Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Cultural Footprint of 9/11

On what started as an ordinary Tuesday morning on Sept. 11, 2001, two planes crashed into the World Trade Centers. The buildings collapsed, leaving over 2,000 people dead, hundreds injured and a gaping wound America’s heart.  Although the tragedy has unified our country, many Americans feel alienated as targets of racial hatred 10 years later.

Although very young when the event occurred, Maria Heroux, a sophomore at Benedictine College, was old enough to notice the deep impact it left on American society -- particularly racial profiling. Heroux sees it as both a necessity and a problem.

“Our security definitely changed after that,” she said. 

“It’s degrading to say, ‘You look like a terrorist’ – but sometimes, it’s necessary,” Heroux said.

Laurel Aaker, of Apple Valley, Calif., also noticed the nation’s heightened awareness of racial profiling. “It is … necessary, as long as it’s founded on good reasons,” said Aaker. “But we’re not always able to trust the government – there are always mistakes made.” 

Many people, especially from the Middle East, have been held in airports because security has incorrectly assumed a potential terrorist, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) racial profiling report. 

In the same report, ACLU states that over 5,000 Middle Eastern men were interviewed based solely on their ethnicity after 9/11. They were asked personal questions about their political views, faith, and family. None of them were actually connected to terrorism.

Professor Sharma, of India, writes that Jihadists make up very small percentage of all Muslims – a mere 15 percent. Most Muslims are not radical and follow their faith quietly.

Making such assumptions about Muslims may cause them to be defensive, says Mary Ellen Ostrowski, another sophomore at Benedictine College. 

 “The aftermath produced a lot of stereotypes...even on how the Muslims see us," said Ostrowski. "We’re Americans. We’re the ‘melting-pot’, we’re supposed to include other people."

"They probably feel misunderstood. I would,” she said.

In the Department of Justice Racial Profiling Fact Sheet, it states the potentially harmful effects of such discrimination due to racial profiling. “Race-based assumptions in law enforcement perpetuate negative racial stereotypes and are harmful to our diverse democracy,” one line says.

Some, like Laurel Aaker, believe the issues of personal liberties must be weighed against the greater good.

“Radical Muslims probably feel defensive because we constantly question their intentions,” she said. “It might not be fair, or 100 percent accurate, but it’s better than nothing.” 

The impact of the events of Sept. 11 is also depicted in entertainment. Many movies portray Muslims as mere radicals. Aaker doesn’t see it as a problem.

“Most Americans are intelligent enough to decipher that they’re not all terrorists. It’s entertainment. That’s the focus, so of course they’ll highlight the radical ones," she said.

While movies are entertainment, they also present stereotypes to audiences, which could lead to more harm than good. Heroux and Ostrowski see the imbalance of how Muslims are portrayed by the entertainment industry.

“It’s unfortunate,” says Heroux. “Movies portray those ethnicities as bad guys all the time, we’re led to believe that’s what we should expect,” she said.

At the same time, Ostrowski said, “They all have the same rigid customs and beliefs. It’s portrayed as, ‘They’re Muslim’, not as ‘someone who practices Islam’."

Whether Americans see racial profiling as a help or a hindrance, its effects are seen everywhere, from airport security to contemporary entertainment. Aaker said that with racial profiling, there lies a fine line between truth and distortion.

“The nature of our times and the high risk of terrorism make it necessary... but I’m glad it’s not my job to figure out that balance,” Aaker said.

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