For one thing, the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the worst attack ever on American civilians, occurs this semester.
For another, there's a sense that today's undergraduates, who were still children in 2001, know about the event as history, but do not grasp how it affected daily life.
And there's the important research coming out of a Brandeis-based project that has extensively tracked and analyzed the activities of al-Qaeda in the West.
All these factors were involved in the decision by Jytte Klausen, the Lawrence A. Wien Professor of International Cooperation in the Department of Politics, to propose "The War on Global Terrorism" (POL 160a), a new course exploring how 9/11 changed Americans' lives.
The course surveys the buildup of al-Qaeda prior to the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent decade of counterterrorism efforts. It includes introduction to jihadist doctrines, to al-Qaeda's structure and to theories about the cause of terrorism.
"The course aims to take students back to what happened that day, why we weren't prepared, and what effect it has had since then on our liberties and freedoms," says Klausen, who is the author of two books about Muslims and the West. "It is also about how to fight terrorism without changing our own values."
"The War on Global Terrorism" is one of 41 new courses being offered this semester, including:
- Beatrice de Gasquet's "Behind the Veil: Religion, Race and Ethnicity in France" (IGS 110a), which will look at restrictions on the burqa and the debate on national identity that are now at the center of French life, and will consider factors such as post-colonialism, state-sponsored secularism and globalization. This is a one-time offering. President Fred Lawrence's "Seminar: Punishment and Crime" (POL 191a) examining theories that seek to justify criminal punishment and analyzing those theories through a series of case studies, including studies of hate crimes and the law of self-defense. Ann Lucas' "Music and Culture in the Middle East" (MUS 153a), a look at the relationship between various music traditions of the Middle East and their cultural contexts that also addresses issues of music's structure and content vis-à-vis its role in social, political and religious situations in the region.
Numerous other new courses explore science, the humanities and the arts around the world. [A listing of the new offerings is at the end of this article.]
Klausen's class on the war on terror is based in substantial part on research she and four students have produced through the Western Jihadism Project, which Klausen started in 2006 because she and Eliane Tschaen Barbieri, a post-doctoral fellow working with her, were dissatisfied with available data on al-Qaeda and counter-terrorism activities. The data was largely on a country-by-country basis because "that's what governments are interested in funding," Klausen says, "but it is not the way to study an international phenomenon. Our purpose was to get an all-encompassing database and start using sociological methods of analysis and theories about the life cycles of social movements."
Almost from the beginning, Klausen says, high student interest in the project's research was evident "but it's very difficult to talk with students about research until you know where you are going. You need to be able to talk about conclusions when you teach. Now I feel ready to do that."
The project so far has amassed and analyzed information on 2,000 people involved in jihadi networks in the West, and is working on about 500 additional individuals.
The team's work has begun to attract widespread attention. Aaron Y. Zelin, who received a master's in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies last year and now operates the website Jihadology, was quoted around the world when Osama Bin Laden was killed last spring because he was one of the few researchers able to tap into reactions on jihadi websites in Arabic. In addition, Conflict Records Research Center at the National Defense University recently made an agreement with Klausen to house her research archive, which will cover events from 1993 to 2013 when complete.
Operations of jihadist groups in the West continue to evolve, Klausen says, and "in just the last year, the feared Internet-based jihadism has appeared. They're moving onto social networking platforms en masse. Terrorism does not lurk in mosques anymore. They have been kicked out of the mosques and are now on Facebook."
Social networking media offer terror groups chances both to recruit and to hide in plain sight; there are so many sites and so much traffic that law enforcement officials – who often are ignorant about social networks – wind up looking for a needle in a haystack. Klausen offers as an example the group "Jihad for Poland," which is registered in California, and has no Polish content.