.
Aristotle first defined cathartic as the orgasmic release of emotion that brings a sense of finality and relief, a necessary part of the crisis/climax/resolution of drama. One can speculate that Mohammed Atta and other hijackers felt the catharsis of their faith, fear and fury as they crashed into the towers. My students were left impotent, frustrated, frightened and confused by their actions, and then paralysed by the sweeping mass movement that followed to create enough American unity and patriotism to wage a war. First I encouraged personal expression in the emails, then journals and diaries with photos, then long, heated discussions and debates in class and on the listserv, some lecture demos like Jane Schreck's presentation on Middle Eastern dance where the students dressed up in the beautiful costumes she had gathered in her career as belly dancer, then finally a film, OSAMA COMES TO NEW PALTZ where students upstate metaphorically killed Osama in Tora Bora with Afghan Break Dance. Students in a Public Speaking class at SUNY New Paltz chose various leaders to play such as Tony Blair, Guiliani, Colin Powell, Osama, a Suicide Bomber, Maureen Dowd, George Carlin and the President of MTV. Mock UN debates, mock criminal trials of John Walker Lindh, and Zacarias Moussaoui, mock presidential and mayoral campaigns were organized for a SUNY argumentation class. In the Literature we acted out Jean Paul Sartre's No Exit as America began bombing Afghanistan. Deborah Drucker after 9/11 just wanted to see stand-up comedy so I suggested she write a research paper on Comic Perspectives on Terrorism. Sometimes the only thing we can do with pain is laugh at it.
To this list of responsive, integrative, critical, creative and cathartic, I must add the word compassionate so that in the imaginative concoction of utopian schemes and the cathartic fun of role playing, we do not lose sight of the ultimate morality of our actions or the empathy for people of different cultures and beliefs. Otherwise we let students stop after they have knocked down the bricks that built the castle in the human joy of nihilism; we allow them to define themselves ultimately as terrorists who worship the God of Death more than Allah, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu Gods, the God of Technology, Science or Money, Communism, Socialism or any other transcendental construction. Humans do well to try to transcend themselves but only with a sense of humor and humility and a tolerance for the imperfection of their fantasies. Only pure nihilism is perfect, because it is absolute. If al Qaeda could achieve its goals of turning the Western world into an apocalyptic wasteland, wrecking environmental destruction on the entire earth, what would be their plan of action? Would everyone live in this arid moonscape under a Taliban-style rule, where yearnings for change would be met with amputations, beheadings and stonings? The psychology of terrorists is that they are perenially discontent, always moving on, knocking down, destroying until they meet the God -- of death.
But Americans also have more subtle ways of destroying the globe with consumer-driven environmental policies, excessive development to the detriment of nature, unilateral political policies that ignore the will and ways of important countries, and a corporate hegemony that lets its waste grow like cancer. This is not to undermine the generous, protective spirit of Americans and the vital role they play to nurture and foster liberty and human rights. But there is a dialectic to everything and no one is immune from self criticism in the interests of global harmony.
After the play acting, self expression, vitriolic dialectic, and academic
discourse, we, as humans, have the responsibility of creating a global
community that is safe, peaceful, productive-- a home for the human race,
ever in danger of extinction when its hubris or violence outweighs its
capacity for reason and tolerance. None of my students ever lost sight
of this mission, of this need for a way to ensure continuity and avoid
apocalypse, not only of different human civilisations but of the environment
and health of the ecosphere.
As we struggle for peace and harmony in the global world in 2002, terrorism, defined as war by some, becomes the pervasive obstacle. Osama bin Laden categorizes Bush and Blair as bad terrorists, and al Qaeda as good terrorists.Bush sees binary clashes between freedom-lovers and evil doers, although these boundaries may be rather murky in practice. The Israelis call Yasser Arafat a terrorist but the Palestinians claim the Israelis, as oppressive occupiers, are the greatest terrorists of all. The CIA nurtured both Osama and Saddam Hussein as freedom fighters when U.S.foreign policy goals were different. One man's freedom fighter is the other's terrorist. Yet with the increasing threat of weapons of mass destruction, we must work a little harder to get along.While globalism can be suffocating if it becomes another empire fashioned after Rome, care, concern and communication among all beings are worthy goals if the human race is to survive. The internet can still embrace a global community in spite of corporate hegemony, university lockdowns, cyberterrorist cells, hackers heavens and pornography. Love it or hate, it is a microcosm of a world. Let's use it productively to create a more harmonious world community.