A discussion about the lasting effects of 9-11 with Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, President and Founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy; Deborah Hall a social psychologist at Arizona State University; and Arizona Republic columnists Robert Robb and E.J. Montini.
Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. There's no doubt that 9/11 changed us in many different ways. Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the attacks. Children were left without parents, spouses without better halves. Hundreds of emergency responders became victims. And thousands more military personnel have died fighting the war against terrorism. When the twin towers collapsed, America's sense of invulnerability went with them. But the American spirit remained strong. We came together as a nation to fight a common enemy and show the world we wouldn't be victims for long. Joining me to share their views on how 9/11 changed us is Dr. Deborah hall, a social psychologist at Arizona State University. Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic forum for democracy. "The Arizona Republic" columnist Robert Robb. And "republic" columnist Ed Montini. Thank you for joining us on a special edition of "Horizon." I wanted to get a conversation and discussion on a variety of aspects. But let's start with not where were you when 9/11 happened, but what were your initial thoughts after you realized what 9/11 really was?
Deborah Hall: Ok. Well, to sort of situate you guys as my thought processes after the sort of tragedy sunk in, I was a senior in college in 2001 and up until that point, I'd had a fairly sheltered upbringing. Didn't realize it at the time but I had a naive and simplistic perspective on the word. Good people and probably bad people. Good people did good things and bad people did bad things. They had good or bad motives and once the reality of 9/11 sunk in, it prompted not a sudden shift, not an overnight change in what the nature of human existence but definitely led to a gradual change and a more complex understanding of good and evil and action that -- actions that people take and from the standpoint of 10 years down the road and graduate training and research behind me, now there's no sort of black and white in terms of understanding why people do things and commit acts of extreme violence and terrorism. Many of the basic fundamental motives that drive people to do acts like this that have horrible impacts and seemingly hateful and negative and evil come from the same motives that help us govern our day-to-day lives to just belonging in social groups and I think it's a more complex understanding that sort of emerged after 9/11 for me.
Ted Simons: Dr. Jasser, your initial thoughts, not after it happened but after you knew what happened.
Zuhdi Jasser: I came to Phoenix in '99 to join my father in private practice and when I heard what happened and figured out it was an attack on our country, the physician kicked in and the military officer, I served for 11 years as a military commander and realized that my gut was -- I wanted to join up again and figure out who did this and find them and make them pay for attacking our country and concerned about what was happening next. We heard about the pentagon and the World Trade Center and the crash in Pennsylvania and I didn't know if there was more that was going to happen. Sort of didn't know when the attack was going to stop and you get into why are they attacking us mentality and wanted to find out who did it and when I found out it was Muslims, I rededicated my life to reformulating the idea that created these monsters.
Ted Simons: The idea of, wow, this is really what happened, what hit you?
Robert Robb: I was aware enough of Osama Bin Laden that from the time the second tower was hit, I assumed it was a terrorist attack by him and his organization. And I had the task of sitting at home, watching the news, but writing a column for the next day's newspaper in reaction to it. And as I recall, I made two basic points. The first was that this was an act of war by a dedicated enemy. And we needed to understand that and respond accordingly. And the second point was that even though we needed to do that, we also needed, over time, to reassess the extent to which we tried to micromanage the geopolitics of the middle east, both because we were very bad at it, but also because it made us even more of a target than our innate ideas and philosophies made us to this enemy in any of that.
Ted Simons: Ed, your initial thoughts?
E.J. Montini: My initial thoughts were more pragmatic. The first thing I heard from the editor on -- right off the bat, the idea was get stuff together, drive to the airport and go to New York. I get stuff together and get in the car and driving to the airport and they say, the airport is closed and then I knew really for the first time, ok, the world is different. It's really different now. And then, all airports are closed and then thinking, now the world is really, really different and that was to me the realization where it slipped from being a news story into the sense of this isn't just something I'm going to cover. This is the way the world is going to be from now on.
Ted Simons: Indeed, anyone living near a flight path. The skies were very, very quiet. What did you hear from people? We got your initial thoughts, what were you hearing?
