Remembering September 11th
Fear and Suspicion for Middle-Eastern American Students
||Remembering September 11th
Hiding a Heritage
Sara Tadros, an American Egyptian citizen, is a junior at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
On the morning of September 11th, my Dad woke me. He had been watching the news and heard the reports about the plane hitting the first tower. He told me that one tower had been hit; a plane had crashed into it. I thought I was dreaming. I got up and sat and watched the news with him. We saw the second plane hit the tower. Then we knew it had been planned.
Then we heard about the Pentagon. I thought it was the end of the world. I thought too when I heard they were terrorists and probably Arabs that college would never be the same again. Then I decided to go to school and see if I could get more information.
When I arrived at Stockton everything was crazy. All the television monitors were on and people were watching. I saw my friends, fellow Egyptians. They said, "Don't speak Arabic." Now when I speak Arabic people act like they are not safe and that I will kill them. Before when people asked what nationality I was and I said Egyptian, they were interested and would ask me questions. Now they regard me with suspicion because a number of the hijackers were Egyptian.
In the next weeks during discussions in class, I could never say the right thing. In one class I mentioned a fact about bin Laden and some said suspiciously, "How would you know?" I said, "Because I watch TV!" People also asked how I felt about what happened, as if I would feel different.
They also asked me if I am Christian, even though I wear a large cross. What do they think! Some Egyptian Muslims persecute Christians. In Egypt, there is still prejudice against Christians; for example, if there is a Christian and a Muslim who apply for the same job, equally qualified, the Muslim will get the job.
Before I was proud of my Egyptian heritage, now if people ask me if I am Puerto Rican or Hispanic, I just agree. Sometimes I feel sad that I can no longer tell people about my heritage.
Ozhan Akman, an American Turk, is a junior at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
I was in bed and my mother called my wife and me and said the Twin Towers were on fire. I thought to myself, "What's the big deal?" A fire? I went back to bed.
A few minutes later my mother called again and said, "Get up. Turn on the television." So I did and at first thought there had been an accident. I thought it was a mistake. Then I saw the second plane and I knew it was an attack.
My sense of security disappeared, especially when I heard about all the other attacks, on the Pentagon and the other crash. I thought to myself, "This is unbelievable." Because I am a Muslim, it made me fear even more.
I watched TV most of the rest of the day, and I was upset later when CNN showed some Middle Eastern country celebrating. I thought to myself that this couldn't be live because the TV showed it as daylight there and it couldn't have been because of the time difference. Not possible, I thought. It can't be live!
I was afraid for everyone and for myself too. I watched TV the whole time. I thought southern New Jersey was a safe spot.
I did call my brother who it turned out was stuck on the George Washington Bridge from the morning until 8PM. There was a bomb scare there too. My other brother who works at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) called and told us that the FAA had closed.
When I went to my job at the casino, I saw some hostility. Some people said racist remarks. One person in particular said all Muslims should go back where they came from. He kept this up all week. I somewhat understood his anger but also saw it as arrogance.
I think this was a wake up call to the United States. I think we need to give more aid to other countries so they will become more prosperous. It is the countries where the young have no future, nothing to lose, where we see these terrorists.
The irony is that my family and I came here for security. I have come to realize that security is a world problem not just an Asian or African problem. I thought America was untouchable. That idea was shattered on September 11th.
Sara Tadros, an Egyptian American, and Ozhan Akman, a Turkish American, are students at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. The events of September 11th have had an impact on their lives and have made them think deeply about what it means to be a hyphenated American, for example, Arab-American, Asian-American, etc.
1. In small groups interview your classmates about their responses to September 11th. Now a year since the attacks, do they see September 11th as a watershed?
2. Do your classmates think of people from other countries, especially those from Middle Eastern countries, as un-American or suspicious? Do they think the event still affects their lives even though the intense media coverage has declined?
3. Study your local newspaper for stories pertaining to September 11th and its legacy. In what ways does the event still appear in the news?
4. President Bush pleaded with Americans after September 11th to avoid stereotyping all Muslims. Yet how do you explain the kind of discrimination Ozhan and other Muslim Americans have experienced? More than seven months after the event, the New York Times on April 25th reported:
It is difficult to say for certain whether the shock of Sept. 11, followed by the war in Afghanistan, has set off a widespread public reaction against people who are Muslim or are presumed to be Muslim. What is clear is that many Muslims firmly believe that American attitudes toward them have become more negative and mistrustful.
In a national survey by the Zogby International polling company in March 2000, 39 percent of American Muslims polled reported having experienced discrimination because of their religion. Thirty-nine of Arab Americans polled said they had experienced prejudice based on their ethnic heritage. But feelings appeared to have shifted significantly after Sept.11. In November 2001, another Zogby poll found that 57 percent of American Muslims believed Americans held unfavorable opinions of Muslims and Arabs.
Student Activity 1
The Patriot Act: What Does It Mean to the American Way of Life?
The Patriot Act, passed on October 24, 2001, sought "to deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world, to enhance law investigatory tools, and for other purposes.
Libertarian groups have criticized the act for going too far in measures of security that might jeopardize Americans' civil rights. Patriotic groups argue that measures of additional security and law enforcement against potential terrorists are vital to the preservation of the American way of life.
