News Observer : Distorting the study of 9/11 at UNC

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Distorting the study of 9/11 at UNC

-- The Sept. 11, 2001 images bring back memories of foreign places
-- Representing 9/11 has led to controversy in academic community
-- We must move on from the atrocity to better understand 9/11

By Neel Ahuja | September 19, 2015

On Sept. 11, 2001, I was a college student in Illinois. Like most Americans, I was stunned to witness the 9/11 attacks on television. Like many individuals with relatives who had survived atrocities, the images of destruction evoked for me connections to faraway places.

When I was a child, my father told me stories of his experience of resettlement as an 11-year-old refugee in India’s 1947 war of partition, recounting the loss of his home as he was driven out of the new land of Pakistan. The most vivid memory from these stories was the moment he traced a coin-sized circle on the palm of his hand to indicate the size of his daily ration of rice in the refugee camp.

Today, as refugees from Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan and elsewhere journey toward northwestern Europe, the knowledge that thousands are dying along the way provokes anger and frustration. “No one leaves home unless / home is the mouth of a shark,” writes poet Warsan Shire. And yet knowledge of the world’s shared exposure to violence revealed in the ruins of 9/11 or war-torn Syria might also be a resource for building a future in which one’s identity or birthplace will no longer mandate unequal vulnerability to premature death.

As this year’s anniversary of 9/11 approached, I had just convened my fall classes at UNC-Chapel Hill. I was teaching a course I designed called “Literature of 9/11,” which explores poetry, novels, films, comics, essays, journalism and documentary materials related to the public memory and legacies of the 9/11 attacks.

The course quickly became a topic of public debate. A first-year student who was not enrolled in my course declared that “Literature of 9/11” did not adequately represent victims. Based on a list of the assigned texts published by the campus bookstore, the student wrote on a national website that “the readings mostly focus on justifying the actions of terrorists – painting them as fighting against an American regime, or mistaken idealists, or good people.” The story went viral and was aired on one national cable news channel, reaching an audience of millions. A deluge of hateful email swamped my inbox; meanwhile, the university was flooded with calls to fire me and cut humanities funding.

There have been heated debates over how to ethically represent 9/11. Theodor Adorno famously wrote, “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” After 9/11, the sentiment was instead to publish photographs after 9/11 is barbaric.

On Aug. 26, my students read Tom Junod’s article on the famous “Falling Man” image depicting a man in mid-air as he jumped from the burning towers. We explored the controversies over this image and similar ones, like sculptor Eric Fischl’s Tumbling Woman, which was removed from Rockefeller Center after complaints about its graphic content. As we examined laments from relatives of the dead, we also viewed Alejandro Gonzales Iñarritu’s film about the victims who jumped from the towers.

The director blacks out the spectacle of the burning buildings and forces the viewer to zoom in on each falling individual, to hear the last phone calls of the victims on the planes and finally to listen to the sound of these human beings hitting the pavement at the moment of death. Disturbing as these scenes are, they attempt to individualize the dead, helping the filmmaker ask a question that on first glance seems to denounce religious extremism and on second seems more critical of the media’s obsessive repetition of the images of the falling towers: “Does God’s light guide us or blind us?”

Two days later, the story about our course began circulating online. It was disorienting to spend our class discussing the ethics of mourning and the application of Holocaust, postcolonial and trauma theories to 9/11, only to return to my office to find dozens of emails accusing me of sympathizing with terrorists, calling for the deportation or extermination of all Muslims or telling me to “go back where I came from.” (I was born in Nashville and grew up in Topeka, Kansas.)

One reason critics attacked me is that I teach three texts – “Poems from Guantánamo” and the novels “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” by Mohsin Hamid and “The Sirens of Baghdad” by Yasmina Khadra – that are easy to caricature as representing the viewpoints of terrorists. None of these texts is actually so one-dimensional. Khadra, for example, was an Algerian army officer who fought in that country’s civil war against Islamists, and his publisher brags that his books have been taught at West Point. Yet the book titles and authors’ names – along with the assumptions readers made about my own identity – left my course an easy target.

The student who criticized my course later admitted that he had never read any of the assigned texts. He just lifted impressions from reviews. Had, for him, reading itself become barbaric after 9/11?

This was a cynical attack on learning and an attempt to censor writing exploring the fraught histories of U.S. overseas military interventions. Yet reflecting on such topics is exactly the task that the memory of 9/11 and all other mass atrocities urgently requires of us.

Admirably, students at UNC have consistently opposed attempts to stifle public education and critical thought. This includes strong resistance to smear campaigns against UNC orchestrated by the John William Pope Center that aim to justify university budget cuts in order to advance the program of tax cuts being pushed by North Carolina’s state legislature.

It is time to end the hijacking of the public trauma of 9/11 for the service of such narrow political agendas. To ask critical questions about the legacies of mass atrocity is our collective responsibility. If we don’t answer that call, there will be no possibility of moving beyond the acts of retribution, hatred and fear that continue to remake today’s world in the image of Manhattan’s rubble.

Neel Ahuja is associate professor of English, comparative literature and geography at UNC-Chapel Hill. He is the author of “Bioinsecurities: Disease Interventions, Empire, and the Government of Species,” forthcoming from Duke University Press. He teaches the courses “Literature of 9/11” and “The New Wars” at UNC.

