Dialectics of 9/11 and the War on Terror

Educational Responses

by Randa Elbih (Author)
©2018 Textbook XVI, 278 Pages
Series: Counterpoints, Volume 360


Dialectics of 9/11 and the War on Terror: Educational Responses examines how global financial and socio-political systems propagate a lopsided dialectic of current events that influences teachers’ pedagogies of 9/11 and the War on Terror. The lopsided dialectic is one that encourages patriotism and militarism, conceals imperialism, and shuts out Muslim voices. Interviews with Muslim American students and high school teachers plus textual analysis of high school U.S. history textbooks demonstrate how curriculum and educators impact marginalized students’ identities and sense of belonging. As Muslim students describe their isolation and fear, and teachers discuss the challenges they face, readers will also learn how "us versus them" rhetoric deflects attention from the erosion of democratic values and the underlying socio-economic reasons for the War on Terror.
Dialectics of 9/11 and the War on Terror: Educational Responses is easy-to-read and directed toward teachers, scholars, and curriculum developers, and includes actionable suggestions for teaching these topics in a balanced and holistic way. The ultimate goal of Dialectics of 9/11 and the War on Terror: Educational Responses is to grow critical dialectical pedagogy (CDP), a new introduction to the field of critical pedagogy, in order to nurture the next generation of global citizens. Dialectics of 9/11 and the War on Terror: Educational Responses can be used in teacher training, curriculum and instruction, multicultural education, secondary social studies education, research in education courses, as well as other areas of instruction.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance praise for Dialectics of 9/11 and the War on Terror
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1: Uncovering the Lopsided Dialectic of 9/11 and the War on Terror
  • References
  • Chapter 2: How Teaching Can Change the World?
  • How 9/11 Changed the United States
  • Why It Is Challenging to Teach About 9/11—And Why You Should Do It Anyway
  • Why So Few Students Study Controversial Current Events
  • Curriculum Influences: Socio-Political Ideologies
  • Curriculum Influences: Economic Ideologies
  • Teaching Back: What Teachers Can Do to Change Society
  • Critical Pedagogy: One of the Best Ways to Teach Back
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 3: Meet the Teachers
  • Before Osama bin Laden Died: A Few Conversations with Teachers
  • Grading Rubric
  • Unveiling Reality
  • Engage in Dialogue
  • Dismantle Hierarchy
  • Regard Students as Agents of Change
  • Evaluate Praxis of Others and Oneself
  • Work Towards a More Socially Just World
  • Self-Reflection Guide for Reader
  • Banking Educational Models
  • Problem-Posing Models
  • Meet the Teachers
  • Teacher #1: Linda
  • Linda: Banking versus Problem-Posing Educational Analysis
  • Teacher #2: Patrick
  • Patrick: Banking versus Problem-Posing Educational Analysis
  • Teacher #3: George
  • George: Banking versus Problem-Posing Educational Analysis
  • Teachers #4 and #5: Cain and Bill
  • Cain and Bill: Banking versus Problem-Posing Educational Analysis
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 4: Listening to the Missing Voices
  • Meet the Muslim American Students
  • Muslims: A New Enemy
  • The Results of Banking Education: Dehumanization of Muslims
  • The Results of Banking Education: Intolerance and Ignorance
  • Muslim American Identity: How Isolation and Discrimination Impact the Self
  • Can Muslim Americans Claim American-ness?
  • Can I Belong Here?: Discrimination and the Right to Citizenship
  • The Important Role of Teachers in Helping Muslim Students
