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Literature of 9/11 college class accused of being 'sympathetic towards terrorism'

Literature of 9/11 college class accused of being 'sympathetic towards terrorism'
The twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York billow smoke after hijacked airliners crashed into them Sept. 11, 2001. (Henny Ray Abrams / AFP/Getty Images)

A student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has raised concerns about the school's Literature of 9/11 seminar course, claiming the required readings for the class are "sympathetic towards terrorism."

Alec Dent, a freshman journalism major at UNC, hasn't taken the class or read any of the books on the syllabus, but said he's concerned that the class isn't "fair and balanced," reports WRAL-TV. "The more research I did into it, the more it seemed like the readings were sympathetic towards terrorism," Dent said.

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The class, taught by UNC associate professor Neel Ahuja, requires students to read books including Mohsin Hamid's novel "The Reluctant Fundamentalist," Philip Metres' poetry collection "Sand Opera" and Art Spiegelman's graphic memoir "In the Shadow of No Towers."

Dent criticized the class in an article he wrote for the College Fix, a conservative website. In the article, Dent claimed that the materials on the course's syllabus "present terrorists in a sympathetic light and American political leaders as greedy, war hungry and corrupt."

"The readings mostly focus on justifying the actions of terrorists -- painting them as fighting against an American regime, or mistaken idealists, or good people just trying to do what they deem right," Dent wrote. "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."

Some current and former UNC students defended the course. In a comment posted to Dent's article, Alec Dragelin said he attended the class and, although he is a conservative, enjoyed it. "This article is nothing but gossip about a great course taught by an amazing professor," Dragelin wrote. "Additionally, through most of the semester and even in my final paper I actively disagreed with some of Neel's opinions. He in turn welcomed my arguments. As such, this course was amazingly valuable because it challenged my opinions and allowed me to explore what I thought I knew in a deeper way."

Dent, who said he did't want the class removed outright, agreed that it's "important" for students to be challenged, "[b]ut at the same time, I think you have to give equal showing to both sides of the issue."

Frank Pray, a UNC junior and chairman of the school's College Republicans, agreed with Dent. "I think there's a difference between understanding the mind-set of terrorists, and then having a book like 'Poems from Guantanamo' or 'Reluctant Fundamentalist,'" Pray told WTVD-TV. "That really says they could be justified in the violent acts that they're doing because of that mind-set."
Jim Gregory, a spokesman for the university, defended the class, noting that it's not a required course. "The university isn't forcing a set of beliefs on students; we're asking them to prepare for and engage in every lesson, debate and conversation, and share what they think," Gregory said in a statement. "Carolina offers academic courses to challenge students -- not to advocate one viewpoint over another."

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