The controversy

Find a news article about Neel Ahuja’s class at and the original blog post at

NOTE: uh ... not! these are the links provided in the final note:

UNC’s ‘Literature of 9/11’ course sympathizes with terrorists, paints U.S. as imperialistic
Alec Dent | UNC Chapel Hill | August 28, 2015

UNC course on 9/11 criticized in conservative publications
By Jane Stancill | September 1, 2015


another link from the original:

Fox News Fooled By College Freshman Blogger In Attack On 9/11 Literature Course

and from this there are many others, including:

Newsweek : Florida Man Charged With Planning to Explode 9/11 Memorial

Friday, September 11, 2015

Florida Man Charged With Planning to Explode 9/11 Memorial

By Polly Mosendz | September 11, 2015

A 20-year-old Florida man made plans to destroy a September 11 memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, according to a criminal complaint filed in the Middle District of Florida.

Joshua Ryne Goldberg allegedly planned to have an accomplice carry out his plan on September 13, using a bomb.

He is charged with illegal distribution of information relating to explosives, destructive devices and weapons of mass destruction. On social media, Goldberg posed as an extremist based in Perth, Australia who planned to carry out attacks in that nation. An FBI official who was posing as a fellow jihadist spoke online with Goldberg regularly. Authorities were able to trace Goldberg’s IP address to his mother’s house in Florida.

“Have you decided what kind of attack to carry on 9/11, akhi? I was thinking a bombing. We could make pipe bombs and detonate them at a large public event,” Goldberg wrote, according to the criminal complaint. Using the pseudonym AusWitness, Goldberg provided instructions on how to make a pressure cooker bomb and selected the Kansas City 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb as the location for the attack. Rather than carry out the attack himself, Goldberg convinced the informant to bomb the memorial, the complaint says.

In messages to the informant, Goldberg advised him to purchase the bomb-making materials separately so as not to alert authorities to his plans. “When you go [to the memorial] to place the bomb, make sure the bomb is VERY well hidden.... Put the backpack near the crowd,” Goldberg wrote, according to the complaint.

In order to cause the most damage possible, Goldberg suggested filling the bomb with nails, glass and metal. “If you can, dip the screws and other shrapnel in rat poison before putting them in. that way, the kuffar who get hit by them will be more likely to die,” he wrote, the complaint says.

A search warrant was issued for Goldberg’s home on September 9 and it was then that he was detained. In conversations with authorities, Goldberg allegedly admitted to providing instructions on how to make a bomb and planning the Kansas City attack. “Goldberg stated he believed that the individual did intend to create functioning bombs and would actually attempt to use them to kill and injure persons,” the complaint reads.

Goldberg claims he planned to tell law enforcement about the bombing plan in advance so he would “receive credit for stopping the attack.”

Guardian : Frederick Forsyth: I was an MI6 agent

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Frederick Forsyth: I was an MI6 agent

Day of the Jackal author reveals in autobiography that he worked for the intelligence service for more than two decades

Alison Flood | September 1, 2015

Frederick Forsyth will admit in his forthcoming autobiography that he worked as an agent for MI6 for more than 20 years.

The bestselling thriller author, who was an RAF pilot and a journalist before turning to fiction with The Day of the Jackal, is due to release The Outsider next week. Forsyth has previously denied claims that he worked for MI6 – “Some said that I was a spook, but I just knew a few,” he told the Guardian in 2001 – but an extract from his memoir in the Sunday Times reveals how in late 1968 a “member of the Firm” - MI6 – called Ronnie sought him out.

The Nigeria-Biafra conflict had been ongoing for 15 months, and Ronnie needed “an asset deep inside the Biafran enclave, what he termed ‘someone in on the ground’”. Forsyth had been reporting from Biafra as a freelancer, and writes that “when I left for the return to the rainforest, he had one”.
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Forsyth says that he was simultaneously working as a stringer for various newspapers and magazines reporting on the conflict and the humanitarian disaster, and keeping Ronnie “informed of things that could not, for various reasons, emerge in the media”.

He told the BBC that he was not paid for the work he did. “There was a lot of volunteer assistance that was not charged for. The zeitgeist was different … the cold war was very much on,” he said. “If someone asked: ‘Can you see your way clear to do us a favour?’, it was very hard to say no.”

Forsyth’s reporting from Biafra provided the material for his first book, The Biafra Story, a non-fiction account of the breakaway state’s war with Nigeria. He also undertook fact-finding missions to Rhodesia and South Africa, and in 1973, two years after the publication of his debut novel The Day of the Jackal, went into East Germany to retrieve a package from an asset. He played the part of a British tourist visiting the Albertinum museum. “Graeco-Roman treasures were my new enthusiasm and there were books to study as if for an exam,” the author told the Sunday Times, which said that Forsyth was handed the files under a toilet door at the museum.

Forsyth said this weekend that he was making the revelation now because “it is 55, 60 years later. There have been memoirs written, highly secret minutes have been published. There’s no East Germany, no Stasi, no KGB, no Soviet Union, so where’s the harm?”

He also revealed that he had consulted MI6 over passages in his novels, which are known for their authenticity. “I had a number to ring,” he told the Sunday Times. “I would have a lunch at the club, I’d ask is it OK? They would check with their superiors, and then they would say yes, you can use that, with one proviso, that sheets must be provided for vetting – just in case I went too far.” Usually, he told the BBC, “the response was: ‘OK, Freddie!’”

The 77-year-old Forsyth is the author of 13 bestselling novels, including The Odessa File, The Dogs of War, The Devil’s Alternative and The Fourth Protocol. The Outsider will be published on 10 September, described by its publisher as “a candid look at an extraordinary life lived to the full, a life whose unique experiences have provided rich inspiration for 13 internationally bestselling thrillers”.