  • Examples of Problem-Posing Teachers
  • Why Teachers Struggle to Help Muslim Students, and Why They Must
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 5: You Are What You Read: Textbooks and the Lopsided Dialectic
  • Textbooks and Curriculum Have Many Influences
  • Textbooks: Political and Ideological Tools
  • The Problem with Textbooks: They Are Seen as Unbiased and Truthful
  • Findings: Textbooks Prop Up an Unbalanced Dialectic through Bias
  • Examples of Bias: Nationalism
  • Examples of Bias: American Exceptionalism
  • Examples of Bias: The Language of Culture Clash
  • Findings: Textbooks Prop Up an Unbalanced Dialectic through Ignorance
  • Reinforcing Ignorance about History
  • Reinforcing Ignorance About Religion and Culture
  • Findings: Textbooks Spur a Lopsided Dialectic through Banking Education
  • Discouraging Critical Thinking and Supporting Existing Systems of Power
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 6: How Islamophobia Became Entertainment
  • What Is Islamophobia?
  • Role of the Media
  • Where the Media’s Power Comes from: Public Pedagogy and Selective Tradition
  • Muslims: The “Bad Guy”
  • Movies and Television
  • News Programs
  • Cartoons and Caricatures
  • Positive Treatment of Muslims in the Media
  • Muslims in the Media Outside of the United States
  • How Media Leads to Exclusion for Muslims in America
  • Social Exclusion Heightened for More “Muslim-looking” Individuals
  • Legal Influences on the Perception of Muslims
  • How Islamophobia in the Culture Impacts Schools
  • How Ignorance Creates Space for the Acceptance of Islamophobia
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 7: Islamophobia and What It Might be Hiding from You
  • History of Seeing Muslims as the “Bad Guy”
  • Political Motivations for Muslim Stereotypes in the Twentieth Century
  • Who Benefits from Fear of Muslims in the Post-9/11 World?
  • American Imperialism and Islamophobia
  • What Causes Terrorism?
  • Who Gets to Determine What Terrorism Is?
  • How Schools Perpetuate or Uncover Noncritical Discussions about Islamophobia
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 8: Solutions in Critical Dialectical Pedagogy (CDP)
  • What Teachers Can Do: Use Critical Dialectical Pedagogy
  • Differences between CDP and Problem-Posing Education
  • First Things First: Developing Critical Thinking Skills with CDP
  • Step 1: Mastering Dialectics
  • Step 2: Unveiling Reality
  • Step 3: Minimizing Hierarchy
  • Step 4: Focusing on Praxis (Reflection + Action)
  • Step 5: Teachers Helping Students to Realize That They Are the Agents of History
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 9: Thinking Critically Is Not Enough
  • Lesson Plans to Dialectically Teach about Current Events
  • Greater Knowledge of Muslims
  • Media Analysis
  • Economic Analysis
  • Textual Analysis
  • Historical Analysis
  • Legal Analysis
  • Foster Reflection and Personal Connection to Current Events Related to Muslims
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 10: Dialectics and the Future of Democracy: Next Steps
  • Evaluating CDP in the Classroom
  • CDP as Applied to Other Current Events and Political Movements
  • CDP and Its Impact on Society
  • CDP and Its Impact on Muslim American Youth
  • CDP and Its Impact on Diverse Muslim Populations
  • CDP and Triangulation of Data
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 11: Putting the Puzzle Pieces Together
  • The Problem: Teachers Are Not Teaching Critically about 9/11 and the War on Terror
  • The Result: Muslim American Students Experience Discrimination and Question Their Identities
  • Cause #1: Biased Textbooks and Curriculums
  • Cause #2: Islamophobia in the Culture
  • The Solution: Critical Dialectical Pedagogy
  • Where to Go from Here?
  • Index
  • Series index

