Dangerous Minds: Understanding Terrorism

MAS 620

We live in dangerous times. Violence, mischief, and mayhem have long characterized criminal behaviors that represent humanity’s dark underbelly. While it may be possible to isolate certain psychological types susceptible to recruitment by terrorist organizations, it is simplistic to profile individual terrorists and religious extremists without understanding the true nature of the systems that spawn them. Because we cannot separate individuals from the societies they belong to, it is essential to understand the cultural, political, and economic conditions that encourage terrorism and violence. In response to pervasive frustrations or manifold abuses, violence can transcend the individual to become governmental policies or social movements, propelled and justified by revolutionary ideology or religious beliefs. The course asks hard questions not only about the perpetrators of political and religious extremism around the world, but also about the social, economic, and political structures that give rise to violent acts against perceived enemies. The dangers we face in a liberal democracy are not imagined. The lesson of 9/11 is that our enemies are real. While we may easily identify one strand of radical Islamic orthodoxy as a legitimate enemy committed to our destruction, we must also ask what, if any, real differences separate a Christian fundamentalist who terrorizes abortion clinics in Florida from a Muslim suicide bomber intent on our destruction. More than an analysis of individual personality types, the course examines the premise that all social, political, and economic systems have their darker sides. It seeks to engage those contradictions through films, readings, and dialogue to imagine creative solutions that enhance our lives as well as transform the structures that encourage terrorism.

Course Summary: A broad overview of the course content and learning outcomes.

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