Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Some thoughts on 9/11

Today is Wednesday, September 11, 2013.

People my parents age remember where they were when they heard that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and where they were when victory was declared in Europe and in Japan.  My generation remembers where they were when President John F. Kennedy was shot, when Robert Kennedy was shot, when Martin Luther King was shot, and when the World Trade Center towers were attacked on September 11, 2001.  

Today is the 12th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.  There's something about a cycle of twelve years that is important, and it's no coincidence that one whole generation is  two cycles of twelve years.  Kids who are in sixth grade this year were either not yet born or just born, so nobody who is in elementary school now has any personal memories of the event.  Kids who were in sixth grade when the attacks happened are young adults now, finishing up their schooling and starting out in careers, marriages and child-rearing.  People who were young adults then are mature adults now, poised to enter middle age.  People who were middle-aged then are now in late middle age, or entering those "golden years."   And people who were old then are really old now - or gone.   

Today the main news article on the front page of newspapers and news web sites is not the terrorist attacks on 9/11.  There are fewer pictures of the chaos and destruction in the media, and more pictures of the beautiful memorial at Ground Zero.  

After the attacks, Americans gave up some of their freedoms in the name of national security.  We put up with scanners at airports and long lines at TSA security gates, but we also learned that inspections were often cursory, and it was possible to get dangerous items through inspections.   We learned that a lot of innocent people whose only "crime" was to be from the wrong country a member of the wrong ethnic group have been profiled and harassed by TSA.   We learned that Native Americans, Latinos and others of Southern European descent are often mistaken for Middle Easterners.  The media has made much of catching a few potential terrorists, but we wonder, all the same, whether we are really that much safer.

After the attacks, we resolved as a nation to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but we haven't really done that.  Sure, the wind power industry has gotten off to a good, if slow, start, but we're no closer to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.  To quote a Readers' Digest article from 2011, "Although 87 percent of Americans believe the Gulf of Mexico hasn't fully recovered from the 2010 oil spill, 69 percent favor increased offshore drilling.  And while nearly two out of three Americans want more alternative energy development, 47 percent said (even right after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant meltdown) that nuclear power's benefits outweigh its risks, compared with the 38 percent who disagreed."

Americans in many ways are less tolerant of Islam than they have ever been.  Only one-third of all Americans hold a favorable view of Muslims.  Fortunately, those who do hold a favorable view, or at least a neutral one, tend to be more tolerant and more interested in learning about Islam.  Believe it or not, enrollment in Arabic classes at universities has tripled since 2001, and more college students study Arabic than Russian. 

In 2010 an Arab American won the Miss America beauty pageant.  Minnesotans elected a Muslim, Keith Ellison, to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2007 and he has been serving ever since.  Famous Arab Americans don't seem to have been affected that much in their professional life, but average citizens definitely felt more fear of surveillance after the attacks.  Not that the surveillance kept the Boston bomber brothers from doing their dastardly deed. A study done in 2006 found that both Arab-Americans and law enforcement personnel noticed an increase in reporting of false information in the form of anonymous tips. F.B.I. agents who responded to the tips found that many of them were actually the result of petty disputes, business competition and dating rivalries, according to the study.

We have more respect for military service personnel, local law enforcement, and firefighters now than we did before the attacks.  We still aren't doing a good job of welcoming our military veterans home after their term of service is up.  Vets' unemployment rate is much higher than the national average, and vets who have post traumatic emotional issues are not getting the mental health services they deserve.  Consequently, their suicide rate is very high.

One good thing that has happened after the attacks is a rise in the number of people who volunteer their services to help those in need.  Nearly 30 percent of Americans now volunteer their time, as opposed to only about 20 percent before the attacks.

On an individual level, some of us have become more vigilant when in crowded places, and we are more proactive about expressing our love and appreciation to family and friends.  Some of us have been less willing to travel far from home.

Americans are aware that we as a nation are no longer invincible, if we ever were.  We are more aware of what people of other nations think of us.  We are much less inclined to get into a war – witness the overwhelming disapproval that Americans, even liberals,  are currently expressing about attacking Syria, a Muslim nation.   More of us are becoming aware that the vast majority of Muslims were and are just as horrified about the attacks as non-Muslims were, that traditional, mainline Muslims have as dim a view of Islamic terrorists as many mainline Christians have of fundamentalist Christian extremists in the Westboro Baptist Church.  :-)

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