| xi →


When I first moved from Egypt to the United States to pursue my graduate work, it was in a post-9/11 world. As a Muslim woman who wore hijab, I could not believe the way people treated me, and treated others who shared a similar physical profile. I began my career as an Art and Math middle school teacher, but quickly saw a need for more discussion on the treatment of 9/11 in the classroom, and for more awareness of the psychological and emotional impact of how 9/11 is taught on Muslim and Arab American students. I decided to pursue a doctoral degree unraveling why and how these misperceptions about Muslims grow, and what I, as a teacher, could do about them.

Most scholarly research on the implications of the War on Terror in school environments has centered upon the experience of Muslim American youth. My contribution to this field is a greater understanding of the role and experience of the educator, addressing specifically what teachers can do to improve their pedagogy and curriculum in regards to current events such as 9/11 and the War on Terror, as well as how they teach and talk about Islam. I saw a need for greater investigation of the connection between neoliberalism, terrorism, and education as it impacts textbooks, students, and teachers.

Unique about my research and this book is the triangulation of empirical data collected from teachers, students, and textbooks. This triangulation ← xi | xii → not only provides authenticity to the data and my interpretations, but also provides multiple perspectives to fully hone in on the question. By exploring these resources side by side, the reader will be able to connect the pieces of seemingly isolated events and people, and will achieve a holistic understanding of the War on Terror and its educational implications.

My research demonstrates the importance of rebuilding teachers’ social studies curriculum to educate students (and teachers) about who Muslims are, and to create greater nuance and depth in the understanding of the War on Terror. This is critical for the personal and professional development of Muslim Americans in the classroom, as well as instrumental in fostering critical thinking and empathy among all students. It is only through better education that we can combat cultural stereotypes and strengthen democratic values.

The book investigates the following questions: How do American teachers teach about current events such as 9/11 and the War on Terror? To what extent are teachers’ pedagogies, curriculum, and resources influenced by the current political context? What is the effect of this pedagogy and curriculum on Muslim American students? How can teachers prevent racism and xenophobia from spreading from the television into their classrooms and beyond? To answer these questions, I gathered empirical data through research conducted in 2010 and 2011 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Specifically, I interviewed nine Muslim American students and five high school teachers about their experiences discussing current events such as 9/11 and the War on Terror within the school system. I also conducted textual analysis of seven high school social studies textbooks commonly used in New Mexico. More details on the methods are presented in Chapters 3, 4, and 5, including how and where I conducted the study, how I selected the students and teachers interviewed, which textbooks I selected for analysis and why, and how I evaluated the data I collected.

Ultimately, my goals with this book are simple. I want to demonstrate that it is both urgent and possible for teachers to teach against oppression. One of the great injustices of our time is the way that innocent Muslims, especially those in high school, are pegged as dangerous and undesirable “others.” The psychological scars of this kind of isolation and disrespect are severe for them, yet also damaging for others who are taught that treating others in this manner is acceptable. In order to develop true democratic ideals of liberty and justice for all, we must re-evaluate how we teachers teach about current events, especially as they relate to 9/11 and the War on Terror.

| xiii →


It takes a lot of time and effort to write a book. This project would not have been possible without the many individuals and institutions that helped me along the way. This project grew out of my previous work at the University of New Mexico (UNM) and was made possible by the generous funding I received from Helen and Wilson Howard Ivins.

A special thanks goes out to Jasmin Zine. She is a great mentor and was the first person to encourage me to consider publishing my research, and for this, and her friendship, I am eternally grateful. I would also like to thank Rickey Lee Allen who first introduced me to critical pedagogy, Ruth Galvan Trinidad for carefully reading earlier writings of the material, and to Glenabah Martinez, Diane Torres-Velasquez, and my friend Daniel Sanford who provided insightful comments and resources that helped the project in its earlier stages.

My sincere gratitude goes to the Edit Prose team and especially my editor, Kathryn Curtis, for her patient support and valuable feedback that made this book shine. Also, many thanks to Jeannie Ballew, Senior Editor at Edit Prose, for her constructive comments along the way. I am also so pleased to showcase this book with such a highly regarded publishing company, Peter Lang, and a distinguished scholar and series editor, Shirley R. Steinberg. I am grateful to Jennifer Beszley (Production Editor), Sarah Bode (Acquisitions Editor), and ← xiii | xiv → Sara McBride (Editorial Assistant) at Peter Lang for guiding the manuscript through the production process.

I’d also like to extend my appreciation to University of Saint Joseph, Connecticut (USJ), where I continue to hone my teaching on these critical issues. Watching my students grow is such a blessing, and I am forever grateful to USJ’s commitment to social justice.

To my husband, Wesley Mueller; my daughters, Nour Osman & Maryam Mueller, and step-son, Dietrich Mueller: thank you for your support and understanding through my project. I could not have finished this without you by my side. Many thanks to my parents, Nabil Elbih, and Omneia Seoudi and my aunt, Ebtisam Wilkins for their continuous support and celebration of my accomplishments.

