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Roots of Terrorism
teachers guide

  • Strategies for Discussion
  • Program Descriptions
  • Credits and Acknowledgments

  • Background
  • Key Events
  • Select Individuals by Program
  • Key Organizations
  • Maps of the Region
  • Country Briefings
  • "Basic Facts About Islam"

  • Classroom Activities
  • Activity 1: Roots of Hatred
  • Activity 2: Defining Terrorism
  • Activity 3: Defining an Ally
  • Activity 4: Views of bin Laden
  • Activity 5: U.N. Simulations
  • Activity 6: Making Connections
  • Activity 7: Media and Perception
  • Activity 8: Debates, Discussion Questions, and Writing Prompts
  • Activity 9: How Are You Being Represented?

  • Resources
    Where to go on the Web for more information

    In the wake of Sept. 11, FRONTLINE produced a series of documentaries, all of which dealt with the roots of terrorism and the complex evolution of U.S. policy and Islamic fundamentalism. Recognizing that students and teachers are now confronted with an ever-changing and ever-challenging global picture, FRONTLINE developed this guide to help teachers use the programs to meet a variety of instructional needs and to help students explore those intricate issues.

    This guide is recommended for students in grades 9-12 and beyond. It can be used in any or all of the following subject areas: civics, geography, global studies/world history, language arts, thinking and reasoning skills, and U.S. history. Further, the nine diverse classroom activities can be used with any of the FRONTLINE programs, except where noted.

    Strategies for Discussion

    Any activities related to the causes and consequences of terrorism can raise deep-seated emotions. Before you and your students engage in such activities, you may want to set ground rules for respectful discussion.

    In addition, to help students avoid slipping into restrictive "us vs. them" thinking, especially as they explore life in unfamiliar countries, you may want to suggest opening questions for their inquiry. For example, rather than looking for what is different, what they agree with or feel comfortable with, or what they like, encourage students to begin their investigations with the question, "What can I learn?" Also, be sure that students carefully evaluate sources to see which ones are crafted by observers from outside the culture and which are crafted by people from within the culture who are sharing their own experiences.

    Program Descriptions

    Here are brief descriptions of the four films on which this teachers guide is based. By clicking on the title of the program, you can visit each documentary's website, which includes extended transcripts with key individuals in the U.S. government and with other policy experts and journalists, as well as background information such as chronologies of key events and other analyses. Also, FRONTLINE's "Roots of Terrorism" site compiles all of its terrorism-related reports and is updated whenever FRONTLINE airs a new program on the subject.

    • "Hunting bin Laden": In this report, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated team of New York Times reporters and FRONTLINE correspondent Lowell Bergman investigates the man who declared holy war on the U.S. It offers insight into his life and motives -- from his formative experience in the Afghan jihad against the Soviets, to his scathing criticism of the Saudi royal family and his campaign to drive American "infidel" troops out of Saudi Arabia, to his statements and fatwas calling for the murder of Americans. (Original airdate April 13, 1999; updated and rebroadcast Sept. 13, 2001)
    • "Target America": Two decades ago, facing deadly threats against U.S. military and civilian personnel in the Middle East, the U.S. waged its first war on terrorism. In this report, FRONTLINE explores the story of this first war -- the military responses, the diplomatic maneuvering, the internal policy struggles within the Reagan White House -- and the lessons to be drawn from it. FRONTLINE revisits the key events of the U.S. confrontation with terrorism in the 1980s, from the release of American hostages in Iran and the attacks on the American embassy and Marines in Beirut, to the hijacking of TWA 847, the kidnappings of Americans in the Middle East, and the bombing of Pan Am 103. (Original airdate Oct. 4, 2001)
    • "Looking for Answers": In this report, produced in partnership with The New York Times, FRONTLINE investigates the Islamic terrorist network and the anti-American hatred that feeds it, and finds that the roots of that hatred are not found in Afghanistan but in the lands of two crucial U.S. allies in the Islamic world: Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The film traces the Islamic movement in Egypt from the 1920s to the mountains of Afghanistan, where Egypt's Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant, helps wage war on the United States and its allies. The film also explores critics' charges that the U.S. helps prop up a repressive monarchy in Saudi Arabia, home to one of the strictest forms of Islam -- and to most of the Sept. 11 hijackers. (Original airdate Oct. 9, 2001)
    • "Saudi Time Bomb?": Can America still count on one of its most important allies in the Arab world -- Saudi Arabia? Or does an undercurrent of militant Islamic fundamentalism threaten the stability of both Saudi Arabia and the entire region? FRONTLINE and The New York Times explore these and other questions in "Saudi Time Bomb?" This report outlines the history of U.S.-Saudi relations, the internal problems and contradictions within Saudi society, the growing Islamic fundamentalist movement that threatens Saudi Arabia's stability, and the troubling connections between Saudi Arabia and some Islamic religious schools, or madrassas, which propagate an extreme form of Islam, known as Wahhabism, throughout the Muslim world. (Original airdate Nov. 15, 2001)


    This teachers guide was written by Faith Rogow, Ph.D. It was developed by Simone Bloom Nathan, Ed.M., of Media Education Consultants, with input from FRONTLINE. Advisers to the guide were Deborah J. Gerner, professor of political science at the University of Kansas; Pat Grimmer, social studies chair at Carbondale (Ill.) High School; Mary Ann Tétreault, distinguished professor of international affairs at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas; and Karen Zill, manager of educational services and outreach at WETA in Washington, D.C. Special thanks to Rethinking Schools for providing permission to reprint articles from "Teaching in the Aftermath of the September 11th Tragedy," a special report.

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