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Duke University

Understanding 9/11: Why 9/11 Happened & How Terrorism Affects Our World Today

Duke University via Coursera


This course will explore the forces that led to the 9/11 attacks and the policies the United States adopted in response. We will examine the phenomenon of modern terrorism, the development of the al Qai'da ideology, and the process by which individuals radicalize towards violence.


  • Week 1: Course Overview and the 9/11 Attacks
    • In this course, we will examine why al Qai-da attacked America. We will also examine the phenomenon of terrorism, in general, and the radical ideology developed and propagated by Osama bin Laden through al Qaida, more specifically. We will consider why individuals are attracted to this ideology and how they radicalize to violence. We will also explore how the United States addressed terrorism prior to 9/11 and the policy changes the US (and its allies around the globe) faced in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.
  • Week 2: What is Terrorism?
    • Our topic for this week is, what is terrorism. We will try to define terrorism and understand the actions that we're going to be studying in this course, 9/11 and its aftermath. We will examine one of the key debates in this area; can terrorism be executed by a state, or is it only the use of political violence by a non-state actor. You will also learn how to write a policy memo.
  • Week 3: A Primer on Islam
    • This week we have a special treat: we will have an extensive conversation with Imam Abdullah Antepli, the Islamic Chaplin here at Duke. We’ll cover a wide range of topics, including Islamic history, law, the role of women and the Muslim experience in the post – 9/11 world.
  • Week 4: The al Qai'da Ideology
    • Our topic for this week is the al Qaeda ideology. An ideology is essentially the set of beliefs that an individual, a group, or an organization has to either motivate them or to give that organization purpose. For al Qaeda, of course this is incredibly important because they're trying to motivate individuals to sacrifice their lives for what they view as a great cause.
  • Week 5: The Radicalization Process
    • This week we’ll examine how individuals become radicalized. We’ll see that there are multiple paths to radicalization where opportunity and chance play a significant role. Thus, radicalization is a complex process that defies simple explanation. We’ll conclude with a conversation with Peter Neumann, Professor of Security Studies at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London, and director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization.
  • Week 6: Counterterrorism Before 9/11
    • This week we’ll examine the three main US political philosophies that underlie the country’s approach to counterterrorism. We’ll look at the beginnings of the US response to this growing threat and how US agencies involved in counterterrorism efforts have adapted over time. Finally, we’ll examine how the US attempted to combat Osama bin Laden’s growing threat to US security.

  • Week 7: September 12, 2001
    • In this final week of the course we’ll speak with Juan Zarate , one of the key White House counter terrorism advisers in the second Bush administration, about US counterterrorism efforts since 9/11. We’ll look at the current state of threats to US interests from emerging actors, such as ISIS. Finally, we’ll look at the recent developments in the Middle East that affect US security.

Taught by

David Schanzer


2.5 rating, based on 2 Class Central reviews

4.7 rating at Coursera based on 116 ratings

Start your review of Understanding 9/11: Why 9/11 Happened & How Terrorism Affects Our World Today

  • Sergey Monin
    Simplistic and lack important historical details. The part on Al Qaida lacks important details about Pakistan and US support to Mujahadins in Afghanistan. There are better options for this subject.

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