The Tuesday of September 11, 2001 created a national day of remembrance in addition to a shift in the movement of American (and global) culture.
I was six years old when the buildings crumbled. I remember an aunt coming to pick me up from school early. Her words, “We have to go. They bombin’ buildins.” At the time, I was extremely terrified and didn’t really understand what was happening. What I did understand was the global outrage and fear that fell upon the nation. I watched the crumble of buildings, the explosion of rubble, and frantic people running on the television screen. This played on a continuous loop for almost two days. There was general panic in my household. Talk of the apocalypse was reoccurring. “This is it,” my grandmother said repeatedly, “Our last days. He comin’ back like a thief in the night. We livin’ in our last days. This done kicked it off.” As a kid, with the continuous loop and the constant mention of “he comin’ back,” I too grew weary and anxious. There was an eerie silence accompanied by heightened sense of doom. The doom, however, was not the foreshadowing of future attacks on major cities but the attack of major communities/populations in the country (and out of the country).
Aside from the news and the feelings that followed 9/11, I remember the culture of revenge and anger that grew, especially toward people perceived as “middle eastern”. Even the phrase, “Never Forget,” sends a wave of distress to my mind. Of course, we should not forget the lives lost and honor them. But we should not use their deaths and injuries as a ploy for patriotism, war, and national racism. Nationally, we bought into the idea of a sorrowful, destroyed, and wounded country. Although the country was wounded and sullen, we didn’t use this opportunity to create cohesion and true appreciation for our citizens. Instead, the nation drafted “The War on Terrorism.” (The idea and language which was arguably borrowed from ‘The War on Drugs’ ). We bought into hypocritical ideology created by white supremacy that encouraged domestic terrorism on South Asian, Arab, and Muslims communities. All this under the guise of patriotism.
Not even Black communities were immune to the virus of patriotic rhetoric being spread through out the media. I remember teachers and adults in my community repeatedly using the words terrorists in connection with specific people. They would joke about not going to 7/11 because terrorists worked there and even grew cautious around people they perceived as people “looking like terrorists.” This caution coincided with prejudice. And so it had begun, the revenge culture. The shunning culture. The Xenophobic culture. The Islamophobic culture. The anti-Immigrant culture.
We devoured the idea of “one nation, under God,” so much so that war propaganda was able to be pushed into the forefront of our minds. Encouraging people to go to war, destroy foreign countries, and be proud because this would make you an American hero. The tragedy and loss of life was being used (and is still used) as a reason to be extremely racist and unwelcoming to immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries.
After 9/11, the federal government changed the way in which the country moved- ignoring domestic terrorist and hate crimes – especially within travel and immigration. For example, The USA Patriot Act, National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, and Special Registration program are initiatives aimed at “stopping terrorism” but really have affected large South Asian, Arab, and Muslim communities. These government policies leaned on creating hysteria surrounding “The War on Terrorism.” The constraints of these policies included things like men above a certain age registering with the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) from specific countries to somehow weed out terrorists.
In tandem with these policies and the rhetoric were hate crimes. Alongside people being attacked on the streets, mosques were burned, Islamic schools received death threats, personal property vandalized, and businesses were burned. Incidents liked these are still happening in this decade.
Even our pop culture took part in the conversation on terrorism. There was valiance displayed as well as “poking fun at ‘terrorism’. ” This really means poking fun at people we think are terrorist under the guise of patriotism but it really is racism or Islamophobia. Jeff Dunham and his puppet come to mind especially. I will not include a clip or name the puppet, however, the character was a dead suicide bomber with a terrible accident. Before that, of course South Park created an episode depicting Osama Bin Laden as a bumbling idiot and planting an American flag in foreign soil. Even a Marvel comic depicted a national tragedy that brought heroes and villains together. In the comic, the characters are so moved by the tragedy that even Dr. Doom cries. Pop Culture didn’t really show many positive or realistic images of people who weren’t white before 9/11. After 9/11, it seemed to maneuver in an odd way either vilifying, exploiting the national melancholy, or creating a heroic American image. Unfortunately, with every hero comes a villain. 9/11 created villains and an “enemy.” Not only heroes, angry Americans, and “the enemy;” we created scarred veterans and severed global relationships.
The second Tuesday of September 2001 created a national tragedy that spiraled into a culture of anger and revenge. The country was able to manipulate its entire population. Looking back, of course we would have wanted to prevent people dying and people being injured. We would have wanted to prevent sending more citizens to war. As a country, our biggest regret should be swallowing and consuming propaganda that promoted hate and pushed xenophobia and Islamophobia.
With more research, awareness, and the realization of the error of our ways, I hope we can create a better society moving forward.
There took some research to craft this piece. I will list some of the links below: