It’s been five years now, since the attacks of September.
At the time—the country wondered how we would react and if it would change the way Americans thought about the world outside its borders. This week on Utah NOW—we ask—how have we changed—and what have we learned…
We thought the attacks in September of 2001 would change us as a country, stiffen our resolve, deepen our character.
We figured it would give us a different perspective on history, on good and evil.
While the attacks of September certainly moved us, staggered us, even propelled us into war, five years on have they really changed us?
Today on Utah NOW the lessons and legacy of 9/11.
[Doug Fabrizio, Host]:
Hello and welcome to Utah now I'm Doug Fabrizio.
9/11‑‑we say it in that short hand way we've come to refer to dates, but we know this one is different.
This one has taken on the deepest meaning in American life.
At the time of the attacks of September, Americans did what all Americans do, what all people do when faced with something unimaginable or life threatening.
We made ourselves promises.
We told ourselves if we could just get past this we would be different, more aware of the world around us, less distracted by the frivolous.
And we expected things to change; we figured our national attitude, if not our foreign policy, would be transformed.
That this marked the death of light‑minded popular culture.
Some even predicted an end to irony.
It's been five years and like all promises some have been broken or forgotten.
It's been five years, but it's hard to imagine any of us would forget that day.
In Focus: Moments of 9/11
[Jon Huntsman, Governor of Utah ]:
It's hard to believe it's been five years…and it's hard to believe how much the world has changed.
[Nadeem Ahmed, President, Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake ]
My brother called me from Houston and told me that…you know, are you watching TV, are you…you know, I think he saw before me. And so, when I came and sat down, I think the second building was hit when I was watching. And at that time…just…it was mind boggling, just didn't understand what was going on…
I'll never forget walking off the plane in Saigon…I was met by the embassy people there in Viet Nam . And I could see the television sets in the terminal of Tan Son Nhat airport…the same airport that was made famous during the Vietnam War…televisions blaring either in French or Vietnamese, showing this horrific scene of the World Trade Center burning…
[Jim Matheson, U.S. Representative, Utah 's 2 nd District]:
It was hard to really comprehend the magnitude of what was going on. But what I recall was as we evacuated the building; I looked out and saw the smoke coming from the Pentagon. And that is when it really hit me…that this was an attack, that it was real, and it was just a really disturbing moment. Something all Americans I guess remember where they were at that moment, but being right there in Washington DC is something I'll never forget…
We were all trying to put together the pieces of the first building strike, then the second…and I remember it was right after the second building was hit because they were showing it over and over again, and then I saw the buildings collapse on CNN. And it was, oh, a feeling of deep isolation when you're sitting in a place like Vietnam…your family is close to where one of the strikes took place there in Washington, and there's nothing you can do.
The Muslim community actually went into shock after that…especially after finding out that there are some Muslims who did it. So we were very defensive, you know…unprotected, anything can happen…
I remember the ambassador to Vietnam was there with me. Ray Burghardt. Um…he didn't have any answers. It was just a very very difficult, painful, heavy, morose time for the United States …particularly abroad…
[Rob Bishop, U.S. Representative, Utah 's 1 st District]:
The actual day was surreal. I was teaching classes in AP Government and watching the entire thing on television unfold. And I really think it has changed the mindset of me and most Americans at the same time.
It was a very emotional thing for people who were in Washington at the time, and connected in one way or another to the events of that day. And it was a long time before they got that ring of the Pentagon rebuilt…
[Chris Cannon, U.S. Representative, Utah 's 3 rd District]:
The anniversary of 9-11 of course, brings up lots of emotions, lots of thoughts. I personally had assumed that by this time we'd have a major terrorist event in America , and we haven't had that.
As an American Muslim, I pray almost every day, five times a day. And we pray for the safety of everybody. Here and in the rest of the world. This is the common teaching of Muslims. And we hope and we pray that September 11 th never happens anywhere in the world…
I think Americans are just beginning to realize that this is not about Iraq , this is not about Afghanistan , this is not about our men losing their lives in a geographic place. This is about a war that transcends, this is a war against our institutions…and if we don't win this, civilization suffers traumatically.