The Table of Contents of the Patriot Act indicate the many ways in which the act affects the American way of life. As you review the sections of the legislation, consider how it affects the situation for students such as Sara and Ozhan. Also, consider how it touches on your fundamental liberties as an American.
1. Working in small groups, review the table of contents for the Patriot Act and discuss the many areas of American life affected by the legislation. Which sections stand out for your group? Which sections seem to limit rights of privacy? Why do you think so many sections deal with finances and banking?
2. What would you want to ask a lawyer to clarify in the Patriot Act? With so many references to specific statutes and former legislation, how would you recommend that a citizen become aware of the many ramifications of the Patriot Act?
3. What groups of Americans are affected by the Patriot Act? How do the sections of the legislation affect all Americans? In dealing with this, consider the statement attributed to Pastor Niemöeller, an opponent of the Nazi regime:
First they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out —
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the Socilists
and I did not speak out —
because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out —
because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out —
because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me —
and there was no one left
to speak for me.
Student Activity 2
The Sacramento Bee Incident
On December 15, 2001, Janie Besler Heaphy, Publisher and President of the Sacramento Bee, delivered a commencement speech at Sacramento State University. She pointed out that the Patriot Act and other recent security measures threatened American civil liberties and urged students to think about the implications of the security measures. Three fourths of the way through the speech members of the audience booed so loudly that the speaker was forced to stop and sat down. She opened the speech reminding students that the post September 11th world had challenges and that recently made decisions "will shape America's future."
The terrorist attacks awakened a sense of patriotism long dormant in this country.
We have been reminded of our greatness and how lucky we are to be Americans.
But that blessing comes with responsibilities.
It is our right, our privilege, our obligation to live and uphold America's values and ideals. And it is those values that I ask you to consider today.
[In the aftermath of the attacks, she explained, the first reaction was for revenge. Then there were considerations of protecting the homeland.]
No one argues the validity and need for both retaliation and security. But to what lengths are we willing to go to achieve them? Specifically, to what degree are we willing to compromise our civil liberties in the name of security?
Clearly, against the backdrop of fear and uncertainty we must re-evaluate our policies regarding surveillance and espionage. President Bush reminds us that we are at war against terrorism; that we are fighting acts of war on American soil, not mere crimes. As such, the government's surveillance power have been significantly expanded, with the FBI being allowed to eavesdrop on conversations between certain suspected terrorists and their defense attorneys.
But what would happen to our individual privacy if wiretaps were to become common and widespread?
Racial profiling, long opposed by civil libertarians, has gained support as an investigative tool-at least in specific, limited situations. Since September 11th the FBI has questioned about 5,000 Middle Eastern men in this country on temporary visas. And more than 1,000 people have been arrested or detained, many of them on visa violations unrelated to terrorism. Those being held have been stripped of their rights to due process. For the most part, they go unnamed, uncharged.
Perhaps most troubling is the establishment of a secret military tribunal that would be used to try accused terrorists. Because of the vagueness surrounding their parameters, these same tribunals could be applied to ordinary state or federal crimes and used for any of the nation's 20 million resident aliens. And what do the tribunals say about our willingness to suspend a suspect's rights?
President Bush defends the Administration's actions pertaining to the curtailment of civil liberties as necessary, under the circumstances. "We're an open society," President Bush says. "But we're at war. . . . And we must not let foreign enemies use the forums of liberty to destroy liberty itself."
On that last point, I absolutely agree with President Bush. Our liberty will not be assured until terrorism is wiped out. But we cannot allow our personal freedoms to erode in the process. It is for this very reason that we should question what the long term effect of some of the Administration's recent policies will have on our values.
[Just as she was about to argue that "The Constitution makes it our right to challenge government policies" Ms. Heaphy was forced to stop her speech.]
One student who heard the speech exclaimed that Ms. Heaphy brought on the negative crowd reaction. "The consensus," he continued, "was that this forum was neither the time nor the place to be making such strong political statements as she did." On the other hand, the President of Sacramento State, Dr. Gerth, maintained that he saw nothing that diverged from a basic American civics lesson.
"It is not only thoughtful, but extremely responsible," he said. "Ms. Heaphy chose to address the graduates about the essence of American freedom and civil liberties and the relationships of these to the events of September 11."
1. Studying the excerpts from Ms. Heaphy's speech and considering the event at which it was delivered, discuss whether or not you agree with the student or with the college president.
2. Should our civil liberties be curtailed or limited in time of war? Consider the present circumstances with the war against terrorism. Also consider the case of the Japanese American internment during World War II.
3. From what you have read of Ms. Heaphy's remarks would you consider her unpatriotic?
4. Why do you think Ms. Heaphy stirred up so many negative reactions with her remarks? How could she have made similar observations without creating such hostility from her audience?
5. Scholars and educators familiar with the Nazi era, remark on the gradual way in which the Nazis introduced their laws and decrees before the outbreak of World War II. One professor, interviewed after the war, remarked that once people realized that things were changing it was too late. "Now you live in a world of hate and fear," the professor explained, "and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone it transformed, no one is transformed." From what you have read about the post September 11th world, do you see the Sacramento Bee incident as a warning sign of loss of freedoms and a changing world? Discuss what signs you have seen or whether you have seen no signs of change.