Remembering Sept. 11, 2001Photo

"I remember I was in kindergarten. I remember all the teachers were a little bit tense after it happened that day. I remember going home and my mom and dad were also very nervous, but that's honestly as much as I remember from that day." — Nikhil Nadler, freshman integrated life sciences major

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“I remember watching the TV in disbelief. I’m not normally an early morning person, but for some reason that morning I woke up early, and saw what was happening on CNN.  I was very freaked out. I had a young child at the time, so I was really worried about his world.” — Beth Knorr, senior human development and family studies major

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“It was a blue sky day, and I was dropping my daughter off at school. I looked up, and saw one plane fly over. I’m still haunted by the fact that I might have been looking at the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania.” — Allison Smith, geology professor

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"I remember them coming over the PA system at school, and telling us there had been a national tragedy, and all of us going down to the library of the school to watch the coverage on the television." — Andrew Onslow, junior accounting major

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“I was in third grade, and I remember everyone’s mom and dad was picking them up, and I was just wondering why my parents weren’t picking me up. All of the teachers were in a panic. Every year after that we would have a moment of silence on 9/11, but I didn’t really understand how tragic that day was until I was in fifth grade probably. I was too young to know what really happened at the time.” — Jessilyn Schroyer, senior chemistry major

As an Iraqi student attending an American university, post 9/11, economics graduate student Ismael Ismael knew he might face discrimination because of his nationality.

Ismael, who moved to Kent in October 2011 to complete his master’s degree, remembers taking a taxi one day shortly after arriving in Kent, and striking up a conversation with the American cabbie.

Although Ismael was in no way involved in the 9/11 attacks, the driver, whose brother, a U.S. soldier, had been killed in Iraq, became agitated when he learned he was driving an Iraqi around.

“(He was thinking) this guy is from the same country (where) they killed my brother,” he said. “I talked with him, and (I told him) that I’m feeling bad for what happened to his brother. Not all people from that region in the Middle East are willing to (go to) war.”

Ismael’s is just one example of how the events of Sept. 11, 2001 transformed U.S. culture, and experts from Kent State’s political science department agree it has become clouded with fear, paranoia and misunderstanding.

Ismael, a native of Kurdistan, the northern region of Iraq, said he knew very little details when the United States was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, because the Iraqi media censored what it showed to the public.

Because he was nearly 6,000 miles away from New York City during the attacks, Ismael said his life was most affected by 9/11 after the fact.

He said many people stereotype him after hearing he is Iraqi, even though he has no connection or sympathies with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaida, who hijacked four airliners and crashed them into the Twin Towers, the World Trade Center and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

“Some people will stereotype that you’re Iraqi,” he said. “You are the one who’s holding an AK-47, which is not true for most of the Iraqis. It’s definitely hard to say that I’m from Iraq.”

Ismael’s is just one example of how the events of Sept. 11, 2001 transformed U.S. culture, and experts from Kent State’s political science department agree it has become clouded with fear, paranoia and misunderstanding. 

One of the biggest post-9/11 changes is “a deepening securitization of the American public,” said Joshua Stacher, a political science associate professor who studies authoritarianism and social movements in the Middle East and North Africa.

“We see this in airports, but we also now know…that our own government is not only trying to securitize our communication infrastructure against foreign threats, but also sort of domestically,” he said.

Stacher said he believes that since 9/11, the United States has infringed on citizens’ freedoms.

“Citizens have willingly given up rights because of silly statements like, ‘Well, it’s OK if they listen to my cell phone because I’m not doing anything wrong,’” he said. “And the funny thing is is that these people are not in fact terrorists, so in that they’re not doing anything wrong.”

Christopher Banks, a political science professor whose area of expertise includes terrorism, said he agrees that U.S. citizens are willing to give up rights for protection in the post-9/11 world.

“What most people would probably say in an opinion poll is that they’re willing to give up some of their privacy and willing to give up some of their civil rights and liberties in the hopes of being kept safe,” he said.

Even so, Banks said the U.S. has become less secure since 9/11.

“It’s driven a lot by the politics of fear,” he said. “The government response to 9/11 was to enact many legislative measures, along with executive orders, to try to get in front of the terrorism problem instead of reacting to it after the fact through criminal law.”

Banks said one of these legislative measures was the creation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which was created in November 2002 in response to the 9/11 attacks. The department is responsible for protecting the nation against terrorist attacks and natural disasters.

Another legislative measure, the creation of the USA PATRIOT Act, stands for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. President George W. Bush signed it into law on Oct. 26, 2001.

Foreign relations with the Middle East have also suffered in the years since 9/11. The United States has been the dominant country in the area since around 1973, Stacher said. 

However, the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the rise of the Mujahideen made increased tensions, leading the U.S. to go overboard with its involvement.

“I think our relationship with the Middle East has actually gotten worse,” Stacher said. “The United States has basically gotten a lot more insecure in the Middle East, which has increased its level of militarization of the region, both of arming and supporting authoritarian regimes and then also increasing the frequency in which it intervenes in the political systems and societies of these countries.”

Stacher said this has led the U.S. to involve itself in several countries, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Syria, instead of just one country, as it would have 15 to 20 years ago.

“There’s no evidence with the increased militarization of the region that we’ve actually decided that we are going to support democratic movements or democracy in the region,” he said. “Pretty much everywhere you look in the Middle East, the U.S. policies are not about producing democracy…All we’re doing is providing fertile ground for these militants, who are produced at the hands of their authoritarian regimes, to thrive.”

The 9/11 attacks also influenced U.S. immigration policies, Banks said. Stricter laws to prevent terrorists from entering our country have made it easier to kick immigrants out.            

“There’s plenty of changes in the law that make it a lot easier to deport people with criminal records based on the Patriot Act, and that’s not really a terrorist threat,” he said.

Banks said although there is an almost constant threat of terrorism in the world, the 9/11 attacks have created a sense of paranoia. 

“The fear of terrorism is perhaps more real to people than the actual threat of terrorism,” he said. “But that’s not denying there’s not a threat. Of course there’s a threat. How much of it is warranted to have this kind of response is certainly a debatable question.”

Stacher said one of the most concerning changes post-9/11 is the use of tactics domestically that were formerly only used overseas. These tactics include over-policing, torture, discrimination and stereotyping, he said.

“The tactics that were used in the global war on terror have all come home,” he said. “We see it in a lot of suburban [and] urban areas. The war or terror has come home.”

All of these factors seem to point toward a decrease in U.S. democracy, Stacher said.

“(It’s a) sign of the lack of health of this democracy as opposed to the increasing health of this democracy,” he said.

Stacher said he believes the U.S. public needs to become more educated about globalization and the rest of the world to combat this lack of democracy.

“We need to really increase our international awareness and our global literacy about the world,” he said.

Ismael also said he believes people need to become more culturally aware to understand Iraqis and others from the Middle East. He said people should not form stereotypes based on where someone is from.

“I think it negatively affects the culture sharing and the process of how smoothly we can get together as people from different parts of the world,” he said. “It kind of creates this stereotypical view about each other, like it’s both sides, they’re misunderstanding what happened.”

Contact Emily Mills at emills11@kent.edu.

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