9/11: A New Meaning for Patriotism

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On September 11, 2001, three planes crashed in New York and Washington D.C. at the World Trade Center and Pentagon. It was found that Al-Qaeda, a terrorist group, had coordinated a mission to destroy these two buildings. A fourth plane was also hijacked but never reached its destination, eventually crashing into a field in Pennsylvania. 2,996 people lost their lives on that day, and it is estimated that over 6,000 people were injured in some way due to the terrorist attacks.

9/11 is widely considered to be one of, if not the worst attack on the United States. This past Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the attacks that changed the course of American history. While many Americans mourn and commemorate the innocent lives lost on this day,  it is also important to recognize the impact 9/11 had on a specific group of Americans.  

Preceding 9/11, the Transportation Security Administration(TSA) was nonexistent. The TSA is responsible for the security guards who run metal detectors and x-rays at U.S. airports. The Department of Homeland Security was formed after 9/11 as well. Many well-known agencies and security measures were put in place just after 2001. U.S. security measures became drastically different from what they had been before.

Additionally, throughout society, anyone who either followed Islam (or looked like they did) became targets of hate speech and violence directly after the attacks, with the first hate-related murder directly tied to the terrorist attacks occurring just a short four days after 9-11. A turbaned Sikh man named Balbir Singh Sodhi was brutally murdered by a man seeking revenge for the 9-11 attacks. The offense took place outside of Sodhi’s family-owned gas station; he had been mistaken for a Muslim and targeted due to his appearance. This horrific grudge that some Americans had towards Al-Qaeda became misplaced hatred in their own country, targeting a population of Muslim people, and unfortunately withstanding the test of time, as it is still a prevalent issue now 20 years later. 

From 2001 to 2002, anti-Muslim hate crime incidents in the U.S. rose from 28 to 481 according to FBI hate crime data. This is not unlike Japanese Internment camps after Pearl Harbor. History has only repeated itself. How can we as Americans justify targeting other Americans based on their beliefs and skin color? While some fly their American flags in patriotic ways and grieve the death of loved ones peacefully, extreme nationalists target what they see to be the problem: everyone who is linked or can be assumed to be linked to the small section of people at fault. Al-Qaeda is thought of as a “Muslim terrorist group” and while some part of that is true, we don’t ever consider the KKK a “Christian terrorist group” or most times, even a terrorist group at all. Both hate groups take extreme positions and warped interpretations of their religions, but the difference in public opinion, unfortunately, appears to lie within the skin color of the members.

We cannot keep this cycle of blame going — rinse and repeat. Someone needs to stand up for innocent people killed for their religions. America continues to make this same mistake throughout history. Someone needs to stand up for the lives of America’s marginalized groups. Who says we can’t mourn both of the victim pools? In no way, shape or form does justifying hate crimes towards innocent Muslim-Americans help America heal from the damage from a completely unrelated group of people. What we needed back then was unity, and for a while, America was focusing on rebuilding and revitalizing what it means to be a patriot. However, per the traditional American response, we ultimately pivot and point fingers.  We cannot keep blaming outside sources for the damage we cause. Yes, Al-Qaeda is to blame for 9/11 but America has to take the blame for allowing xenophobic views to evolve from a tragedy and transform into misplaced anger. 

Even now, people of color continue to be blamed for COVID-19, terrorism and other negative generalizations. Immigrants and people of color are not disposable; public relations stunts to diffuse blame from “us” to “them.”

 How can patriotism survive while nationalism is taking over the country?

We have a choice to mourn the victims or blame the innocent.

America has a staunch history of the latter. 

The United States cannot pander to racist and xenophobic people anymore. Hate crimes towards Muslim-Americans will not erase our history. 9/11 should have created unity, but instead, it created division.

What we truly need as a country is for more people to choose patriotism, unity and progress over nationalism, racism and ignorance.

We should stand for the Americans who were unjustly killed during the attacks of 9/11, and we should stand for the Americans who unjustly became victims of violence simply for being or looking Muslim.

When we lift each other up, America flourishes.

As a result of rising nationalism in America, it is also important to highlight that patriotism can be a positive and inclusive ideology.

True patriotism is taking action to make sure America is a country that all nationalities and all races want to be part of. The next generation of leaders, politicians and patriots can no longer allow scapegoating. Together–united–we can accomplish anything. Divided we accomplish nothing. 9/11 should be the motivation for Americans to accomplish unity for future generations.