“After a terrorist attack like the one in Florida on Sunday, one of the first questions people always ask is: Why? Why would someone take the lives of innocent civilians who are total strangers? That is a question to which I have long sought an answer. But my search has led me instead to another question: Is an answer even possible?” P. Bergen, The New York Times
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
“To try to figure out why terrorists do what they do, researchers at the think tank New America and I reviewed court records in more than 300 cases of people charged with jihadist terrorism in the United States since Sept. 11, 2001, ranging from relatively trivial cases, like sending small sums of money to a foreign terrorist organization, to very serious ones, like murder. I have also spoken to terrorists’ families and friends and even, in some cases, to the terrorists themselves.
The easy explanation — that jihadist terrorists in the United States are mad or bad — proved simply wrong…I found that the perpetrators were generally motivated by a mix of factors, including militant Islamist ideology; dislike of American foreign policy in the Muslim world; a need to attach themselves to an ideology or organization that gave them a sense of purpose; and a cognitive opening to militant Islam that often was precipitated by personal disappointment, like the death of a parent.
But in each case, the proportion of the motivations varied. For instance, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of the two brothers who carried out the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, was a nonpracticing Muslim who became an Islamist militant once his dreams of becoming an Olympic boxer faded. On the other hand, his younger brother, Dzhokhar, never seemed to embrace militant Islam…David C. Headley of Chicago, who did much of the planning for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, in which more than 160 people were killed, was not an observant Muslim. He was motivated more by a passionate hatred of India… Given this, how should law enforcement respond?
Omar Mateen, the Orlando gunman, had been investigated by the F.B.I. twice. But at the time he didn’t appear to be far down the pathway to violence… Relatives say he expressed homophobic views. Co-workers say he also praised Al Qaeda and Hezbollah. There have also been suggestions that he might have been gay.
No doubt we will learn more in coming days. But it’s unlikely that anything will ever really explain why he did what he did. Perhaps that says something about the nature of evil, — that it is ultimately not fully explicable.”
“Anne Verrill, who owns Grace in Portland, named one of America’s 10 Most Beautiful Restaurants, and Foreside Tavern in Falmouth, told potential patrons if they support assault rifles, they are not welcome at her businesses.”
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Stimulating background knowledge: Brainstorming
Directions: Place students in groups, ask students to think about what they already know about the topic. Next, have students look at the picture(s) in the text and generate ideas or words that may be connected to the article. Debrief as a class and list these ideas on the board. Students can use a brainstorming chart for assistance.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- There has been more than 300 cases of terrorism in the United States.
- The easy explanation is that that terrorists in the US are mad.
- Around one in 10 had mental health problems.
- Nor were they typical career criminals.
- The perpetrators were generally motivated by Islamist ideology.
- In each case, the proportion of the motivations varied.
- Some were Muslim fundamentalists.
- He had his own half-baked opposition to American foreign policy.
- The massacre at Fort Hood was also motivated by Hasan’s personal problems.
- David C. Headley was not an observant Muslim.
Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.
Nidal Hasan, the Army/Amy major/minor who killed 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex., in 2009, seemed to be a more /classical/classic jihadist. He was a highly observant/observe Muslim who objected to American foreign policy. But according to Nader Hasan, a first cousin who had grew/grown up with him, the massacre at Fort Hood was also motivated by Nidal Hasan’s personal/personnel problems. He was unmarried, both his parents were dead, he had no real friends and a dreaded deployment/employment to Afghanistan loomed. He went postal/post, Nader Hasan told me, and he called it Islam.
Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage
Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.
- These stories underlines how hard it is to answer the question.
- It’s a useful reminder to journalists and politicians alike.
- F.B.I. behavioral analysts use a smart framework.
- He was hanging out with Bollywood stars.
- This approach are agnostic.
- We are learning bits and pieces about his possible motivations.
- No doubt we will learn more on coming days.
- When does the the pathway to violence begin?
- Of course, nothing is perfect.
Post Reading Activities
Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.
Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?
Directions: Place students in groups and have them discuss the following statement taken from the article. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following topics.
- “I found that the perpetrators were generally motivated by a mix of factors, including militant Islamist ideology; dislike of American foreign policy in the Muslim world; a need to attach themselves to an ideology or organization that gave them a sense of purpose…For many, joining a jihadist group or carrying out an attack allowed them to become heroes of their own story.”
Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the topic from the reading, two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.