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Critical thinking and terrorism

Note: The following page was prepared in the aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001 on the twin towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the Capitol building in Washington (the last one being thwarted by the actions of the passengers on board the hijacked plane). It was taken off the Web in late December 2001, and posted back on this site in October 2002, in response to a request. Many of the links below may now be inactive, and the information on the links which are still live may have changed. The reader is invited to use this page as an initial tool for investigation.

Critical thinking includes the skills of identifying, analyzing and evaluating arguments. But as an educational ideal, it is even broader, encompassing all "reasonable, reflective thinking about what to do and what to believe" (a definition provided by Robert Ennis, a leading researcher on the concept of critical thinking). It includes not only skills but also dispositions. Here are some of the critical thinking skills and dispositions useful in thinking about the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11:

In a "Lessons" column on September 19 in the New York Times, entitled "Teach More Than Where to Put H in Afghanistan," Richard Rothstein urges teachers to get their students to think critically about terrorism, in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Besides factual information, he writes, "Critical thinking requires sources with conflicting viewpoints. Giving teachers materials that show hostile ideologies to be based on more than jealousy does not imply sympathy for these views. But we cannot mobilize properly against foes we do not understand." You can read an abstract of his article for free at www.nytimes.com , but will now have to pay to get the full column.

For ongoing comments on media coverage of the September 11 attacks and subsequent response, see the Web sites of the Institute for Public Accuracy and of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting . (Media coverage in North America during this period has been exceptionally biased and propagandistic, in case you had not noticed.)

For the publicly available evidence that Osama bin Laden was behind the September 11 attacks, see http://www.number10.gov.uk .

For the historical background to the September 11 attacks, you might read an article by Rahul Bedi, correspondent for Jane's Defence Weekly in New Delhi, at http://www.janes.com/security/international_security/news/jdw/jdw010914_1_n.shtml , which traces the attacks back to the late 1970s and points out that Osama Bin Laden created the network al Qa'ida with the knowledge of the United States in 1988 and that the United States turned a blind eye to its formation.

There are a number of articles relating to the September 11 terrorist attacks on the Web site of the Israel-based International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism, whose Web site is at http://www.ict.org.il/ . There is a particularly interesting article at this site by Boaz Ganor, executive director of the Institute, "Fundamental Premises for Fighting Terrorism." The same Web site has a profile of the network called "al Qa'ida" (also spelled Al Qaeda, al-Qaida, etc.) established by Osama Bin Laden in 1988, at http://www.ict.org.il/inter_ter/orgdet.cfm?orgid=74 More recently, bin Laden has organized an even broader grouping called the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders.

You can find a list of other sites dealing with international terrorism and counter-terrorism at http://www.ict.org.il/links/frame.htm or at http://www.zgram.net/terrorismresources.htm There is a guide to research on terrorism at http://www.library.georgetown.edu/guides/terrorism/ which includes a link to Patterns of Global Terrorism , the annual review by the United States State Department of terrorist activities and incidents, including a chronology of events and a list of hostages.

You can find the text of an interview with Osama Bin Laden in late March 1997 at http://www.anusha.com/osamaint.htm and the text of a later interview, aired in June 1999, in which Bin Laden describes his origins and objectives at http://www.terrorism.com/terrorism/BinLadinTranscript.shtml .

There are of course hundreds of opinion pieces about the terrorist attacks and what the United States and other states opposed to international terrorism should do in response to them. One of the most interesting I have seen is a column by Jose Ramos Horta, East Timor's Foreign Minister (and representative in Australia from 1975 to 2000 for Fretilin, which carried on an armed struggle for the liberation of East Timor from occupation by Indonesia; as well as winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996); you can find his column at http://www.iht.com/articles/32777.html Of all the background pieces posted by the mass media on their Web sites, perhaps the best collection, with the largest quantity of primary sources, is that posted by the Public Broadcasting System in the United States at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/binladen/

For a thoughtful, well-informed and critical reaction to the response to the September 11 attacks chosen by the United States, see Noam Chomsky's comments at

http://monkeyfist.com:8080/ChomskyArchive/about/new_html . You can also find Chomsky's comments, along with other progressive voices, at Z Magazine . See also Common Dreams News Center .

There has been some speculation on why the terrorists chose September 11 for their attacks; since they could have chosen any day they liked, there is probably a reason connected with their aims for the choice of date. Of the three suggestions I have read about, two turned out on checking to be events which did not in fact occur on September 11-a nice example of "urban legends" in action. The Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt were in fact agreed to on September 17, 1978, not September 11; see http://www.usinfo.state.gov/regional/nea/summit/cdavid.htm . The second siege of Vienna, at which the Ottoman Empire was defeated, was fought on September 12, 1683, not September 11; see http://www.campus.northpark.edu/history/WebChron/EastEurope/ViennaSiege.html . The British mandate over Palestine, which authorized them to allow Jewish immigration into Palestine, did however begin on September 11, in 1922; see http://www.globalseek.net/ToDaY/SePTeMBeR/september11.html and also http://www.datesinhistory.com/cgi-bin/bigphp.phtml?v1=sep11 . None of the other events listed on this site as important historical events occurring on September 11 seem likely to have been significant for the terrorists.

For the more technical aspects of the attacks, you can read a column by an amateur pilot on how good the terrorists had to be to fly the planes they hijacked into the towers of the World Trade Center and into the Pentagon, at http://slate.msn.com/code/Explainer/Explainer.asp?Show=9/11/2001&idMessage=8270 . And you can read an account by the Civil Engineering Dept at Sydney University in Australia of why the towers collapsed after the attacks, at http://www.civil.usyd.edu.au/wtc.htm For a different perspective on why they collapsed, see http://www.smh.com.au/news/0109/24/world/world16.html , where Australia's leading architect is quoted as saying that they collapsed because they were cheap and poorly constructed, and that other tall skyscrapers would have survived an impact such as the towers of the World Trade Center suffered..

You can find a cartoon on critical thinking about terrorism at http://www.smh.com.au/news/0109/17/graphics/spike.gif

I would like to thank Jonathan Adler, Virginia Allen, Jean Goodwin, Peter McBurney, Michael Scriven, Keith Stenning, Simone Stumpf, and Tim van Gelder for references to informative Web sites, many of which I have mentioned above.

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