The Reporting of the September 11th Terrorist Attacks in American Social Studies Textbooks: A Muslim Perspective

By Saleem, Mohammed M.; Thomas, Michael K. | High School Journal, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

The Reporting of the September 11th Terrorist Attacks in American Social Studies Textbooks: A Muslim Perspective


Saleem, Mohammed M., Thomas, Michael K., High School Journal


This study analyzes the reporting of the September 11th terrorist attacks in social studies textbooks from a Muslim perspective and reports on findings from a study of the responses of American Muslim children to the treatment of the events of September 11th in social studies textbooks. Constructivist grounded theory was used to centralize the participant's perspective in the readings of social studies textbooks leading to emergent themes that developed into a theoretical framework about basic social processes within the reading. Propaganda-making is suggested here as a theoretical conceptualization of the processes undertaken by textbook authors, and the category "Muslim reactions" is suggested as a typology of Muslim responses to these characterizations. Exploring how readers engage with the text and how the text engages with the reader in the construction of knowledge, the framework developed in the study can be used to inform a culturally relevant pedagogy and curricula in the teaching of 9/11 in social studies classrooms.

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The post 9/11 antiterrorist rhetoric seduces us with its didactic "good-versus-evil" simplifications. The textbook wars in Texas and the debate over the so-called "ground zero mosque" and the burning of the Qur'an all represent a fundamental problem of integrating Muslims into American society (Castro, 2010). Such portrayals of the events are not unlike those mobilized during the witch-hunts that were equally vitriolic and persuasive in another era (Mahmood, 2001). The very term "terrorism" is a concept that mystifies rather than illuminates. The term is judiciously applied to non-Muslim perpetrators of violence but readily applied to Muslim counterparts.

The adrenaline-charged milieu in which the concept of terrorism flourishes has resulted in stereotyping the Muslim community in the United States. Schools have not escaped this rhetoric of good versus evil. Schools, as democratic institutions, can play a pivotal role in diffusing the tension between the Muslim minority and the hostile majority culture. Social studies classes are especially well-placed to discuss the impact of the September 11th terrorist attacks on the personal lives of educators and students.

As the 10th anniversary of the attacks approaches, memories of September 11th 2001 are still fresh in the public's mind. Which of those memories will become part of the official knowledge of September 11th in social studies textbooks? The politics of official knowledge are the politics of tacit agreement or compromise where the compromises that are formed favor dominant or privileged groups (Apple, 2000). Therefore, the presentation of the September 11th terrorist attacks in social studies textbooks can become a powerful medium for setting the stage for future discourses and for creating official memories of the event while also serving as an appropriate starting point for drawing down the rhetoric of mutual hostility.

This study analyzes the reporting of the September 11th terrorist attacks in social studies textbooks from a Muslim perspective with the expectation that such analysis will yield culturally-relevant pedagogy (Ladson-Billings, 1995) and material (relevant to the Arab and Muslim American culture) for training social studies teachers and increasing awareness among students and teachers of challenges faced by a minority culture living in a pluralist society. Further, this paper reports on findings from a study of the responses of American Muslim children to the treatment of the events of September 11th in social studies textbooks. These are children who are American citizens growing up in the United States and who attend American public schools. The perspective of these "consumers" of textbook content provides important insights into the impact of these treatments and may inform future discussions of textbook content.

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As different parts of the world become increasingly intertwined in this age of globalization, new understandings are essential for building genuine relationships that may lead to the emergence of possibilities for positive change. …

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