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Roots of Terrorism
teachers guide

Classroom Activities

Activity 2: Defining Terrorism

  • 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

    This activity can be used with any of the FRONTLINE programs related to terrorism.

    This activity will provide students with an opportunity to:

    • Recognize that people disagree about who should or should not be labeled a "terrorist" and understand the sources of the disagreement.

    • Be able to define the words "terrorist" and "terrorism" and apply the definitions to present and past world events.

    • Identify inconsistencies in U.S. foreign policy relating to terrorism.

    • Explore the relationship between terrorism and the exercise of basic human rights.

    (This activity was adapted from Bill Bigelow's article "What is Terrorism? Who are the Terrorists?" which appeared in "War, Terrorism, and America's Classrooms," a special report by Rethinking Schools that is available online at http://www.rethinkingschools.org/sept11. Reprinted with permission.)


    In his Sept. 20, 2001, speech to America, President George W. Bush used the words "terror," "terrorist," or "terrorism," but he never defined the term. To help students clarify their ideas about what people mean when they use the word "terrorist," present them with the following scenario:

    "The government of Country A is very unhappy with the government of Country B, whose leaders came to power in a revolution that threw out the former Country B dictator. Country A decides to do everything in its power to overthrow the new leaders of Country B. It begins funding a guerrilla army that attacks Country B from another country next door. Country A also builds army bases in the next door country and allows the guerrilla army to use its bases. Country A supplies almost all of the weapons and supplies of the guerrilla army fighting Country B. The guerrillas generally try to avoid fighting Country B's army. Instead, they attack clinics, schools, and cooperative farms. Sometimes they mine the roads. Many, many civilians are killed and maimed by the Country A-supported guerrillas. Consistently, the guerrillas raid Country B and then retreat into the country next door where Country A has military bases."

    Then pose these follow-up questions:

    1. Which, if any, of these activities should be considered "terrorism" according to your definition?
    2. Who are the "terrorists"?
    3. What more would you need to know to be more sure of your answer?

    Continue the discussion by revealing that the scenario is a real example from the 1980s in which Country A is the United States, Country B is Nicaragua, and the country next door is Honduras. Ask students if this additional information challenges any of their ideas.

    Close the discussion by asking, "What difference do you think it would make if students all over the country were having the discussion that we're having today?"

    Related Web Materials

    FRONTLINE: The Roots of Terrorism
    Includes extended interviews, corollary readings, recommended links and resources, and other background materials.

    Rethinking Schools: "War, Terrorism, and America's Classrooms"
    The website for the progressive periodical Rethinking Schools includes its special issue on teaching after Sept. 11, with a more detailed description of this classroom activity, additional scenarios and definitions of terrorism, and a variety of other articles offering activity suggestions and resources.

    U.S. State Department
    Includes the full transcript of President Bush's address to the country in response to Sept. 11.

    United Nations
    Includes policy statements that provide detailed criteria for labeling something a "terrorist" act.

    Related Curriculum Standards

    11. Understands the role of diversity in American life and the importance of shared values, political beliefs, and civic beliefs in an increasingly diverse American society

    14. Understands issues concerning the disparities between ideals and reality in American political and social life

    21. Understands the formation and implementation of public policy

    22. Understands how the world is organized politically into nation-states, how nation-states interact with one another, and issues surrounding U.S. foreign policy

    23. Understands the impact of significant political and nonpolitical developments on the United States and other nations

    10. Understands basic concepts about international economics

    6. Understands that culture and experience influence people's perceptions of places and regions

    United States history
    30. Understands developments in foreign policy and domestic politics between the Nixon and Clinton presidencies

    31. Understands economic, social, and cultural developments in the contemporary United States

    Thinking and reasoning
    1. Understands and applies the basic principles of presenting an argument

    2. Understands and applies basic principles of logic and reasoning

    3. Effectively uses mental processes that are based on identifying similarities and differences

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