We will never forget 9/11
On September 11, 2001, 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group AL-Qaeda hijacked four airliners and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States. Two of the planes were flown into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a third plane hit the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., and the fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Often referred to as 9/11, the attacks resulted in extensive death and destruction, triggering major U.S. initiatives to combat terrorism and defining the presidency of George W. Bush. Over 3,000 people were killed during the attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., including more than 400 police officers and firefighters.
The dramatic September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center by radical Muslim terrorists thrust the Islamic faith into the national spotlight. Many Americans who had never given Islam a second thought before 9/11 now had to figure out how to make sense of these events and relate to the faith tradition that ostensibly inspired them. Their solutions have ranged from unthinking discrimination including 481 hate crimes against Muslims in 2002 – to ecumenical dialogue, peacemaking, and social action. Neither of these extremes, however, typifies the response of the average American. To construct a factual narrative of how Americans’ views unfolded during the 9/11 decade, we must turn to survey data that measures public opinion in the aggregate.
The attackers were Islamic terrorists from Saudi Arabia and several other Arab nations. Reportedly financed by Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist organization, they were allegedly acting in retaliation for America’s support of Israel, its involvement in the Persian Gulf War and its continued military presence in the Middle East. Some of the terrorists had lived in the United States for more than a year and had taken flying lessons at American commercial flight schools. Others had slipped into the country in the months before September 11 and acted as the “muscle” in the operation. The 19 terrorists easily smuggled box-cutters and knives through security at three East Coast airports and boarded four flights bound for California, chosen because the planes were loaded with fuel for the long transcontinental journey. Soon after takeoff, the terrorists commandeered the four planes and took the controls, transforming ordinary commuter jets into guided missiles.
The type of criticism that I notice throughout the 9/11 stories is historical. Many regard the September 11, 2001 attack as the most important event in American history. It killed more people inside U.S. boundaries than any other one-day event since the Pearl Harbor attack. Yet those who died in the horrific carnage in Manhattan, Washington, and Pennsylvania that Tuesday morning were only the most direct victims of the attack. Far more people would die and suffer in the ensuing "war on terror" the underpinning of unprecedented attacks on civil liberties and due process, the doctrine of preemptive attack on sovereign nations, an orgy of war and surveillance profiteering, and an accelerated dismantling of corporate and government accountability.The 9/11 attack legend was introduced nearly fully formed on the day of the attack. While many people questioned the story, one would never know that from television and print media. The legend is comforting in its simplicity: Bands of religious fanatics from the opposite side of the globe took advantage of our open society to fly planes into buildings, killing thousands.
The 9/11 attacks also changed our country. All across the US, panic and fear were rising quickly as we watched the towers, one by one, fall. Our beautiful country went into mourning. Hundreds from around the states rushed to New York City to try and ease the pain, helping pick up all the twisted metal, the tons of concrete, all hoping to find someone’s friend, family member, husband, wife, anyone. But even before the Towers fell, our country was changing. Selfless acts were put into action as regular people, firefighters, police officers, ran into the building, trying to get everyone else out. Their selfless acts are now prized. They sacrificed themselves to give everyone else a second chance to act or change as they were