Historical Significance of 9/11

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For Americans, the date 9/11 holds much historical significance. On the eleventh day of September in 2001, there were a series of four attacks across the nation by the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda. These attacks were made against the United States as a whole, and serve as a political statement that has forever changed the world. Following 9/11, there was a unique juxtaposition between a country that was seemingly united in the wake of a great tragedy and a significant increase of intolerance of those individuals appearing to be of Middle Eastern descent or followers of Islam. Unfortunately, a lot of this intolerance has continued today or in similar ways regarding individuals whose identities are in contrast with others. As a result of 9/11, Americans may have gained an increased sense of nationalism and improved national security, but Americans have also adopted a negative, stereotypical view of Islam and people of Middle Eastern descent. 

In order to understand how nationalism, security, and stereotyping have impacted the nation, it will be necessary to understand a few of the specifics of the September 11 attacks. On the day of the attacks, 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked airplanes. These militants were assigned to complete suicide missions against targets in the United States (Riley 2018 329). There were four planes hijacked, two of which were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. The third plane hit the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., and the fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Almost 3,000 people were killed during the 9/11 terrorist attacks (Riley 2018 329). For most, however, the image that is commonly associated with the attacks would be the falling of the twin towers in the World Trade Center. 9/11 served as the first point in modern history where America was under attack for their ideologies, and not in response to prior military action.

At approximately 8:45 a.m., according to historians for HISTORY, an American Airlines Boeing 767 loaded with 20,000 gallons of jet fuel crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City, (9/11 Attacks). The crash left hundreds dead instantly. At this point, Americans were unaware of the reality of the crash, and assumed it was an accident. 18 minutes later, a second plane crashed into the South tower. The collision caused a massive explosion, which resulted in burning debris falling and threatening the entire city with toxic dust clouds. It immediately became clear that America was under attack, (9/11 Attacks).

Prior to 9/11, America had experienced small incidents of terrorism from Islamic forces, starting in the early 90's. Terrorism is defined as the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims, (Dictionary.com).  As mentioned, these attacks on 9/11 were the result of the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda. According to Jason Burke, a British journalist, al-Qaeda is more of an ideology than a political group, and that is what makes them especially dangerous (Burke 2004 18). The al Qaeda worldview, or "al Qaedaism," is growing stronger every day, according to Burke (Burke 2004 18). This ideology, despite its radicality, has been globally sustained by anti-Western, anti-Zionist, and anti-Semitic rhetoric. For this reason, it is difficult to wipe out the terrorist group completely.Al Qaedaism has adherents globally, and still poses a threat for that reason. The followers of today merely follow precepts, models, and methods. They act in the style of al Qaeda, but they are only part of al Qaeda in the very loosest sense, (Burke 2004 19). To this extent, American forces may have had difficulty targeting a specific group or person, because the terrorist network is large and loosely associated.

 Islamic militancy, while commonly believed to be inspired and created by Osama Bin Laden, has been around since long before Bin Laden's affiliation with Islamic terrorism. In the early 1990s in Algeria, Egypt, Bosnia, and Kashmir, there were several Islamic terrorist group acts of violence, all of which Bin Laden had no ties with. Bin Laden does, however, have minimal links to the 1993 World Trade Center attack. Even when bin Laden was based in Afghanistan in the late 1990s, it was often Islamic groups and individuals who sought him out for help in finding resources for preconceived attacks, not vice versa, (Burke 2004 20). As Islamic terrorists networks have continued to grow, Islamic groups have begun to seek other individuals, such as Jordanian activist Abu Musab al-Zarqaw. Again, the Islamic extremist terrorist group continues to thrive in many networks of training camps and political violence.

After the attacks, the nation as a whole made a conscious effort to improve security, specifically in airports. A key element of this framework included the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in March, 2003, bringing together 22 separate agencies and offices into a single, Cabinet-level department, (Homeland Security 2017). In addition, The Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative was created. This initiative was created in order to properly and effectively train state and local law enforcement (Homeland Security 2017). The goal is to be able to recognize behaviors and indicators related to terrorism, crime and other threats. Another element, The If You See Something Say Something„? campaign, was developed in order to encourage reporting of suspicious behaviors and raise public awareness (Homeland Security 2017). Another large aspect of the security changes implemented after 9/11 are the multiple screening stations added to airports. The DHS requires all airlines flying to the United States from foreign countries to provide Advance Passenger Information and Passenger Name Records prior to departure. In addition, airport security personnel are required to check 100 percent of passengers on flights flying to, from, or within the United States against government watchlists through its Secure Flight program, (Homeland Security 2017). Combined, all of these measures have significantly improved the security of airports across the nation.

Despite the horrors of the 9/11 attacks, the nation was able to rally together, creating an increased sense of nationalism that continues to benefit the country. Despite any political tensions or divisions among society, We were all Americans. We all felt the same loss, (O'Connor 2011). After the attacks, volunteerism grew across the country. Enlistment rates increased, and political leaders from different parties were united in a common experience. This, in turn, inspired people to be closer with their neighbors and their countrymen. This sense of nationalism is still seen today in many ways, and has carried and continued to grow over the decade and years since. Every year, on the anniversary of the attacks, Americans take to social media and news outlets to express their lamentations about the attacks. These memorials continue to unite the nation and serve as a reminder of the tragedy, which inspires the continual sense of nationalism throughout society. In this way, Americans are able to feel more connected to the country, their neighbors, and are able to value Western ideals.

