Students, faculty recall memories post-9/11


The New York landscape changed after the Twin Towers fell in 2001. Photo by Ashley Tanner

Humera Lodhi

[dropcap style=”flat”]T[/dropcap] hirteen years ago today, then-University of Missouri student Samuel Martin awoke late in the morning and began getting ready for class. He grabbed breakfast; it was just another start to another seemingly average day. When he was halfway through his cereal, Martin, now a counselor at RBHS, heard the news: The World Trade Center had been hit by an airplane.

Martin watched on television as a second plane hit The World Trade Center. As more details emerged, it became clear this was no accident. This was an attack. Later Martin would learn militants had deliberately destroyed  the World Trade Center and sent a plane into the Pentagon.

Although the incident was more than a decade ago, few who were aware of what was happening have forgotten the events of the day people now call 9/11.

“I was shocked, surprised that this happened on American soil. That was something that happened in other places, not America,” Martin said. “I wouldn’t have bet in a million years something like this would happen in America, not in New York City.”

I wouldn’t have bet in a million years something like this would happen in America, not in New York City.

Dr. Sam Martin, counselor

Martin, like so many others, was struck by the enormity of the loss of life. In the days that followed, shock quickly turned to sadness. America began to feel the impact of the attack.

Americans, in an attempt to show the strength of the nation, came together in the days that followed.

Government teacher Deborah Perry recalls hearing New Yorkers helping one another. Some acted as crossing guard, helping to direct traffic to ensure the safety of others she said. Americans across the nation felt connected with New York.  Immediately following 9/11, Perry said, there was this solidarity across the nation.

“There was an American pride that was cool to see,” Martin said. “Being a black man in America, I have a complicated relationship with American pride. That was one of the first times I felt proud to be American.”

But not all Americans felt this way. People had become skeptical of Americans who looked and seemed different what was considered “normal.” Martin, who was in college when the event took place, remembers many of his Arab and Muslim American friends’ struggle to fit in, to look like everyone else.

“I had an Egyptian friend we called Bdae, who cut his hair so he wouldn’t have a ‘Middle-Eastern look,’” Martin said. “I had friends who wore ball caps, just to fit in and look black. We joked that now being black wasn’t the worst thing in America.”

The One World Trade Center, constructed near the site of the fallen towers, rises up into the New York City skyline. Photo by Ashley Tanner.
The One World Trade Center, constructed near the site of the fallen towers, rises up into the New York City skyline. Photo by Ashley Tanner

Martin’s friend fear was not without reason. All across the nation, certain Americans began facing the anger and violence from others. Racism and hate crimes against Muslim Americans increased. According to the FBI, anti-Islamic incidents were the second least reported hate crimes before  9/11, but second highest reported religious-bias incidents after 9/11. There was a growth of 1,600 percent from pre-9/11 to post-9/11.

“Some friends of ours had a sister in Oklahoma. She was originally from India,” Perry said. “She stopped to get gas and this people started berating her. Even if she was from Saudi Arabia, where the terrorist were from, she wasn’t involved in the attack. But she wasn’t even Saudi Arabian, she was Indian. You saw this ugliness in people. I think the people witnessing 9/11 new this new era was being ushered in.”

It was evident, that though the attack took place in New York, its effects were spreading across America. Throughout the nation, many felt fear, anger and sadness. Immediately following Sept. 11 Pew Research found 55 percent of Americans felt it was necessary to give up civil liberties in order to curb terrorism.

However, people differed over how to counter terrorism. Senior Sonia Clark said she saw a lot of racism toward certain ethnicities and religions in the years that followed 9/11 under the name of finding terrorists.

“Who was considered American changed. If you weren’t white or Christian, if you looked different than the stereotypical American, you were suspected of being a terrorist, ” senior Sonia Clark said. “There was a lot of misunderstanding towards Muslims and a lot of racism that wasn’t there before and it’s still their.”

The events of the day also impacted many living in Columbia. They experienced first-hand the misunderstanding and racism that followed in the wake of the attack.

