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September 11, 2001:
"We Had It Coming"
On September 11, 2001, Middle Eastern terrorists hijacked four cross-country flights originating from East Coast airports. The ensuing suicide bombings, which used the fuel-laden planes as explosives, killed more than 3,000 people. The World Trade Center's twin towers were leveled, and portions of the Pentagon lay in ruins.
Just as they have done in times of tragedy in the past, millions of Americans rallied behind their nation. American flags adorned front porches and hung from highway overpasses. Forgotten recordings, such as Whitney Houston's 1991 Super Bowl rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA," suddenly were in vogue again. Enormous amounts of money were generously given to relief funds. In Normal, Illinois, a five-gallon jug collecting donations in front of the local supermarket took in $5,000 an hour on September 11, netting $118,000. Those who could give more gave more. General Electric, Pfizer, and DaimlerChrysler each pledged $10 million to relief funds in the days after the attacks, heading a list of corporations that ultimately donated hundreds of millions of dollars. Blood donations skyrocketed. On that fateful Tuesday, typical was the scene at the Bonfills Blood Centers in Denver, which had collected 2,000 pints of blood in just a few hours. Divisions along political, economic, and racial lines had, at least temporarily, evaporated. We were all just Americans once again.
The reaction to the attacks was quite different elsewhere in the world. In Nablus, on the West Bank of the Jordan River, thousands took to the streets to express glee, chanting, "God is great!" The chairman of the Syrian Arab Writers Association wrote that, on hearing the news of the attacks, "My lungs filled with air and I breathed in relief, as I have never breathed before." The Egyptian newspaper Al-Maydan editorialized, "Millions across the world shouted in joy: 'America has been hit'! This call expressed the sentiments of millions whom the American master had treated with tyranny, arrogance, bullying, conceit, deceit and bad taste." A columnist for another Egyptian paper wrote, "I am happy about the American dead," while a competing periodical's scribe boasted, "If Osama bin Laden is proven to be involved in the attacks on the U.S., I will make a statue of him and set it in my home."
Intellectuals in the West joined the blame-America chorus. Italian Nobel laureate Dario Fo hypothesized, "The great speculators wallow in an economy that every year kills tens of millions of people with poverty--so what is 20,000 dead in New York?" Sunera Thobani, a Canadian feminist and former leader of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, decried U.S. international policy as being "soaked in blood." She asked, "[D]o we feel any pain for the victims of U.S. aggression?"
The foreign anti-Americanism that greeted the September 11 attacks may have been disturbing, but it certainly was not a total shock. That the same societies that produced 19 men who eagerly gave up their lives to kill American civilians would also house countless others who share their hate is no surprise. The impulsively anti-American responses from the Western intellectual community, where hating the United States has long been an article of faith, wasn't totally unexpected, either.
Truly perplexing was a phenomenon within our own borders. A campaign by a small but influential group of Americans blamed the mass murder on the United States. The tragic occasion was seen not as a time of sorrow but as an ideal opportunity to cart out a list of past sins, both real and imagined, committed by America. These sins (racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, and so on), they said, were the real reasons we were targeted. Those exploiting the attacks to push these pet grievances were not immigrants, the poor, minorities, or members of some other group that might have cause to grumble. They were, for the most part, wealthy elites who called America's cultural institutions--such as the campuses, museums, and the media--home. Thus, September 11 revealed a second, less obvious, threat. Those entrusted with passing on our culture, traditions, and history frequently exhibit an extreme contempt for our culture, traditions, and history. What are the prospects for a nation taught to hate itself? The question answers itself. Just as King Priam and his subjects awoke to a Trojan horse within the gates of their city, America is now waking up to the fact that it houses enemies within.
"We Had It Coming"
America is "an imperialist nation who exploits, starves and kills civilians around the world--daily."
"What has the United States done to make itself this kind of target?" "This is a case of the chickens coming home to roost."
Such misguided statements weren't uttered in Tehran or Baghdad but in American college towns with more familiar- sounding names--Madison, Morgantown, and Boulder. As the rest of America came together in the wake of the horrific terrorist attacks, some on campus exploited the tragedy to bash the United States and attribute the cause of the attacks to old grudges. Patriotic students and faculty were punished, and pro-America speech was stifled.
At Marquette University, undergraduates were blocked from holding a moment of silence around an American flag. The gesture, top officials worried, might alienate foreign students. Florida Gulf Coast University's head librarian banned her underlings from wearing "I'm proud to be an American" stickers in the days following the attacks. The overbearing librarian maintained, "We're doing everything we can to meet FGCU's standards of civility and tolerance." The sight of American flags on university buses so angered Lehigh's vice provost for student affairs that he initially reacted by banning Old Glory's display by school employees. "The message was supposed to be that we are sensitive to everyone," John Smeaton, the administrator responsible for the order, ironically claimed.
Residence hall directors in Central Michigan University's Emmons dormitory scoured the halls in search of doors adorned with forbidden patriotic images and statements. Sophomore Don Pasco, who had pictures of an American eagle and the World Trade Center taken off his door, remarked, "It was the whole hall. American flags or pictures that were pro-American had to be taken down because they were offending people." The overseers of a cafeteria at Arizona State University worried that an American flag hanging in the eatery might offend foreign students, so they had it removed. Margaret Post, a secretary in Holy Cross College's sociology department, lost a friend--hero Todd Beamer, who is thought to have helped foil the hijackers' suicide mission--on United flight 93 and decided to honor him by hanging a flag outside her office. Incensed, professors called for its removal. She refused, so department head Royce Singleton took it down himself. Singleton refused to explain his actions to local media: "There is nothing I can say that will make anybody understand the social context in which this occurred." Defenders of the flag burners at Amherst College implied that the act of burning the Stars and Stripes might in some way be patriotic.
In the Orwellian world of academe, prohibiting the American flag is viewed as an act of sensitivity. A more civil libertarian view emerges when campus denizens seek to burn rather than ban the national colors. Tolerance, free speech, and sensitivity are one-way streets in higher education, particularly when those seeking to be heard are patriotic voices.
Professors were quick to preach from their lecterns and take to the pages of college newspapers to allege American culpability in the attacks. "Many commentators are describing the disasters in New York as terrorist attacks--the worst since Pearl Harbor 60 years ago," University of Massachusetts-Amherst journalism professor Bill Israel observed. "None I've seen call them what they are: the predictable result of American policy." Large corporations, President Bush, and the Supreme Court that sided with him in the election controversy, the professor informs us, are the real culprits. "The New York Times' headline was 'U.S. Attacked,'" historian Chalmers Johnson remarked. "That's insane. In many ways," he told a group at Yale, the terrorists "rightly identify us as the leader of those who are trying to keep them down." A professor at the University of Hawaii blamed the attacks on their victim. A few weeks after September 11, she asked, "Why should we support the United States, whose hands in history are soaked with blood?" Professor Robert Jensen of the University of Texas-Austin maintained, "my primary anger is directed at the leaders of this country." The attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center are "no more despicable than the massive acts of terrorism--the deliberate killing of civilians for political purposes--that the U.S. government has committed in my lifetime." We are "just as guilty," he concluded.
American University professor Peter Kuznick used his history course to blame the United States for the attacks and intimated that an American conspiracy was at work. Kuznick, who teaches a course on Oliver Stone's view of history, told his class, "this is very convenient, the Pentagon needs an enemy, and now they have one--very convenient that such opportunistic things happen." Kuznick then turned the class over to a number of critics of the United States. Berkeley professor Peter Dale Scott telephonically imparted to the students, "what goes around comes around," and defended the terrorists by proclaiming, "they aren't cowards, if nothing else, it surely isn't cowardly to ride the plane in for something you believe." University of New Mexico professor Richard Berthold bluntly declared to his students, "Anyone who can blow up the Pentagon would get my vote." Having time to think about it, he repeated his ridiculous assertion to his next class. The tolerance that administrators demanded for these anti-American voices was in short supply for those in support of the war against terrorism:
*Johns Hopkins University professor Charles Fairbanks was fired from his position at the school's Central Asia-Caucasus Institute for remarks in support of the war on terrorism. Fairbanks spoke at a forum in favor of waging war against states that harbor terrorism. He concluded by offering to "bet anyone here a Koran" that he was right. A dean at the school took offense and eliminated his position at the institute. Public outcry against the infringement on academic freedom forced Fairbanks's reinstatement. The chilling effect on speech, however, remained.
*Tenured professor Kenneth Hearlson of Orange Coast College was suspended without a hearing for claiming in class that Muslims who condemn terrorism in the United States but not in Israel are inconsistent. Several Muslim students took offense at the discussion, which grew heated. They complained to administrators that the professor accused them of personally driving the planes into the World Trade Center and then threatened them with violence--a contention that the professor and other students in the class contested--and Hearlson was immediately removed from his teaching duties. "It's not a free speech issue," school spokesman Bob Dees contended. "It's a teacher conduct issue." The California school was given an audiotape of the shouting match that revealed the Muslim students' allegations to be lies. Hearlson neither threatened the students nor accused them of being terrorists. Not until Professor Hearlson released the tape to the media did the school reinstate him. Orange Coast College contested the idea that the case hinged on the truth or falsity of the accusations. "It was a very, very complex situation," school spokesman Jim Carnett explained. "And there was a lot to go through."
*Duke University removed a professor's Web site that linked to articles proposing a strong military response to terrorism. Public uproar compelled the embarrassed school to allow the silenced academic to repost his site, but not without a university disclaimer--something absent from other faculty Web sites advocating various causes.
*University of North Carolina-Wilmington professor Mike Adams responded critically to a shrill e-mail sent to him that blamed the September 11 atrocities on America. For this, a student threatened him with a lawsuit, and the university launched an investigation that culminated with school officials reading Adams's personal e-mail. Rosa Fuller, the student who sent the original message, labeled the attacks "retribution." In the e-mail sent en masse to members of the university community, she wrote, "far from being 'the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world,' the U.S. is seen by tens of millions as the main enemy of their human and democratic rights, and the main source of their oppression." When Adams took Fuller up on her offer of having an "open" and "democratic discussion" on her angry missive, the ensuing discussion was a bit too "democratic" for Fuller's liking. She repeatedly demanded that the university give her access to her antagonist's e-mail account. Ultimately, the university acceded to her demands, invading Adams's privacy and providing Fuller with a printout that logged when and to whom Adams had sent messages.
Students, who perhaps absorbed the noxious ideas imparted by faculty and administrators, joined the campus chorus of those blaming the victim. "We are kidding ourselves in thinking we have been 'wronged,'" Lisa Mann of Wake Forest University wrote, adding, "sometimes it is our fault." She continued, "I do not feel as though the 'safety' of Americans has been affected. It took these terrorists years to plan the kind of destruction we have wreaked on other countries in a matter of days to weeks. That is right; America is not a 'nice' country."
After September 11, renditions of "God Bless America" and "The Star-Spangled Banner" brought listeners to tears. At the University of Wisconsin, protestors actually broke into an Iraqi song.
"We sponsor dictators who maim, we defend corporations that enslave and then we have the arrogance to pretend we're safe and untouchable," professed West Virginia University's Joshua Greene. In light of the "destructive" nationalism calling for war, a Duke University student opined, "the sight of the flag burning would be preferable to its display." An article in New York University's student newspaper was bluntly titled "Take a Look in the Mirror, America, and Ask Why." A University of Colorado student maintained, "we had it coming."
If you hate your country, the campuses are indeed a very tolerant place. If you love America, the intellectual climate can be about as hospitable as Iran. Zewdalem Kebede found this out the hard way at San Diego State University, where he was harassed by the university simply for disagreeing with people who welcomed the killing of Americans.
On September 22, 2001, Zewdalem Kebede, an immigrant to America from Ethiopia, overheard a group of Saudi Arabian students discussing the suicide bombings of the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. "I was studying in the library. I was in a booth and [the Saudi students] were in a round table behind me," Kebede explained. "They entered a discussion about September 11. That discussion was totally for praising the courage and the preciseness of the hijackers, and also, the morality of bin Laden and his strengths and how he spreads his ideology." The anti-American group, speaking in Arabic, presumably thought that no one would be able to hear what they were saying. Kebede, who speaks fluent Arabic, surprised the students by interrupting their conversation in their native tongue.
From the Trade Paperback edition.