The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were a watershed moment in contemporary history. I was too young to remember the day itself. My parents and older siblings have in some ways described the fear and anxiety of that day and the inescapable feeling that everything was shattering. I do, however, remember the aftermath of it. The images of American tanks rolling into downtown Baghdad are forever blazed into my mind, as well as American Marines and soldiers climbing the mountainous regions of Afghanistan. To say that 9/11 changed the course of American history is in many ways an understatement. My family told me of the time before, when someone could walk straight through an airport without constant security checkpoints and the ever-watching eyes of security cameras. While this pomp and circumstance make us feel more secure, it has not made us safer.
In the wake of 9/11, many in the American government could only question what went wrong. How could so many of the warning signs be ignored? How had they failed so horribly and allowed this to happen? In the weeks and months following, the U.S. government consolidated some federal agencies and passed new legislation. The most notable of said legislation was the Patriot Act. This legislation gave the government broad powers to pursue people suspected of terrorism. Most of these laws were simple, ones commonly used to take down organized crime networks. However, multiple others have led to excessive surveillance of American citizens, most notably in section 206, which allowed the government to wiretap the phones of suspects with only the approval of the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. For example, Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing exposed the NSA for using this to spy on tens of millions of American citizens.
Second among the issues surrounding the aftermath of 9/11 was the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. The creation of this department was the biggest shakeup of the national security state in modern history. Its mission is bloated, and the department has no real direction despite being one of the largest in the federal government. How can an agency reliably combat terrorism without full control of the FBI, the nation’s largest and most capable law enforcement agency, nor the CIA, the nation’s largest and most capable intelligence agency? This is all ignoring the DHS’ recent weaponization against protestors across the country. Or the frightening efficiency and cruelty ICE uses to carry out the deportation and forcible separation of undocumented people across the country.
Another issue surrounding 9/11 was the rampant Islamophobia that was ignited by the attack. Hate crimes against Muslim Americans increased in the aftermath of 9/11 while anti-Muslim sentiment continued to rise in the weeks to months after, going so far as to prompt then President George W. Bush to remind Americans that Muslims were not their enemies — sentiment that ran so high some extremists went so far as to attack Sikh Americans.
Virginia boasts a diverse population, with nearly 200,000 Muslims calling our state home. I can only begin to imagine the fear that many may have felt in the aftermath of these attacks. Virginia Tech’s campus is also home to a thriving Muslim American community, and we must acknowledge the impact this event and the subsequent vitriol that was created for our fellow citizens.
9/11 is an event on the level of Pearl Harbor, one that galvanizes a nation and occupies large swaths of our collective consciousness. However, the aftermath of this event has not made us stronger. We have time to reverse course. We must argue for the freedoms that are owed to us as citizens.