“When 9/11 happened I was in my fifth grade class at Islamic School,” RBHS 2009 alumna Arwa Abdelhadi said. “I remember crowding around one of the small windows of our classroom because some guy was outside on the street throwing things and yelling ‘go back home.’ We didn’t know what he was talking about and my teacher hurried us back to our seats telling us to ignore him.”

While some may have felt fearful or ostracized following this incident, Abdelhadi, at the time nine years old,  says she didn’t notice people’s change in behavior during her childhood. The only significant difference in her life was her uncle and his family staying  at Abdelhadi’s home in the two weeks following 9/11.

For me the most upsetting effect it’s had is that a lot of Muslims are afraid to be open about their religion.

Fariha Rashid, senior

“It was weird for my mother, my sister and I. We were pretty independent, being raised in a single parent household,” Abdelhadi said. “I just remember my mom answering my questions of why he was there with a simple, ‘It’s safer’.”

As Abdelhadi grew older, she began wearing the headscarf, or hijab, and entered public school. It was then she began to experience racism and feel its effects. She, along with her friends and sister, endured racist remarks and taunts. Among others, they were called “one of Osama bin Laden’s wives,” “ragheads” and “Al-Qaeda members.”

Across America, senior Fariha Rashid said, many Muslims are still fearful of openly following Islam. Some, like Martin’s friend, try harder to look “American.” Others remove their headscarves and change their name, hoping not to be identified as Muslims.

“Society overall has become more cautious and fearful of everything. For me the most upsetting effect it’s had is that a lot of Muslims are afraid to be open about their religion,” Rashid said.  “I wish everyone could know how Islam is a religion of peace. The crazy terrorists that blow buildings up and kill innocent lives are not following Islam. They’re are so many misconceptions I wish I could properly explain to everyone, but we are quick to blame things which are foreign to us.”

Despite having endured some racial profiling, Rashid says, overall, people have been open and accepting.

“I’ve been lucky to have been surrounded by people who understand what Islam really is so when they find out I’m Muslim, they don’t treat me any differently,” Rashid said. “ And it has been 13 years, so I’d like to think there isn’t as much prejudice as there was initially after the attacks in 2001.”
While both Abdelhadi and Rashid have both been subject to varying levels of prejudice and stereotyping, they both say they have also experienced much kindness and compassion in the wake of 9/11.

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum was constructed near Ground Zero. This site honors and remembers those who died on this day in 2001. Photo by Ashley Tanner.
Photo by Ashley Tanner
“My parents told me about someone who confronted them right after they found  out about the attacks. Our neighbor who never really talked to us much, came knocking at our door,” Rashid said.  “When my parents opened it, she firmly said she would defend us against anyone who tried to offend us or blame us for what had happened because we are Muslim. She wouldn’t let anyone accuse us of the attacks because she knew we were good people.That reaction will always stick with me because sometimes it can feel like everyone is prejudice against you but there will always be unexpected people who will support and protect you from it.

Abdelhadi also remembers similar experience following the attacks. She remembers neighbors and friends coming to her family, telling Abdelhadi’s family they were sorry for what was happening.

But Rashid and Abdelhadi have experienced more than just racism from the aftermath of 9/11. For this, Rashid has learned the value of being educated about other’s culture, and educating others about your own.

Abdelhadi, similarly, has also grown as a result of her experiences. She learned to speak her opinions and voice her thoughts.

“Around junior high, I began to see the [Columbia mosque] community have open houses and protests. My youth group leader would talk about us being representatives of Islam,” Abdelhadi said. “I remember all the older college girls in the masjid wanting to be journalists. They went into the journalism school at MU so they could represent Islam positively in the media.”

The attack on the World Trade Center was a monumental moment in American history: it changed American policy and society in the years that followed and it shaped countless lives across the country. For Martin, it taught a lesson that can not soon be forgotten.

“Value life. You never know when you’re going to go, ” Martin said. “Be patient, be kind, be genuine. Value the moments you have because you never know what going to happen and that moment can be taken away from you. ”