Taking our own life is prohibited. So, as a Muslim, this should be clear to the media and to the rest of the world that there is no such thing in the religion that is teaching or compelling anybody to do such an act. So now, having said that, we really should be looking for the root cause.
I think, if nothing else, 9-11 has brought about the need to really understand differences like never before. Because if we fail to understand those differences, we'll fall into an abyss from which there is no return, from which there's no recovery.
While we all tried to make sense of the attacks of 9/11, Utah 's religious leaders had to provide comfort or meaning in the words they expressed to their congregations.
Joining us is the Right Reverend Carolyn Tanner Irish tenth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah.
Imam Shuaib‑ud Din conducts services at the Khadeeja Mosque in West Valley City .
Reverend Tom Goldsmith has served the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City since 1987. Thanks to you for being here.
Also here is Rabbi Joshua Aaronson. He has been with temple Har Shalom of Park City for the last four years. Welcome to you all.
I want to begin by asking this. This, of course, happened five years ago on a Tuesday, I think it was, and as you approached your prospective worship services later in the week, how are you thinking about what you wanted to say, what you wanted to convey to your congregants, and how did that evolve? Bishop?
[Bishop Irish, Episcopal Diocese of Utah ]:
Well, my first response on that Tuesday morning was to call the dean of our cathedral and ask him to open the doors of the cathedral, and to announce that we would hold services there every hour on the hour.
And that was my first thought was to provide a place for people to gather.
So he got there and I got there, and we had no idea what we were going to do.
We didn't have enough understanding to talk about it in any kind of explanation way.
But I do remember that we adapted prayers from our prayer book, we sang hymns and we invited silent prayer.
At one point we invited people to come forward for healing, the laying on of hands for healing, for themselves and their fears.
So it wasn't so much about trying to make sense of it necessarily, it was just provide a space.
A space for gathering, yes.
Rabbi what about you?
[Rabbi Aaronson, Temple Har Shalom]:
I was serving a congregation in Australia at the time, and so it was the evening, and I had returned home from a board meeting and a fellow, a congregant that had been at the meeting called me and told me to turn on a television.
I didn't have cable so I had to go to his house to watch it on CNN. And I think what really crystallized for me is I never felt so American in my life as I did being an American in Australia at that time.
And thinking about how I would translate it into our Sabbath services and our Holy Day services was how to translate that Americanism, Americana , that feeling of being a real American, to an audience who was largely Australian.
Imam, what about you?
[Imam Shuaib-ud Din, Khadeeja Islamic Center]:
I felt that I would have to, like many other Imams across America , confront the issue of terrorism head on.
That's the first thing you were thinking.
Yes. Because up to that point there were hijackings before and different acts but the Muslim communities usually brushed it under the rug. Now this was the time to come out of the closet, and to differentiate ourselves and make our point very clear what Islam stands for and what Islam does not stand for.
And on the other hand, I had the concern for my own congregation, some of them, I know in the valley, did not come out of their homes for seven days in a row.
Some of them, many of them women, decided to leave the religious garb, the head scarf, out of fear.
So to console them, to encourage them to give them strength was also a task.
Non‑Muslims started attending our Friday services to show empathy with us, to make clear to them what we felt, what we stood for, and what Koran teaches.
Did that surprise you, that you saw people coming from outside the faith to show some, as you said, some sense of empathy? Did that surprise you?
That was definitely surprising. A pleasant surprise. The amount of flowers we received, and the cards, and the people coming in person and sharing their, sharing with us the grief that all of us were sharing as U.S. citizens.
Reverend Goldsmith what were you jotting down? What were your thoughts going through your mind as you were trying to prepare something to say?
[Reverend Goldsmith, First Unitarian Church ]:
I realized immediately that this was beyond words, and on that Tuesday I made it to the office, it was late morning, I was feeling really numb, incredibly sad, lost, not quite sure what I was expected to do next, when the phone started ringing off the hook, not asking, “Will there be a service tonight?” but, "When is the service tonight?" And people, not only from my congregation, but neighbors just started walking into the church, in tears, and wanted the assurance that there would be a service and by that time I was able to tell them what time the service would be. And the service itself was mainly music, candles, and it was amazing how quiet the congregation was before the service ever started.