To Paulo Freire, a man I would have liked to meet, and to all critical pedagogues’ including Henry Giroux, Peter McLaren, Michael Apple, Noah DeLissovoy, Joe L. Kincheloe, and Shirley R. Steinberg. Your intellectual frameworks for critical pedagogy have helped shape the ideas of this book. Thank you all for your efforts towards developing a pedagogy that is intelligent and just.

Finally, I am indebted to the teachers and Muslim students who participated in this study, despite the challenges and pressures they faced. Their stories and experiences are the driving force behind this book.

| 1 →

· 1 ·


September 11, 2001 shocked the United States to its very core. New York City, a historic beacon of safety and an emblem for America’s grit and strength, was brought to her knees when two errant planes crashed into the Twin Towers. In the hours, days, and months that followed, the country struggled to make sense of what had happened and how to prevent it from ever happening again. However, in the wake of these horrific atrocities, the United States sacrificed the unalienable rights of her people out of fear. Espionage, torture, and discrimination against Muslim- and Arab-American citizens have left lasting effects on our media, culture, and school system. In a day and age where there are now videos games with the specific goal to kill all Muslims, it is unsurprising that most Muslim- and Arab-American high school students face daily harassment and a heightened incidence of suicide.

Statistics show increasing discrimination against Muslims at American schools, resulting in greater emotional and psychological stress. For instance, a 2014 Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR) study found that among the 621 Muslim students surveyed between the ages of 11 and 18 in California public schools, 55% reported being bullied. Because of this, it is probably unsurprising that around 83% do not feel safe enough in school to reveal their Muslim identity. Some students even reported receiving death ← 1 | 2 → threats, and almost one in five students experienced discrimination by a school staff member. All these factors combined lead to emotional and psychological stress among students. In worst-case scenarios, it might even lead to suicide. Focus News reports that the rate of Muslims committing suicide in Orange County and Los Angeles alone between 2006 and 2008 was 15.5 times higher than the rate in the previous ten years (Mogahed, 2009). Indeed, discrimination leads to emotional and psychological stresses among Muslim youth that have dire consequences including suicide.

These discriminatory acts are not limited to schools but extend out into society. Muslims are surrounded by offensive messages everywhere they go; on the street, at work, at the airport, and even at their places of worship. Here are just a few recent examples. In 2015, a Muslim woman, Darlene Hider, was yelled at for wearing her hijab on board a Delta Air Lines flight. The woman who harassed her yelled, “This is America!” Hider complained that Delta staff failed to defend her (Kuruvilla, 2015). Additionally, according to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Muslims filing complaints related to work discrimination have increased up nearly 60% from 2005 till 2009. In 2009 alone, Muslim workers filed 803 claims—445 of which were due to discharge, 291 due to harassment, and 185 were about terms and conditions of work (Greenhouse, 2010). One of the complaints mentioned in a New York Times article was by a Pakistani immigrant called Mohammad Kaleemuddin who worked for a construction company in Houston and got discharged after he complained about his supervisor and co-workers called him “Osama, al Qaeda, Taliban, and terrorist” (Greenhouse, 2010, para. 14). Hate crimes against Muslims specifically increased after the San Bernardino, California shooting by a Muslim couple that killed 14 people and injured 21 on December 2, 2015. During the same month following the events, 63 incidents of vandalism at mosques across the United States occurred, which tripled the number of incidents of 2014. Even congressman, Rep. André Carson, D-Indiana, received a death threat for being Muslim (Burke, 2015). These are only a few examples that expose a heightened discrimination against Muslims post 9/11.

