In honor of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, East Carolina University faculty, students and community members discussed the impact of the attacks and its relevance to political policies and current events at the Sept. 9 Cupola Conversations, “9/11: How Far Have We Come?”
Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Involvement and Leadership Erik Kneubuehl led the discussion over Microsoft Teams as the moderator of the event. Kneubuehl introduced the panel following an introduction and explanation of the attacks that took place on 9/11, 2001. Kneubuehl said in the years following, the attacks left effects on the nation’s military, public health and national policies.
“For many, it is hard to believe that this defining day in our nation’s modern history occurred twenty years ago. While for others, this day was only something you read about or watched video footage of,” Kneubhuel said. “For everyone in our country and across much of the world, these attacks have changed travel, foreign policy and have impacted families and communities on a very personal level.”
Panelist and President of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) Imaan Sidiqqi said though she was born months after the attacks, the legacy left by these events calls for reflection and solidarity among people of all ages. She said her mother and many other Muslims felt displacement and guilt following the attacks, as these events led to a growing intolerance for the Muslim and Arab community within the U.S.
Sidiqqi said many members of the Muslim and Arab community became targets for hate crimes and bigotry in the years after, which led to many Muslim Americans like her mother, who began to unite and take part in interfaith community service and activism. Rather than live in fear of the prejudice that stemmed from these events, Sidiqqi said members of the community turned to educate the nation about Islam and its culture.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is that this was a loss for Muslims as well as any other American,” Sidiqqi said. “The difference was that people like my parents and people like my mom felt that they couldn’t mourn openly.”
Mona Russell, associate professor of history and advisor for MSA, said there was an air of unification and cohesiveness among and for the Muslim and Arab community following the 9/11 attacks, though there are many difficulties the community still faces due to the policies passed. Due to the tension created by the attacks, Russell said many members of the Muslim and Arab community completed service work to teach the public about Islam and its values.
Many Muslim and Arab organizations and media presences were forced to outwardly condemn terrorism, Russell said, something that disturbed her as an Arab woman. She said the attacks have enforced dangerous Muslim and Arab stereotypes, including violent portrayals of the faith in the media.
“We’re really kind of seeing the repercussions of a lot of bad policies,” Russell said. “I mean, it’s not just one thing, you can’t just isolate, ‘Well, here’s what it is, this is what created why we are here today,’ there’s all kinds of problems.”
Associate professor of political science Armin Krishnan said the effects of the attacks still ring true today, in particular the war on terror, the set of foreign and domestic policies launched by the U.S. immediately following. He said the nation is still in the midst of its battle against extremism and that the freedoms of many Muslim and Arab citizens are still restricted by these policies.
Though he wasn’t present for the attacks, Krishnan said he felt the weight of the events as he watched them occur as a student. Social media has blurred the attacks within recent years, Krishnan said, and many facts about the day have been forgotten by the media since then. He said the nation has not made much progress since it began its war on terrorism, perhaps due to faulty policy and actions made in the events following the attacks.
“We should try to do a better job in terms of fighting terrorism without sacrificing our core values,” Krishnan said. “So, I think we need to make some adjustments both in our domestic policies, as well as our foreign policy.”
ECU alumnus and survivor of the attacks, Jeff Moore, said he recalls his day at the Pentagon at the time of the events very clearly and was present for the explosions caused by the American Airlines Flight 77’s crash into the building. He said since then, the attacks pushed him to pursue his Ph.D. in counter insurgency and create his intelligence company, Muir Analytics.
Moore said the events that took place have greatly influenced national security programs such as intelligence, military operations, local law enforcement and more. Though the war on terrorism seems to be a policy of the past, Moore said the war has not ended considering the resurgence of extremists in Afghanistan and the possibility of violence to come.
“We have wonderful abilities to capture and kill, but really to influence other people and to engage in counterinsurgency, unless you count the surge in Iraq, we have a very poor track record in that record,” Moore said. “So, I don’t think the legacy of 9/11 is yet written. I think we’ve got a long way to go.”
John Silvernail, director of the Pitt County Health Department and a first responder present at the 9/11 attacks, said he was chief medical officer for the New York State search and rescue team located in Albany, New York, and experienced the damage firsthand. He said his experience at the site of the attacks had both positive and negative effects on him for years later, and that the experience never truly “ended” for the former first responder.
The media has taken a part in the public’s view of the attacks, Silvernail said, as many documentaries encourage conspiracy theories and false ideas about the cause of these events. He said he does believe there is a possibility of another terrorist attack occurring in the U.S. in the future, especially after recent events in Afghanistan.
“I certainly hope we’ve learned something from this. From a response standpoint, one of the things that comes up over and over again is communications,” Silvernail said. “And yet communications remain a problem, both at a tactical and a national level.”