Deborah Hall: Hearing and observing, I -- the thing that stands out for me, the way in which Americans came together in a very positive way. It seemed from September 11th and September 12th on, we were talking about we had a sense of we as Americans and patriotism and pride and served an important healing function. Dealing with a collective threat and collective type of coping mechanism and the thing I was hearing, was a lot of bitter, vengeful words of who did it and get back at them, but also a lot of positive sentiment, coming together as New Yorkers and United States citizens and as people -- we saw a lot of support coming from other countries abroad too.
Ted Simons: What did you hear from others?
Zuhdi Jasser: Well, you know, I think it's interesting. We got calls initially, we had a children of Abraham discussion group, we were calling each other and people worried if there would be lashing out against Muslims and our community came together. You can't forget the fact there was a gentleman from the Sikh community killed as a result of a hate crime, in our community in Phoenix. And as Muslims we had a double introspection. Not only as Americans but as Muslims realizing why is this happening and many of our families left the middle east to escape this type of radicalism and yet it followed us here and we had to deal with it.
Ted Simons: Back to you and what you heard, a lot of people at that time were critical, obviously, of Islam and the Muslims and why aren't they do this or doing that. Were you hearing a lot of that and understanding the anger. What were you hearing and how did you respond to that?
Zuhdi Jasser: Initially, Americans were -- there wasn't as much of a reflexive. The general response was less reflexive - I think over time the negative opinions of Islam have increased. They've gone from 33% on 9/10/11 to 48-49% now in some polls- I would attribute that to the Muslims as a community have not shown -- they've condemned terrorism but haven't led the fight against the ideology and been outspokenly moving against these things and I think there's a lot of muffled response and a lot of times natural response to fear is just to be quiet and over time, as we discussed this, one of the things in the 10-year review I'm doing now is to see we haven't functionally discussed religion in community. We've been into blind positivity or very negative, where Islams and Muslims are the problem and no room for solution. Somewhere the answer is in between. Muslims that need to take responsibility and knock off a lot of the victimology that's obsessed some of our community.
Ted Simons: Friends, family, coworkers, what were you hearing?
Robert Robb: I had a poignant conversation with my eldest son that long stuck with me. He was an student at ASU and called me in the morning when it occurred and asked me what I thought happened and I said I don't know for sure but I think it's Osama Bin Laden and explained who that was and what he represented. And then my son asked me, do you think they were reinstate the draft? And that took me back. Made me realize the way this might look to his generation and I told him that I didn't think this was the kind of fight that would require large land armies needing lots of men. But I did tell him, accurately, that the last thing the military wants to deal with is draftees so I was able to reassure him on that score but it always stuck with me that particular conversation.
Ted Simons: Interesting.
Ted Simons: Ed, what were you hearing -- friends, families?
E.J. Montini: I was coaching a little league team. And we drew -- I usually draw -- I try to get them to be the pirates because I'm from Pittsburgh and our team was the As and one of the boys on the team said can we switch our team to the USAs and we wrote USA on everybody's hat and it was that way through the season and one of those positive things that has pretty much gone away but it was a cool thing for that time.
Ted Simons: Let's stick with that. What happened -- because you mentioned, you know, the unifying element and the hand holding and everyone is a American. All for one and one for all. What happened to that?
E.J. Montini: Time. Once we're less afraid and settled in our ways, you get back to the -- I actually think we're more derisive now than before 9/11 and it probably did have an impact on that.
Zuhdi Jasser: I think it's beyond just time. I testified at the hearings that was held earlier this year and my testimony was labeled as conservative or liberal and the questions, it's as if everything in the United States after you get past the attack, within a few days, we get to the division of everything is partisan. Everything revolves around the axis of partisanship and we don't get to find out which things to we share, do we have a common goal, common vision, and I think we haven't found any way to articulate what we're fighting because it's always -- how do we -- as a Muslim, I'll tell that you our community is often used as a ping pong ball between the right and the left. One says we're all about minorities and the other side says we're about killing the enemy and you don't get to a solution we can all share because it's of the axis of partisanship.
