The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, left thousands dead, even more wounded, and a nation afraid. The fear over national security led to the creation of new government programs, departments, and law enforcement practices and policies.
However, fear over national security wasn’t the only fear caused by 9/11; fear of the religion of Islam – known as Islamophobia – also cemented itself in American society.
On September 11, 2001, 19 terrorists hijacked four planes, two of which crashed into the North and South Twin Towers, another which crashed into the Pentagon, and another crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.
2,977 people died and over 6,000 were injured on September 11, 2001, and it remains the most memorable terrorist attack in the United States (US) History. Any American you ask who was alive on 9/11 could probably tell you exactly what they were doing when the attacks occurred, and they could also probably tell you how the US irreversibly changed.
Many young people today don't remember a time when you could walk someone all the way to the gate to say goodbye without having to buy a boarding pass and go through security.
The Transportation Security Agency (TSA) – its officers whom you can find in every corner of airports – was created to make sure airlines and airports were secure because, before 9/11, security screening was handled by individual airlines, with a few loose guidelines from the Federal Aviation Administration. The TSA began screening 100% of passengers flying to, from, and within the US, as well as adding in-flight security by assigning Federal Marshals to planes and hardening cockpit doors.
Additional changes included a requirement for passengers to have a government-issued photo ID when checking in for a flight and the luggage limitation of only one carry-on bag per flight.
The intensive screening process that gives most air travelers a headache is one of the many precautions set up as part of counter-terrorism efforts to prevent another attack like 9/11.
The Department of Homeland Security
President George W. Bush created the Office of Homeland Security, whose purpose was counter-terrorism efforts in the wake of 9/11. In 2003, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created, which took over the Office of Homeland Security, the TSA, what is now known as US Customs and Border Patrol, the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Secret Service. The DHS also ran the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), one of the many counter-terrorism tools used.
NSEERS was implemented in November 2002 by the US Attorney General John Ashcroft. NSEERS, which was discontinued in 2011 under the Obama administration, included a Special Registration Program that required all men who were foreign visitors aged 16 and up from designated countries to register at immigration offices. The designated countries were predominantly Muslim or Arab, with the exception of North Korea, and the program was based solely on nationality.
This program was racial profiling – using race or ethnicity as grounds for suspecting someone of having committed a crime – and it was like casting a fishing net in the ocean having no knowledge of what types of fish there and hoping you catch the specific fish you’re looking for.
NSEERS was racial profiling by the US government on a scale that hadn’t been seen since Japanese-Americans were forced into internment camps during World War II. Racial profiling has been proven to be ineffective, as was shown by the NSEERS program: not a single person of the 80,000 subjected to the program was ever charged with a terrorism-related crime.
Though Islamophobia existed before the events of 9/11, no previous terrorist attacks in US History had even approached the amount of destruction and death caused by 9/11. Since 9/11 was carried out by the Islamic extremist group Al-Qaeda, many people – ignorant of the beliefs and values of Islam – began to fear Islam and Muslims.
Islamic extremism is not Islam, just like the Ku Klux Klan is not Christianity, but many people stereotyped all Muslims as terrorists which have had disastrous consequences. According to a journal article by political science professor Costas Panagopoulos in 2006, “The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported a 17-fold increase in anti-Muslim crimes nationwide during 2001” (Panagopoulos, 609), with the large majority of the assaults occurring in the few months after 9/11.
Hate crimes against Muslims increased dramatically after 9/11, and they have yet to return to their pre-9/11 levels, indicating that Islamophobia remains prevalent, even increasing, almost 15 years after 9/11.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, brought about dramatic change in the US. 9/11 robbed many Americans of their sense of national security, so when policies were enacted in the name of national security, the majority of Americans didn’t question them because they were eager to regain a sense of national security.
While TSA is annoying, most people don’t long for the TSA to disappear because comprehensive security screenings make people feel safer traveling. 9/11 still holds the title of the most deadly and devastating terrorist attack in human history, and it changed the way people viewed the US globally.
The US went from a superpower many had thought of as invincible because of its military strength and economic power to a country that was just as vulnerable as any other. From intensifying airport security to further marginalizing the Muslim community and criminalizing the religion of Islam, America has never been the same.
Written by Sydney Henderson