There was an amazing hush, and it was so important for friends and neighbors just to be together in that same space, and I believe what they wanted to hear, because it was on the tips of everyone's tongue, was prayers of peace. Everybody was so concerned that everything would just unravel, and our hearts and our prayers went out for world peace.
It's interesting, when you hear people talk about that moment; they immediately make a connection to war. Is this about war? It was said before in the previous peace that this is what it's about.
Is it about war?
Well Doug, it certainly is about war now, and five years later, I think everyone is asking herself and himself, are we going in the right direction?
And you know we look at five years ago, the United States had the support and the good will of the entire world, and I think that's been squandered.
We stand now fully isolated, we have engaged in unilateral military incursions in the Middle East , and it's, I believe, the wrong track.
And this election in November I think is when America is really going to chime in five years later about whether or not we've gone in the right direction.
Bishop do you make that same connection?
Well, it's interesting. We didn't know if it was war. It was an attack, and it was a while before the third and fourth bombings, or plane crashes. We didn't know the name Osama Bin Laden, we didn't, we hadn't heard of Al‑Qaeda to my knowledge, so it was awhile kind of learning to even speak about it in those terms. It wasn't long, of course, before we went on the attack in Afghanistan , and that was kind of retaliation, and revenge in my view. It didn't do us any good as it turns out. We didn't get Osama Bin Laden, and the country now is pretty much back where it was as I understand it. The war that we're now all talking about, the war in Iraq , was interestingly connected in ways most of us don't really know. But I understand now that it was planned well before it was executed, the people had the idea of attacking Iraq , a pre‑emptive war before they even put out the rationale and called up the people to fight it. And that is terrifically discouraging to me.
Wrong track, as Tom said.
What do you think, rabbi?
[Rabbi Aaronson ]:
I actually do think that 9/11 points to a profound chasm in the world, and I think unfortunately the only way that may be bridged is potentially through war, but I think that the war we're fighting now is the wrong war.
I think, I don't think the war we're fighting, either really in Afghanistan or Iraq has anything whatsoever to do with 9/11.
But 9/11 really brought to bear, brought to the fore the idea that there are significant number of people in the world that have a fundamentally different vision for the world than we do.
And that's going to be a problem, and I'm not sure how that's going to be rectified short of a war.
I want to get how you're thinking about that.
I think we have fallen into a trap, because it is a foreign policy, the U.S. foreign policy which Muslims living in the Middle East and in the Muslim world have a problem with.
And this war has only proven that problem, has only aggravated that problem.
You never hear, and you have never heard Osama Bin Laden talk about gay marriages, or Madison Avenue.
What he has an issue with is the U.S. foreign policy, and how it affects people in Palestine, how it affects people in Kashmir, and instead of isolating these rogue elements in the Muslim world, we have, through two wars, and through the killing of hundreds and thousands of innocent people, up to 100,000 innocent women and children have died in Iraq, up to 20,000 women and children have died in Afghanistan. We have turned the majority of the Muslim population more towards Al‑Qaeda instead of a mutual understanding and cooperation.
I want to get you to react to what you're hearing in this next segment, our Vox Populi segment. We collected these voices during President Bush's recent visit to Utah .
You'll notice the different ways people talk about the lessons of 9/11.
We learned a lot about ourselves as a country; we learned that just like New Yorkers, Americans can come together, rally around a cause.
I think we've learned that we have to protect ourselves more because there are people that are out there to hurt us, that are threatened by our way of life, our freedoms.
Fundamentally it changed the way we have to look at our security, and what we're willing to do in order to preserve our security, and the sacrifices we have to make in order to do that. Everybody sacrifices.
I'm afraid we learned some bad lessons from it, I'm afraid that instead of reacting appropriately we have decided to react with fear.
We learned that no matter what we do or where we go, safety should be a concern, not just for Americans, but for everybody in the whole world.
I think the public learned ya know that what we do over seas really effects ya know a lot of people
I think we learned that we have a lot of patriotism in the U.S. but after so long we found out that people forget.
I think it made our country so frightened that we were willing to forget the democratic principles.
Probably the number one lesson is that our freedoms we can't take for granted, I think we need to realize that there are people out there who are willing to hurt us and who will go to great ends to make that happen.
Well, we were certain this would change us in some way but I'm wondering how you react to the different impressions that you hear, and if you think, in fact, this did change us. Reverend Goldsmith?
Yeah, of course it changed us. I mean it just left an indelible mark in our psyche and I think it made us aware of, as the Rabbi said the chasm between us and another culture.
I would hope that one of the things we learned as Americans, that even though we may feel great about the American way of life, we need to be careful not to think that it is the only way of life in this world.
And we need‑ ‑I think the world and we ourselves are served better by not imposing the American way of life and American democracy and American capitalism on a totally different culture. And I hope, I think we're beginning to realize that lesson more and more, and we still have a lot more to learn.
But do you remember though we were always talking around that time that we were going to be more serious, more aware of history now, more, less inclined to follow popular culture. But do you think that that, that we have changed?
Five years on now, do you think we've changed in our way?
No. I don't know that we've changed in any way that's meaningful. I think we pay lip service to some ideals, but I don't think that in a substantive, serious way, I think is an excellent word, serious way I don't think we have.
I think we have a great deal to do in terms of understanding other cultures and understanding that the vast majority of the world isn't American.
And that the vast majority of the world does look at things differently.
And the vast majority of the world are peace‑loving people who want to engage.
But I don't think that we've really approached it, I don't think our government has approached it in a serious kind of way, and I certainly don't think Americans have.
And I think that the sacrifices we've been asked to make are rather modest in the context of the possible sacrifices.
Bishop? Have we changed?
Yes and no. Tom's comment a minute ago about how the world responded to us at the time was an amazing thing to just waste and let go. The other thing I remember about the time, though, is how unified Americans were. I mean as soon as we heard about all this damage, all this death, all these families, Americans started sending money, they started, people with skills started going to the site and trying to help, every church was full of people offering their prayers, and it was a time when there was this unity, not a happy one but it was around the grief and it was around the desire to help each other. That is totally gone. I think we're a divided nation.
But it wasn't a unity that we build around an enemy. I mean it wasn't that we need an enemy to be unified?
I don't really think so. I mean look, we co‑existed with the U.S.S.R. and the cold war for decades. Why couldn't we coexist with other people and other faiths and other nations now? We don't have to eliminate people that don't look like us, or agree with us.
And that seems to be kind of what got started in this war.
Doug, responding to the unity that we had, and I think that bishop is alluding to; it's remarkable if we think back at 9/11, think back at the rescuers they went into this inferno with one order, that was to rescue the people, regardless. There was one common humanity. They didn't come in and ask are you an immigrant? They didn't ask, are you gay? They didn't check the race or ethnicity, they just went in and rescued people for the sake of rescuing people. And five years later that kind of common good, that kind of feeling united, has totally dissipated, where it's, you know immigrants are there, and gays are here, we have been splintered since 9/11.
[Rabbi Aaronson ]:
I can pinpoint the moment when the good will of Australians changed when I was living in Australia , and it's apropos of your serious remark and what Reverend Goldsmith and Bishop Irish have said. It's when our president started to make remarks such as wanted, dead or alive. And you know bring it on.
And really, on a dime, the good will of Australians, as someone American living there, changed, and they almost viewed us as caricatures of ourselves.
Imam, I want to give you the final world.
Doug, I'd like to compare this with Gulf War I. Gulf War we had the support from all the world. And we had troops from Muslim and non‑Muslim countries fighting shoulder to shoulder. Now we can compare that with Gulf War II, and see how less of a support or almost zero support we have in the world.
Okay. We're grateful for all of you for being here. Thanks very much.
That's Utah now for this evening. Thanks for joining us.
Remember you can continue the conversation by visiting our web site, share your thoughts, your feedback, at KUED.org.
In the meantime we'll be back next Friday with another edition of Utah now.
Until then I'm Doug Fabrizio.
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