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UW-Eau Claire Professors See Changed Classroom,
Provide Information Following Terrorists Attacks
MAILED: Feb. 7, 2002
EAU CLAIRE — In August 2001, at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Dr. Ali Abootalebi was spending his days teaching courses on international politics, politics in the Middle East and institutional foundations of the United Nations. Terrorism and Afghanistan seemed a far-off place. That all shifted on Sept. 11, 2001.
The terrorist attacks have markedly altered interest in particular subjects and has prompted a lot of questions, said Abootalebi, an associate professor of political science.
"Students are mostly interested in finding out why the terrorists targeted the United States and not other major western countries. They also want to know more about Islam - the religion as well as the politics of Islam," Abootalebi said.
While explaining the details of the situation takes more time than is available in a typical class, Abootalebi says he has tried to highlight and briefly discuss the major issues involved in understanding the politics of Islam and the behavior of governments in Muslim countries.
Students' hunger for classes related to the terrorist attacks has increased enrollment in courses on Islam, Arabic and international relations. Abootalebi, who taught a class on the Arab (Palestinian)-Israeli Conflict during the Winterim session, saw his class size increase by 50 percent after the attacks.
Abootalebi, a U.S. citizen and native of Tehran, Iran, has lived in the United States since 1977. He has taught at UW-Eau Claire for the past four years and to keep up with student demand is currently teaching a new course titled "Islam in the World: Political Perspectives."
"I have been pleasantly surprised by the heightened level of interest," Abootalebi said. "It is absolutely necessary to take advantage of this extremely brutal act of terrorism against the United States by at least teaching students and the public about Islam and the Middle East and such issues that up to now have attracted less attention."
Dr. Leonard Gambrell, chair of the political science department, said he also has noticed significant changes in the classroom and on campus since Sept. 11.
"Many discussions, like U.S. foreign policy objectives, military action and security issues, are not as abstract as they were before the attacks," Gambrell said, noting that he's using this opportunity to emphasize the importance of strategic, critical thinking.
While students have a need to learn more about Afghanistan, Islam and terrorism, it is important to balance these areas of interest with information about other security and domestic policy issues, Gambrell said.
"It's also important that we not be blinded by the emotions of an awful experience such as this," Gambrell said. "We do not want to destroy important freedoms and rights."
Since the attack on the World Trade Center, Abootalebi and Gambrell have been interviewed for local and national news stories, appeared on talk shows, presented at conferences and roundtable discussions, and talked to university and high school students.
Most notable among Abootalebi's activities associated with the terrorist attacks was his appearance on "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" Oct. 11, 2001, to talk about the Muslims, Osama bin Laden and the Middle East. He also was interviewed by phone from Cairo, Egypt, Nov. 15, 2001, by Associated Press writer Donna Bryson. His comments on Iran's role in the war in Afghanistan were included in a story titled "Watchers: Iran Had Motive to Help U.S."
Abootalebi and Gambrell have been excellent resources to local and national media, said Provost and Vice Chancellor Ronald Satz. "Their willingness to educate people about Muslims, Islam and American policies in Afghanistan - among other things - has been a benefit to UW-Eau Claire, the Chippewa Valley and beyond."
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Feb. 7, 2002