Remembering 9/11

It’s hard to believe 22 years have passed since the terrorist attacks of that day. I still remembering being on the way to work when I heard the news on the radio of the first tower being hit by a plane. I still remember a lot of my coworkers with children in school leaving the office early to pick them up and go home. I still remember how soon afterwards letters laced with anthrax started showing up in the mail.

I personally didn’t lose any family or friends in the attacks. But a girl I was seeing at the time lost her older sister, who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald—a firm noted often in the news at the time for just how much of their staff they lost. I remember spending a lot of time on the road between DC and New York visiting her, and supporting her and her family at the memorial service.

The intervening years have made certain memories fuzzy—fuzzy enough that some people engage in mythmaking when it comes to the country being unified by the attacks. But Spencer Ackerman remembers the way things really were–particularly in New York City. This piece I read yesterday is a stark reminder of how our nation actually treated Muslim Americans in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. He plans to post follow-up pieces that I am looking forward to with great interest.

I wrote last year about how this country’s response to 9/11 would ultimately pave the way for insurrection on January 6th. Were I to update that piece today, I would certainly connect Trump’s various (and ultimately successful) attempts at Muslim bans to the surveillance, harassment, intimidation, and discriminatory treatment inflicted on Muslims in Brooklyn by the NYPD, INS, and FBI in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Years after it happened, I recalled that Trump’s initial Muslim ban kept the spouse of one of my co-workers at the time from joining him. A second co-worker at the same job was married to a man from Somalia, one of the seven countries subject to that ban. Ending birthright citizenship (in direct opposition to the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution) is another idea that gained currency on the political right during Trump’s term, but has had advocates among so-called conservatives before then.

Other anti-democratic impulses unbound by terrorist attacks of 9/11 threaten every American today, but especially those of us more traditionally and more easily “othered”. The Department of Homeland Security was a bipartisan creation, certain of whose component parts were responsible for civil rights abuses of protesters ordered by Trump, others who were responsible for the vile child separation policy at our southern border. The moral outrage that is Guantanamo Bay remains open, despite the end of US troop deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. Even if Biden wins the 2024 presidential election (which is by no means a certainty), small-d democracy remains under threat in this country.

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