Ted Simons: A family suffers a crisis and everyone gathers around. A lot of times a family will split that no one can foresee later. Is that what happened to America after 9/11.
Deborah Hall: That's an interesting question. I'm not sure. I don't know if I honestly believe where we are right now is a direct -- it's hard to imagine where we would be as a country, gov't and society, if 9/11 didn't happen, but I think that -- that events like 9/11 that are life changing and sort of threatening in the sense they remind us all that we're just mortals and we have an expiration date and that might not come when we're expecting or ready for it. It might come sooner than that. Leads to shifts -- I think there's social-psychology research that it leads to shifts in our world view and the helplessness leads us to reaffirm our morals and values in a way that in the short term manifested in coming together but not long term may have had more of an impact where people are sticking to their core values in a way that -- that -- conflicting values pose a little bit more of a threat.
Robert Robb: I think it was sort of inevitable. The initial reaction was to go after the people who did this and about that there could be unanimity. Once you've done that, and there were only a couple of votes against doing that in the Congress, it's the Use of Force Authorization. But when you go to the larger question how do we on a continuing basis protect ourselves as best we can against this kind of terrorist attack, you move into an awful lot of complicated, difficult and controversial issues about which unanimity is an impossible goal. Things we're going to disagree with and on and there's nothing more important so the disagreements are going to be pretty vocal and strongly felt.
E.J. Montini: The idea of patriotism became partisanship. If you disagree with me, you're unpatriotic. If you have disagreement, that's because you're unpatriotic, as opposed to you think that's not the right way to fund something, if you question a political philosophy or question a political policy, it becomes well, then you must not be patriotic and becomes a hammer to -- to smite your enemy with in a political forum when initially it was genuine. Those feelings that everybody felt initially were genuine, we're in this together and do this together and then the notion got to be used in a political sense and now it's I think in many ways completely distorted.
Zuhdi Jasser: Or identified a ideology that happened to get hijacked part of a faith belief. Labeled as racist -- I think one of the things we've been missing in the 10 years and we saw this with the wonderful congratulations that went to the seal team and everything that happened when we got Bin Laden, a few weeks later, we're more at risk than we've ever been and not safer than we were on 9/10/11 and it's because there's no vision. No leadership in Washington that has indentified a common vision. I think there's a theme that's happening in the Arab spring, we try to compartmentalize ideas and there's one thing, the need for reform and modernization of Islam ichthyology and ideas and these things have to be led with policymakers in Washington, we need to pick sides with the house of Islam and we haven't done that and been focused on partisanship and other things.
Ted Simons: Bob, I want to go to a point you made earlier. The fear and vulnerability, leading to things. Is this -- do we -- are we still vulnerable? Do we still feel vulnerable, do we feel safer, stronger than we did before 9/11?
Robert Robb: No. I'm not sure we're as safe or safer than we were on September 10th. We certainly perceive ourselves to be less safe and I think we've gone on with our daily lives but in the background, there's a residual sense of larger vulnerability than we faced and felt prior to 9/11. So I think that is -- it's something -- I mean, for most of us, the effects of 9/11 are felt primarily when we go to an airport. But I believe in the background, there's that larger sense of vulnerability that's always with us.
Zuhdi Jasser: But if you asked the families of the fort hood massacre, the people who found the Times Square bomber, the Christmas bomber. There's 220 arrests on terror charges in the past 14-18 months, so part of that fear is real. Our homeland security is doing a great job. And there hasn't been actually a core treatment what the real problem is. Because we can't even talk about it.
E.J. Montini: There's a larger question, which is, did the terrorists win? Did they win? If you look at it from a economic perspective, if what they wanted to do was sort of cripple us in some way, you could look at the economic picture and say, since 9/11 we've abandoned so many interior needs of the country, in order to serve this one purpose. Which has, you know -- the trillions of dollars that went into the war efforts and things like that. And then we have this enormous partisanship and division inside of the country. There are things about what they did that really caused us, that have left us some very negative effects that I don't think we -- we're willing to deal with. I mean, I think we -- there are domestic issue, social issues that have been totally tabled with our notion and any question about should we be spending for instance, this much money in these countries with these wars right now, is just now becoming to -- sort of bubbling to the top and has more to do with the recession than anything else.
