Remembering 9/11

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A discussion on how the nation has changed 10 years after 9/11 with Dr. John Carlson, ASU Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the ASU Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict and Azra Hussain, Director ad Co-founder of the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Arizona.


José Cárdenas: Thank you for joining us. I'm José Cárdenas. 2011 marks the 10th anniversary of 9/11. There are events taking place here in the valley and across the country giving people the opportunity to honor those who lost their lives on that day. Now that a decade has passed, what have we learned as a nation since 9/11? With me to talk about this is Dr. John Carlson, associate director of the center for the study of religion and conflict at ASU. He is also an associate professor of religious studies at ASU. Also here is Azra Hussain with the Islamic speakers bureau of Arizona. Thank you both for joining us on "Horizonte." John, this is a topic you're discussing. There's panel discussions going on. Tell us a little bit about what the focus is of the exchanges taking place on campus.

John Carlson: I think one thing, we've heard the refrain that everything has changed after 9/11 and this provides 10 years later, now, a good opportunity to really think about how everything's changed. And there are polls that show that 75% of Americans say that 9/11 significantly affected them in some way and that's more than who said so one year after the attacks. And a similar majority say it had a significant impact on the country. So it's important to be able to really think about what the changes might be. And I think there have been change, clearly, it's affected the psyche of the country and our foreign policy, etc. But it's also appropriate to say that while everything may not have changed, 9/11 really provided a moment of clarity, recognition of changes that had been underway and were culminating in 9/11 but also continued.

José Cárdenas: Why the difference in how people felt a year after 9/11 and how they feel now. That seems counterintuitive. You would think the perception that things had changed significantly would go down, not up.

John Carlson: Well I don't have the answer to that. One could hypothesize that these things sink in slowly over time and as you get further removed you have the opportunity to reflect and we've been able to see what's come in the aftermath of 9/11. 10 years later, the war on terror, efforts -- homeland security and the other political events and the Arab spring that's taking place now. There's a lot of things that could be at work and play for understanding why and how things have changed.

José Cárdenas: Azra, your speakers bureau was in existence a couple of years before 9/11 occurred and continued since. Have you seen changes before and after and I want to talk about the same point, to whether your perception of change post-9/11 has changed a year after to today. First, your speakers bureau.

Azra Hussain: What would you like to know.

José Cárdenas: Why it started and what you were doing pre-9/11.

Azra Hussain: Well, pre-9/11, I felt as Muslims in America, we had very few people who understood what our faith was about. My children, this is their country, and this is my country and I found people didn't know enough about my faith, my friends and neighbors. If you said Christmas, and Hanukkah, everybody knows. And the reason I started speaking about Islam and teaching and educating about Islam and Muslims, that our neighbors and community in general would have correct and accurate information about Islam and Muslims.

José Cárdenas: Post-9/11, did that continue to be the focus of your presentations? Educating people about Islam or did it become broader and talking about 9/11?

Azra Hussain: No, pretty much stayed the same. Educating about Muslim but we find our questions, in the question and answer session after, the questions changed. Before nine -- 9/11, the questions used to be innocent. How many times do you pray and why do you face a certain way. And your you terrorists and why are Muslims out to get us and why do you hate us? The questions changed. The questions tend to lean that way.

José Cárdenas: And in respect to the Muslim community here in the valley, do you think things have changed for the community post-9/11?

Azra Hussain: I believe so.

José Cárdenas: In what way.

Azra Hussain: Immediately after 9/11, it was actually wonderful how the nation, we stood together and as a nation, Muslims and people of other faiths stood together and tried to work together in unity. I think over the last, you know, 10 years or so, it's kind of gone down. Muslims, I think, in general, nationwide, are facing from whoever chooses to, a lot of negative media, a lot of negative anti-Islam sentiment and it rears its head in the form of young children in schools being bullied. Not just by peers, but also by some teachers. It shows its head where people are -- you know, they're being negatively treated.

José Cárdenas: You think that's gotten worse?

Azra Hussain: I believe it has. I'm having to answer for a lot of people a lot of time and it's uncomfortable.

José Cárdenas: Dr. Carlson, one of the things that Azra was talking about, seemed to be a common theme not right after 9/11, but the years after, that we lost a golden opportunity to come together as a result of the tragedy, not just as a nation, but around the world. Common cause with the United States, not just Europeans, but also Iran and other countries, that seemed to be willing to mend fences in order to deal with a common enemy of terrorism. Any discussion of that in your groups?

John Carlson: Well, I mean, I think one of the things that's important to remember, is that politics is unusual in a number of ways. But one of the things that's unique about it, it provides moments for human beings to come together, to unify and to celebrate shared ideals. Shared values, in ways that few other or no other institutions can do. At least as powerfully as political institutions and countries can. So it's important to remember that, but we also have to remember -- I mean, 9/11 provides a moment for us to really take stock of the frailty of the human condition, how frail and breakable human body where's on that day and we know how long it's taken for some of the survivors to recover. Some have never fully recovered. And the towers that were seemingly indomitable and sights of wonderful and took 7 years to build and 90 minutes to come down and politics is like that as well. A frail enterprise, how easy it is to invade a country, it's harder to win a peace, and withdraw responsibly and we've seen revolutionary movements overthrow governments but the hard part is forming new institutions and reconciling and forming political unity from factions and even in our own country, and as Azra was saying, the sense of unity and the violence it took to get that unity was remarkable and yet how fragile and how quickly it dissolved and how impossible it is to regain that after. It's unsettling, it is.

José Cárdenas: What do you attribute this heightened antagonism toward Muslims now? Is it the frustration with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Azra Hussain: I'm not sure what it is. All I know is, you know, al Qaeda had chosen to try and divide our nation. And I think our strength in this nation is our diversity. And I see that people with negative rhetoric will choose to -- are trying to divide the nation again along ethnic and religious lines and that's where we weaken as a nation and I don't know what the reasoning is. I don't know why anyone would weaken us as a nation, especially within. We're a strong nation, a good group that work very hard and I with the speakers bureau, we do a lot of he had indicating about each other -- educating about each other's faiths and stand together. I don't understand why one would work in the other direction.

José Cárdenas: John, last question. On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, what do you expect to be different from what it is right now?

John Carlson: Wow, that's a good question. I would hope that some of the unity that has been lost and many are seeking to recover will have been regained. I will hope and -- I would hope that this attack of politics, and it really is difficult, that people are patient and politicians are patient and continue to work through to really avoid the hard extremes between anarchy and tyranny that seem to be the kind of guiding spectrum that has got us into the 9/11, post 9/11 era -- to achieve a world in which human values of justice and human dignity and freedom can thrive.

José Cárdenas: Hopefully, we'll all be here 10 years from now to see. Thanks for joining us on "Horizonte."

Both: Thanks very much.

Dr. John Carlson:ASU Associate Professor of Religious Studies, ASU Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict; Azra Hussain:Director, Co-Founder of the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Arizona;

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