But this discrimination is not limited to Muslims. The anti-Muslim fervor is so strong and so vitriolic that it extends to those who resemble them. For example, many studies show that Sikh students experience discrimination because they wear turbans and therefore are mistakenly perceived to be Muslims. A 2014 survey by the Sikh Coalition shows that 56% of Sikh students experience bullying and harassments, tied to the misperception of their peers. Often even Hindus are misperceived as Muslims and mistreated because of ← 2 | 3 → it. For instance, Bernie Sanders, the Democratic Party Presidential candidate, misperceived a Hindu man for a Muslim during MSNBC’s town hall on March 15, 2016 (Gabbay, 2016). Even Christian Arabs are often conflated with Muslims, and the consequences are grave. In August 2016, a Christian Arab in Oklahoma was murdered based on the assumption that he was a Muslim (CBN, 2016). Frequently, individuals who stereotypically resemble Muslims face discriminatory consequences.

Confusing Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs, as well as blaming an entire population for the actions of a few, points to a significant problem—ignorance. Most of the surveyed students in the Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR) study complained that their teachers failed to provide proper instruction about 9/11, and failed to address harassment against Muslim students by their peers. In the 2014 study of the Sikhs Coalition, 43% of participants believed that teachers and school administrations did not handle incidents of discrimination effectively. Is the reason ignorance, willful miseducation, or both? When all Muslims, Arabs, Sikhs, or Hindus are considered guilty by association for terroristic acts they did not commit, it is worth asking why and how these stereotypes—and their horrific consequences—exist?

It is not fair, of course, to blame the ills of society on only one of its sectors. That is not the aim of this book. However, it is worth understanding how certain sectors of society—such as education—may be complicit in perpetuating misunderstanding, and indirectly condoning violence against a denigrated people. For, truth be told, within the school system many students are not free to speak against these discriminatory narratives about Muslims. Students are often boxed in by an educational system that already provides all the “correct” answers for them. These answers so often foment the culture-clash mentality, with little encouragement for students to dig beneath the surface.

America’s reaction to the tragedy of 9/11 stigmatized all Muslims and Arabs, and any who resemble the newly constructed image of the hateful terrorist are guilty by association. The attention turned to Muslims and Arabs by media, textbooks, and the culture, in general, is responsible for constructing an environment wherein Muslim American students become undesirable and dangerous others. What is the role of the teacher in all of this?

Educators must understand the damaging impact certain narratives have on youth. These young people are American citizens, rejected by the society in which they legally belong. As a growing population of America’s future, teachers must understand what has been done to them, in order to prevent this unfair treatment from continuing in perpetuity. Teachers must learn to recognize the ← 3 | 4 → permeability between school and society so that instead of becoming tools of an unjust system, they can speak back to the one-sided perspective. This biased view creates a lopsided dialectic about Muslims, 9/11, and the War on Terror. It is this uneven dialogue that makes it easy to hate Muslims. As a teacher, it is critical to not only help students learn spelling and arithmetic but also to provide them the tools they will actually need to live their lives as global citizens. Teachers must consider how the rampant hatred of Muslims might impact their students, and how their students might then affect society.

The book suggests that ignorance and miseducation are as a result of a lopsided dialectic about 9/11 and the War on Terror in the media, textbooks, and society. If we consider a whole dialectic a sphere, a lopsided one is one with missing parts. The unbalanced discussion is one in which patriotism and militarism are exaggerated, and discussions of imperialism and Muslims sufferings are swept under the rug. The result of this uneven discourse is ignorance, intolerance, and discrimination. The problem is that this unidimensional conversation is contagious and affects Americans at educational institutions and in society in a complementary manner. The book examines how the crooked analysis is sustained and spread by a covert global financial and socio-political system that exists beyond the school borders yet controls and shapes teachers’ pedagogies, school and society. The book chapters unlock the secrets behind the lopsided dialectic one after the other in sequence. By the time the reader reaches Chapter 8, they will understand the severity of the problem, and be ready for the solutions.


XVI, 278
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (January)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XVI, 278 pp.

Biographical notes

Randa Elbih (Author)

Randa Elbih earned a Doctorate of Philosophy in the College of Education at the University of New Mexico. She is Assistant Professor of Social Studies and Urban Education at The University of Saint Joseph, Connecticut, and has published in The Social Studies and Educational Studies.


Title: Dialectics of 9/11 and the War on Terror
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