Ted Simons: I think you've actually -- we talked earlier about before the show, this idea where people -- covert things, people may not be aware of and say certain things and think they are a certain way, not necessarily so. Talk to us about that.
Deborah Hall: We were talking about a related kind of issue. I do research on stereotypes and prejudice and I don't want to stray too far off the present conversation but one of the benefits in the surge of patriotism was the shared humanity among Americans and a downside, we saw a surge of prejudice against people of middle eastern descent regardless of their association with the Muslim religion and any Muslim American was perceived as extremist or someone that could be a terrorist and someone of southeast Asian descent gets lumped in there and we have this great coming together as Americans, but one aspect is missing in terms of the inclusive definition what it means to be a American. If you are perceived to be a particular ethnic group or religious faith, we don't want you, associated with the enemy. SO I think we see a surge of prejudice.
Zuhdi Jasser: I would say the Muslim -- there -- I would agree, there's an increase in the prejudice toward Muslims but if you compare that to other minority group, most study that's looked at per percent, compared to discrimination of the Jewish community or other, it's actually been exaggerated in its reporting. There may have been an increase since before 9/11, but compared to other minority groups -- we have a tendency in America to keep blaming ourselves. It's magnificent
Ted Simons: That's a good jumping off spot. Years from now, with the grandkids on your knees and you're talking and they're talking and they say, what was 9/11 really about? What will you tell them years from now?
Robert Robb: It depends -- the story is not yet fully written. It will depend on whether there's a reconciliation between mosque and state. In the Muslim world. Whether there's forms of self-governance that are respectful -- self-governance that are respectful to civil rights. And whether the United States has become more of the peaceful trading nation that the founders intended. What I will tell them about our reaction to 9/11 is that it was woefully uncalibrated. That we changed our government in ways that were only tangentially related to protecting us against the threat and employed massive land forces in countries disproportionate to what that meant with respect to the threat. And the lesson I would impart upon them is that even when you are attacked, and even when you need to respond as an act of war, you need to keep your wits about you and calibrate your response to what the actual threat is and what is necessary to manage it.
Ted Simons: Ed, grandchildren on your knee. We've heard stories about Pearl Harbor --
E.J. Montini: What I would hope is that 9/11 is what I'm talking about. There's nothing in the intervening years that causes us to supersede 9/11. It brings about the best and worst of us. With Pearl Harbor it brought out the best in Americans and the worst. Look what we did to Japanese Americans and even German Americans and Italian Americans. Every time there's an issue like this, it will bring out the best and worst.
Ted Simons: What will you tell your grandkids. It will be a while.
Deborah Hall: Yeah. I'm working on it now. Again, I feel like the story is not completely finished and it's hard to say, but I'm going to say it's a day that changed a lot of Americans' way of thinking, what it meant to be an American, how the world viewed Americans and the frailty of life. The positive and negative.
Ted Simons: A minute left.
Zahdi Jasser: I would tell them it was a tipping point for the United States and the west and we had an era before that was guided by the a Cold War, where we realized the enemy was not just the Soviet Union but an ideology of communism and similarly Al Qaeda is a small organization out of radical Islam that we realize as a country and I as a Muslim that a change I thought would happen over a generation, I had to form and organization, like the American Islamic Reform, projects because the changes that our founding fathers went through in the escape from Christian theocracy was the same process of enlightenment that Muslims need to go through and could lead to a winter of Islamism unless we get involved through continued Muslim reform and 9/11 was a tipping point to wake up the west to that.
Ted Simons: Great conversation. Thank you all for joining us on "Horizon."
In this segment:
Dr. Zuhdi Jasser:President&Founder, American Islamic Forum for Democracy; Deborah Hall:ASU social psychologist; Robert Robb, E.J. Montini:Arizona Republic columnists;
STAY in touch
Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: