Making a Difference: The SOCS Blog

This blog focuses on the research and community-based work of  faculty members and others associated with the Department of Social and Cultural Sciences.

Twenty Years after 9/11:

Complicating the Dominant 9/11 Narrative of National Unity

By: Louise Cainkar

Department of Social and Cultural Sciences

Click HERE for an accompanying video interview of Dr. Cainkar.

With the twentieth anniversary of the September 11th attacks upon us, it is important to vigilantly recall that millions of Arab and Muslim Americans, who had nothing to do with those attacks, suffered enormous civil rights violations, physical attacks, job losses, verbal smears, and more, because of them — or rather because of how they were positioned by government and media in relation to them. I titled my book on their post 9/11 experiences “Homeland Insecurity” in recognition of this key aspect of the 9/11 national tragedy: although the US was their homeland too, Arabs and Muslims were treated not as members of an injured nation but as suspects in a massive plot to undermine it. The so-called UNITY of the nation in response to the attacks is thus a false narrative. It is false because believing in it requires excising part of our national body — those who other Americans waved their fingers at, erroneously blamed, steadfastly surveilled, and in some cases murdered — saying they don’t matter, disregarding how 9/11 affected them, and refusing to confront what their treatment says about us as a nation. The hostile actions of a significant proportion of Americans towards their Arab and Muslim neighbors, co-workers, and passersby were not simply impulsive behaviors driven by hate or fear; they were encouraged by messages from our government and media, who leveraged an already in place simplistic, criminalizing, and racialized “us and them” narrative to justify the actions that took place following the attacks. Those actions included not only mass arrests, deportations, and severe civil rights abuses of Arab and Muslim Americans but also the invasion and occupation of Iraq (which also had nothing to do with 9/11), from which millions of innocent persons died. Afghanistan is a slightly more complex story, but there too millions of innocents suffered for the acts of a few. “Us” and “them” practices rather seamlessly extended to those places.For example, while the U.S. military, its contractors, and weapons makers profited from the $1 trillion in U.S. spending in Afghanistan over the past 20 years, just 2% (or less) “reached the Afghan people in the form of basic infrastructure or poverty-reducing services,” such as schools and health care.[i] In sum, no meaningful contributions were made to advance the basic human right of Afghanis, including women, to thrive and live with dignity.

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