The Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab (The CELL) defines terrorism as the “premeditated use of violence targeting civilians or their property for political, religious, or ideological gain. It is a tactic to create an environment of fear, chaos, and intimidation in order to further terrorist objectives.” This quote comes directly from the entry wall of the CELL museum, where patrons immediately encounter a large piece of rusted shrapnel from the 9/11 World Trade Center attack, subtly linking to the American heartstring. This definition of terrorism, however, is the museum’s. The museum representative explained, ‘there is no agreed upon or singular definition for terrorism’. The CELL seeks to provide an inclusive understanding of terrorism through graphic videos, real artifacts, and interactive learning opportunities, but leaves a heavy aftertaste of nationalism undertones.
In 2008, the Mizel Institute, a nationally recognized, nonprofit institution, opened the CELL. Mizel’s website states, “The CELL confronts the threat of terrorism through its renowned event series, world-class exhibit and national training initiatives.” Before opening the CELL, the Mizel Institute funded the opening of the Mizel Museum. A sister museum now in Denver that showcased It Shall Be a Crown Upon Your Head: Headware Symbolism in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the first interfaith exhibition of its kind in the world. Understanding the CELL’s origins and supporters helps to define the museum’s motives.
Museum patrons experience graphic videos, view real artifacts, and learn about the history and warning signs of terrorism throughout the museum. Several rooms break-up the exhibit building in intensity before a panoramic simulation of a terrorist attack staged in downtown Denver. Displayed artifacts vary from around the world. An interactive discussion in the final training room explains, “This exhibit is designed to provoke questions about the critical balance between civil liberty…and the relationship between democratic societies and the governments they elect.” In the training room museum visitors are briefed through a video on the signs of terrorism.
The last room of the museum leaves a heavy sense of nationalism because, despite the museums best efforts to provoke questions about our civil liberties and our government, it highly personalizes the experience. The video and interactive quizzes on detecting terrorism read like a DMV or driving safety course. The signs listed, surveillance, elicitation, tests of security, funding, acquiring supplies, and deployment are at a higher functioning governmental level than most museum attendees are involved with. Therefore, asking questions about suspicious activity and eliciting civilians as government watch people does not help educate about terrorism, but causes fright and predetermined nationalist compliance. A better focus would be determining how our government is involved with the before listed signs of terrorism and deciding our duty as voting citizens to keeping our government’s powers in check.