Summer Course Analyzes Arguments Justifying U.S. Policy on Terrorism

Posted: June 27, 2002 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Michelle Nery

A special series of classes offered this summer seeks to examine the many issues raised as a result of the events of Sept. 11. The COMM 299 class, U.S. Policy Toward Terrorism: An Analysis of the Arguments Justifying the Policy, taught by communication professor Warren Decker, does just that. By examining the popular and public policy literature used to justify the fight against terrorism, students determine the quality of the arguments, conduct research to provide evidence to back up claims, and discuss possible solutions.

“One of my specialties is argument in relationship to public policy and the kinds of arguments used to justify public policy,” says Decker. Terrorism is a topic Decker has wanted to explore in his classes, especially since conducting research for two articles he wrote after the 1972 Munich Olympics, where 11 Israeli athletes were killed by members of Black September, a Palestinian guerrilla group. “It’s nice to be able to open this issue up in this class and discuss it,” he says.

The students recently reviewed Attorney General John Ashcroft’s testimony given on Sept. 24, 2001, before the House Committee on the Judiciary, in which he presented the administration’s draft of the Anti-Terror Act of 2001. “Political rhetoric is interesting, and it’s almost always devoid of evidence,” says Decker. Students spend much of their time learning how to conduct research to back up or refute claims, which is a skill they will need almost everywhere, he says.

Decker has found many parallels between this class and the Argument and Public Policy class he teaches during the year, in which students analyze U.S. drug policies. “I’d say a fair amount of terrorist funding comes from the illegal drug trade,” he says. “It’s frustrating that our drug policies are totally failing. You can’t run ads saying ‘don’t use drugs’. We’ve done that for 30 years and it doesn’t work.”

Decker and his students are also discussing possible solutions to the terrorist threats against the United States. “I think we should try to understand the motives behind these attacks and maybe we will be able to solve the problem. Most of our policies seem to be reactionary, and I think we should be looking into preventive medicine.”

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