Ten years ago, the September 11 terrorist attacks changed the lives of Americans in countless ways. Ranging from changes in routine activities such as air travel, to shifts in popular fields of study for college students, to transformations in how America interacts with the rest of the world, the impact of 9/11 is far reaching.
At an Emerson panel discussion on September 7, speakers examined three areas that have been significantly affected by 9/11: American foreign policy, Americans’ attitudes toward religion, and civil liberties.
The panel, called A Decade of Fear: The Impact of 9/11 on American Life and hosted by Emerson’s Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies, was part of an Emerson series of events marking the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. More than 150 students, faculty, and staff attended.
Liberal Arts Dean Amy Ansell introduced the expert panelists: Andrew Bacevich, a Boston University international relations professor with expertise in American foreign policy in the Middle East; Peter Gottschalk, a Wesleyan University religion professor who has studied and written about Islamophobia; and Nancy Murray, director of education at the ACLU of Massachusetts and an expert in civil liberties.
President Lee Pelton attended the event and offered introductory remarks.
“As members of an academic community, all of us here at Emerson have an obligation to reflect not only on events like 9/11, but also the root causes of such events,” said Pelton. “And those who teach must inspire students to see an event as it really is and to respond with critical inquiry, compassion, creativity, and the civic responsibility that comes with the freedom of living in a participatory democracy.”
During the discussion, Bacevich focused on the impact that 9/11 has had on what he called “the American way of war.” He said that prior to 9/11, Americans viewed war as an abnormal condition, but it has now become normal. Prior to 9/11, Americans also believed American military forces had the power to be victorious in any war, but now they think wars are likely to end with ambiguous results.
Bacevich also argued that Americans today do not feel a collective civic responsibility for our country’s defense because the military is an all-volunteer force and because people haven’t been asked to sacrifice economically to pay for the wars in the Middle East. Finally, he said the United States lacks a cohesive plan. Immediately after 9/11, America was focused on a “war on global terrorism,” but has since stopped using that terminology. “Strategy has ceased to exist,” he said. “Expediency reigns.”
Gottschalk discussed Islamophobia, its history in the United States and in Western civilization, and how it has developed over the past decade. He noted that Islamophobia is not a new phenomenon, citing anti-Muslim quotes from some of our country’s founders and finding examples as far back as the Crusades era. Modern-day politicians, mostly Republicans, even used Islamophobia during the 2010 elections to their political advantage, according to Gottschalk. Former Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle, for example, talked about Muslims “taking over” the United States during her campaign.
Additionally, Murray talked about the ways in which civil liberties have changed since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She detailed how the U.S. government, mostly through provisions of the Patriot Act, has infringed upon people’s rights to privacy, to assemble for protests, and to avoid unreasonable searches and seizures. All civil liberties have been infringed upon since 9/11, she argued, except the Second Amendment. “People on the terrorist watch group can still buy guns.”