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CAUT Bulletin Archives

June 2011

Al-Qaeda Goes to College

Impact of the War on Terror on American Higher Education

James Ottavio Castagnera. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2009; 205 pp; ISBN: 978-0-31336-428-0, cloth $49.95 USD.

Reviewed by Alex Morrison

Even before the disastrous events of Sept. 11, 2001, Canadian university faculty members and administrators had occasionally expressed concern about the potential for campus-aimed or campus-based assaults of a physical or intellectual nature. Since that fateful day, more attention has been focused informally and formally on university security of varied types. This book discusses many aspects of terrorism writ large and their actual or supposed relation to U.S. universities.

The author of Al-Qaeda Goes to College, a title seemingly chosen for its potential sales attraction, is a Philadelphia attorney, prolific writer and university counsel. His short biographical sketch notes he is an “academic fellow on terrorism” and, with colleagues, “studied counterterrorism techniques in Israel under the auspices of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.”

Naturally, Castagnera writes from an American point of view. Canadian readers should remember there are differences in thought processes between us and Americans. These must be borne in mind when absorbing the material he presents. Many Canadians may well think he is being alarmist and prone to exaggeration. He may well be, but his line of thinking and reasoning are not out of line with millions of his fellow American citizens.

In his forward, Dr. Daniel J. Julius, vice-president for academic affairs for the University of Alaska System, calls the book “provocative.” Indeed it is.

Castagnera outlines how American universities have been affected by the events of 9/11 and others of a less-horrendous but still significant scale that have taken place at various U.S. university campuses. He regrets “the unavoidable loss of that tweedy, mildly eccentric, and casual atmosphere that characterized college campuses for generations.” However, he argues that “on balance, American higher education is the better for rising to the challenges while embracing the many monetary benefits engendered by twenty-first-century terrorism.”

The challenges being, variously, academics who sympathize with the terrorists, students who may be members of terrorist networks, “creeping Sharia” law, radical groups, animal rights extremists, etc. The benefits he outlines include millions of dollars of government funding for campus security and terrorism-related research and donations from Saudi Arabia. Each is described in oft-times excruciating detail.

The recent assassination of Osama bin Laden has enhanced public interest in all aspects of terrorism. While readers may not agree with any or all of Castagnera’s ar­guments, it is useful to consult his book to be better informed on American thinking and to assess and speculate on whether his particular issues are currently valid in relation to events at Canadian universities or whether there is the potential for them to become so.

Alex Morrison is associate professor and director of the school of peace and conflict management and the comprehensive securities studies group at Royal Roads University.