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Terrorism a Decade after September 11

Summer 2011 | By Amy Patterson Neubert. Photo by $photocredit.value.

Each generation has its own set of "bad guys" as portrayed in the movies. During World War II, it was the Germans. During the Cold War, it was the Soviets. Since 2001, terrorists have filled that role. In today's technologically interconnected world, these depictions are sometimes painted with a broad brush and can go instantly viral, inciting furious reactions. A fall conference will examine how terrorism has been portrayed in American culture and literature since 9/11.

Ben Lawton, director of interdisciplinary Italian studies, has taught film courses for over three decades and his interest often focuses on how those images of the "bad guys" are created in film. Approximately two decades ago he began teaching a course titled The Mafia and the Movies. In the fall of 2008, as a reaction to the Persian Gulf War, the September 11. 2001 destruction of the World Towers and the "Global War on Terror," particularly in Afghanistan and in Iraq, he started teaching a new course: Terrorism and the Movies.

"In the former course, I had analyzed how the movies and the media created a demonstrably incorrect but widely accepted image of Italians and Italian-Americans as de facto inventors of organized crime," he explains. "In the latter, I began to analyze how, over time and from the perspective of different filmmakers from different countries, certain perceptions were created."

"More specifically," he adds, "in this course my students and I ask ourselves how and why movies depict some individuals and groups engaged in violent actions as 'terrorists' and others as 'freedom fighters.'"

Today's audiences all too frequently consume, without questioning, the images created by movies, websites, and other social media. That, says Lawton is why it is crucial for viewers to consider how individuals and groups are portrayed.

Nearly 100 scholars from Africa, India, Southwest Asia, Europe and North America will participate in the Purdue Re-Visioning Terrorism: An Interdisciplinary and International Conference that will be held on campus September 8-10. Among other things, they will discuss how terrorism has been viewed in American culture and literature; how pirates and bandits were perceived as terrorists by ancient Romans; and how 9/11 was depicted by political cartoonists in African newspapers.

"Why re-vision terrorism?" asks Elena Coda, co-organizer and an associate professor and chair of Arabic, Classics, Hebrew, and Italian in the School of Languages & Cultures. "We feel there is a challenge to bring a humanistic approach to go beyond the political or military perspective, and look more deeply at how terrorism is perceived, presented, and studied. It is clear that only knowledge and awareness of other cultures and languages can enable people to have a broader worldview. The conference will allow experts to come together to address terrorism -- one of the world's greatest challenges."

A complete schedule, biographic information about the speakers and registration details will be available at http://cla.purdue.edu/revisioning-terrorism. Papers and conference proceedings will be published online in 2012.

Funded by the Office of the Vice President for Research's Enhancing Research in the Humanities and the Arts Grant, and supported by the College of Liberal Arts, the School of Languages & Cultures, and by Modern Fiction Studies.

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