Fox News highlighted a blog post by a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) freshman to attack an English course on the “literature of 9/11” for being one sided in favor of so-called “terrorists,” despite evidence that the course includes diverse perspectives on the attacks and the War on Terror that followed.
On the August 31 editions of Fox & Friends and Outnumbered, Fox hosts criticized a course offering at the University of North Carolina, entitled “The Literature of 9/11.” The segments drew from an August 28 post at the conservative blog The College Fix, written by a UNC freshman, that was also featured on FoxNews.com. Fox & Friends co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck claimed that the course did not represent the views of victims of the 9/11 attacks or their families, then briefly interviewed a man who lost his cousin in the attacks:
ELIZABETH HASSELBECK: Students at one of the top universities in the country will learn about the September 11th attacks through the eyes of the terrorists, instead of the victims. A UNC-Chapel Hill's freshman seminar class, “Literature of 9/11,” sympathizes with the terrorists who sparked the national tragedy, presenting America as imperialistic. Some of the required reading includes poetry by Guantanamo Bay detainees, but nothing at all from the perspective of September 11th victims or their families.
Outnumbered co-host Lisa “Kennedy” Montgomery introduced a segment on the class by citing The College Fix's claims that “None of the readings assigned in the freshman seminar present the Sept. 11 attacks from the perspective of those who died or from American families who lost loved ones.” The co-hosts then focused their discussion on the supposed “one-sided” perspective of the course, and questioned whether the class should be cancelled. Kennedy went on to read her own comic take on what a poem written by a Guantanamo detainee might sound like, and stated that “most of this writing would make great lining for the bottom of my parrot's cage”:
KENNEDY: I want to point out a little bit of the syllabus. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a little bit of literature told from the perspective of a Pakistani-American who finds America to be greedy and imperialist.
SANDRA SMITH: It appears from the course's online description, of which you read some of it, it says “We will explore a diverse array of themes related to the 9/11 attacks and the War on Terror.” A diverse array of themes. But, you-- going back, none of the readings assigned in the freshman seminar present the perspective of those who died, or the families who lost loved ones. How is that a diverse array of theme? There's no diversity in this course.
KENNEDY: It's not diverse at all. And I think we should offer a thousand dollars to the first student who takes this class from Professor Neel Ahuja and actually disagrees with him, and we'll see what kind of a grade they get. Because I guarantee you--
HEATHER MACDONALD: Right, because he will shut down debate, that professor. Yeah.
KENNEDY: I guarantee the first person who presents a logical argument for why much of this writing would make great lining for the bottom of my parrot's cage -- I don't have a parrot, but if I did I would probably line the bottom with a lot of this literature -- and, you know, present a more well-rounded opinion of what actually happened.
The course, titled “ENGL 072: Literature of 9/11,” is one of 82 freshman year seminar courses across all departments offered at UNC for the Fall 2015 semester, as of August 31. Professor Neel Ahuja, an Associate Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and Geography, has taught the course since 2010. The original College Fix post about the course also cited a UNC student-driven rating page called Blinkness, which posts anonymous comments from supposed former students, to suggest that Ahuja had a personal agenda. Professor Ahuja's rating page received just four relatively positive comments from 2010 through August 29, 2015, but has since been swarmed with dozens of hateful messages demanding that he be fired, deported, or handed over to the terror group ISIS. According to his personal website, Ahuja was raised in Topeka, Kansas.
In addition, the full list of assigned readings for the course does in fact contain diverse literature representing the perspectives of Arab-Americans, residents of New York City, members of the U.S. military and their families, survivors of the attacks, non-partisan terrorism researchers, artists, historians, musicians, and the international Muslim community, as well as several texts aimed to honor or memorialize victims of the attacks. Here are just a few examples the Fox hosts failed to mention:
- A photographic series exploring public 9/11 memorials
- A graphic novel about 9/11 written by Art Spiegelman, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who witnessed the attacks at close range
- A poem by Suheir Hammad, a Palestinian-American who writes about her brother in the U.S. military and her experience narrowly avoiding the World Trade Center on 9/11
- A poem in memory of the staff of the Windows on the World Restaurant who died in the 9/11 attacks
- Discussion of the famous “Falling Man” photograph capturing a 9/11 victim as he fell to his death, and the 2007 Don DeLillo novel about a 9/11 survivor inspired by it
- Excerpts from the non-partisan 9/11 Commission Report and the 2002 Justice Department “Bybee” memo authorizing torture against terror detainees
- Historical writings on the evolution of terrorism
- The film “Zero Dark Thirty,” which depicts the mission that captured and killed Osama bin Laden
The course does include a collection of poems written by detainees at Guantanamo Bay, but all of the selections were cleared for release by the United States military during the Bush administration. One of the poets was detained at 14 and held for seven years without charge before his release. Another poet, the only journalist ever held in Guantanamo, was also released without charge after seven years in captivity.