While the nationalism was beneficial for uniting the country and recovery, it quickly translated into military action against the terrorists. Unfortunately, in reference to the eventual U.S. military response, former President George W. Bush declared, We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them,(O'Connor 2011). This statement, while effectively appealing to Americans,  acted as a catalyst for anti-Islamic sentiments and ideas within the nation. It also served as a point of division later on, because many Americans were against the 'no distinction' tactics and were afraid of innocent deaths in the Middle East.

 Operation Enduring Freedom is the American-led international efforts to destroy Bin Laden's terrorist network. The attack, beginning on October 7, had effectively removed al Qaeda from operational power. Despite this, the war continued into Pakistan. In June 2011, however, former President Barack Obama announced the beginning of large-scale troop withdrawals from Afghanistan. Since then, there continue to be many conflicting ideas on America's responsibility to apprehend Islamic terrorists and the military actions within the Middle East.

While America has been able to make many positive changes in the face of tragedy, there have also been several misunderstandings that lead to prejudice. In response to the increased nationalism and sense of community, there has been a rise in negative, stereotypical views of the Islamic community. The Islamic militants' main objective is not conquest, but to beat back what they perceive as an aggressive West,(Burke 2004 19). Many Americans have this misunderstood, and believe that Islamic groups as a whole are looking to take over the world. Most Muslims, however, tend to be fiercely protective of their faith and religious purity. Those who do not understand the Islamic faith have a hard time understanding the motivation behind the attacks. Upon further examination of Islamic values, however, it is easy to see how extreme fear of the 'aggressive West' has developed.

 In Islam there are several core values. These core values influence the norms within the Muslim society, and revolve around the idea of being selfless, grateful, and pure or holy (Nevo 35 1998). While the militants may hold an extreme view, the Islamic communities of the Middle East are known to have fears of westernization. This is due to the Islamic values of selflessness and being grateful for what has been provided. Since westernization is associated with capitalism and greed, and is in direct contrast with these Islamic ideals, it makes sense for the Islamic community to have internal fears of Western expansion of ideologies. Many of the Islamic values constitute the social norms of the society. For example, from the idea of selflessness, individuals are expected to live to serve others. This translates into fear of westernization because capitalistic values put the individual first in pursuit of financial security. The idea of being grateful means that all people should appreciate that Allah, the Islamic god, is all knowing and all powerful. The western tendency to question power and authority is shown through many elements of the American political system. American politicians are constantly in a struggle for power, and the many branches of the government keeps the country relatively balanced. To Muslim peoples, however, this constant checking and balancing done by the American government and supported by society is seen as distrust of those in power, which does not align with the idea of being grateful for those who are all knowing. The Islamic idea of purity means that one's thoughts and actions align with those of the prophet Muhammad. Western societies have created a successful market over the commodification and sexualization of the human body, and this is reflected in the media, wardrobes, and sexual actions of Americans. This is also another source of fear, because Muslim persons are accustomed to being modest in all areas of life, and even have very specific rules for dressing or veiling, and around whom they can unveil.

Overall, the ideologies of the Islamic faith inspire followers to, generally, be protective of their society because of the many associations between evil and Westernization. Understanding this, it is a bit easier to understand the basic source of the Islamic terrorist's view. An important distinction needs to be made, however, between all followers of the Islamic faith and Islamic terrorists. Unfortunately for Americans, this distinction is relatively non existent, and Americans in turn have developed severe stereotypes that continue to divide the nation. Common stereotypes for Muslim peoples are that they hate Christians, which constitute the majority religion in America. The reality is, Islam was actually developed from the same monotheistic tradition as Judaism and Christianity. To Muslims, Allah is the God of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mary (Teaching Tolerance). Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Mary all have significance within Christianity as well. As a result,, Muslim ideals and Christian ideals align in many ways. Another common stereotype is that Islamic followers promote violence and actually support terrorist groups like al Qaeda and ISIS. Islam totally prohibits terrorismthere is no text that endorses that, says Ameena Jandali of the Islamic Networks Group, a California-based nonprofit, which provides education about Islam and promotes respect for all faiths. Killing an innocent person is considered to be the greatest crime after worshiping another god, (Teaching Tolerance). If Americans understood this, it would be much easier for the society as a whole to internally distinguish between Muslims and terrorists.

In conclusion, American society has proven itself to be resilient. In the face of tragedy, many were able to join forces in emergency response, recovery, and to help rebuild the World Trade Center after the attacks. The American government, when faced with new threats, successfully implemented several security measures and took action against the Islamic terrorist group. Americans, however, need to learn to distinguish between the Muslim community as a whole and those who are terrorists using fragments of Islamic values to justify terrorism against the idea of Westernization. Until then, Americans will continue to be divided among those who live in fear of a misidentified enemy and those who argue for peace and tolerance.

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Historical Significance Of 9/11. (2019, Dec 05). Retrieved December 2, 2023 , from

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