- The Washington Times - Monday, October 29, 2001

When Clovis Maksoud, professor of international affairs at American University, planned his syllabus last summer for the fall semester, he decided part of October would be devoted to the political situation in Iran. But that was before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"It's impossible to stick to the syllabus which was made in the summer," he says. "I mean, how can you teach the Middle East without talking about the current situation in Afghanistan?"
Many professors at universities in the District, Maryland and Virginia have changed their lectures to reflect the very different world the nation woke up to on Sept. 12.
Mr. Maksoud, a former Arab League representative to the United Nations, even calls the time before the terrorist attacks "prehistoric."
At George Washington University, Peter Raven-Hansen, professor of law, says his case studies for the spring for a course called National Security Law have had to be altered several times because of changes considered in the law involving certain aspects of national civil liberties.
"People in the area [of law] will have to continue to supplement their material" as the law changes, Mr. Raven-Hansen says. He says national security is in the limelight because of recent events, and he expects more students than the normal 50 or fewer will want to take his course in the spring.
At the University of Maryland, forums and teach-ins have taken placeseveral times a week since Sept. 11. Among last week's scheduled events were a round-table discussion that included Arab Fulbright students and a forum called "The Global Struggle Against Terror."
At Howard University, there has been more of the same.
"We're responding to what the students want. They want more courses on conflict resolution, the U.N. and the prevention of conflict," says Horace G. Dawson, director of the university's Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center.
"I think more people are even aspiring to a career in the foreign service," Mr. Dawson says.
Normally, fewer than 100 Howard University students take the Foreign Service exam in September. This year, more than 200 took it, Mr. Dawson says.

During a recent lecture, the one that was supposed to deal with Iranian politics, Mr. Maksoud, who is a Palestinian, instead spoke about what kind of regime can be expected after the military operation in Afghanistan and the importance of differentiating between fatalities in war and state-sponsored assassinations.
After Mr. Maksoud said he didn't think state-sponsored assassinations were a solution, one of his students questioned his reasoning.
"So you wouldn't support the assassination of bin Laden?" asked Dawn Tamir, a second-year graduate student.
"That's a tough question," Mr. Maksoud answered and then jokingly added, "I am going to decrease your grade."
On a serious note, Mr. Maksoud said that to assassinate Osama bin Laden might just create a martyr.
He then went on to say that both the United States and the Muslim world are "reassessing [their] pre-Sept. 11 policies and attitudes." One thing both sides have learned is the importance of words, or semantics, he adds.
When President Bush used the word crusade which Mr. Maksoud said can mean "mobilize" the Muslim world conjured up images of hordes of crusaders killing Muslims, and when Muslims used the word jihad which he says can mean "self-discipline" Americans imagined camel-riding swordsmen, he told the class.
"We can't use words loosely," Mr. Maksoud said. "We're learning that words are very crucial in their usage. Semantics in public diplomacy is very important."
Daniel Perry, who's also a second-year graduate student, says he's very pleased that Mr. Maksoud and other professors are changing their syllabuses to incorporate current events.
"I think it's great," Mr. Perry says. "I have been doing research on bin Laden for some time, so for me, it's about time [hes discussed in class]."
Other courses Mr. Perry is taking in which professors have changed their syllabuses include History and International Relations of the Kurds, Political Risk Analysis and United States Foreign Policy.
However, other students, such as Ms. Tamir, say there must be a balance between the content of the syllabus and the discussions of current events.
"We had to read this 500-page book, "Peace Process," and we haven't even discussed it yet," Ms. Tamir says.
The book, by William B. Quandt, discusses American diplomacy and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
"I think we need the background to understand what's going on now," she says.

Aside from adding forums and changing course syllabuses, some university officials say the Sept. 11 event may lead to more of an interest in foreign-policy issues among students and society at large.
"We need to make this tragedy generate a more consistent foreign policy and sensitivity to the world outside our borders," says Peter Stearns, provost at George Mason University.
Mr. Stearns is the highest-ranking academic officer at George Mason University, and he says he expects more students to show interest and sign up for courses on international affairs courses in the future. He also expects the large number of public forums concerning Sept. 11 and its aftermath to continue.
Mr. Maksoud says that although nothing can minimize the pain and tragedy of the terrorist attacks, we may do well in looking at what we can learn from them.
"The catalyst was unfortunately a tragedy, but the positive side of it is there is an increased quest for knowledge," he says.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide