Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011 | 2:01 a.m.
The events of 9/11 affected people in myriad ways, some profound, some prosaic.
But there seems to be a common denominator among everyone who was alive at the time: In one way or another, 9/11 touched us.
The legacy of the events manifests in changed behaviors, increased cynicism, softened hearts, altered outlooks on life and death.
Lee, 46, is a logistics officer with the Clark County Fire Department and part of a Nevada search-and-rescue team dispatched to New York to help recover bodies after 9/11. Harboring a matter-of-fact attitude, he says he has seen big changes in the field of firefighting since then.
I belong to Nevada Task Force One, one of 28 task force teams nationally that respond to man-made or natural disasters. We went to New York three days after the attacks. There was a lot of security and military presence. The reports were coming back with some numbers of people who had died; they kind of had an idea but it just kept fluctuating. We went in as search-and-rescue operations with the cadaver dogs looking for survivors, but by the fourth, fifth day it had become a recovery operation.
I witnessed a New York firefighter’s body being removed, and the procession that accompanied it. It turned out to be someone I knew. A flag was draped over him when they removed his body. It was very somber. Then it was back to work to find more bodies. We didn’t find any, but our personnel did find pieces of individuals. We stood back and took a secondary role to the New York firefighters. They didn’t understand who we were, they thought we were a federal organization coming in, and of course, not a lot of people like when the government comes in.
We had to educate them and say, “Hey, we’re firemen just like you.”
Firefighter training is different now. Situational awareness is different. The stations are locked up more. Training includes more of the terrorist kind of activities. We used to focus on natural disasters: hurricanes, earthquakes, flooding. Now it’s the other element of the dirty bomb, the terrorist activity that we never really focused on before.
We had individuals before who would want to visit the station, but now we’re a little more careful with who we allow to come in. We’re a little more skeptical, preparing for the next (terrorist attack). Las Vegas is a target, we have hundreds of thousands of people coming here on the weekends, New Year’s Eve is big. When we do New Year’s now, we look at things differently.
Abdullah is the imam of the biggest and oldest mosque in Nevada and one of the leaders of Las Vegas’ 18,000 Muslims. In the decade since 9/11, he has found himself spending more time educating Las Vegans about Islamic beliefs, something he never had to do before.
Regardless of the number of years that have passed since 9/11, the pain and intensity of the anger will always be there. Because that was the day when we Muslims woke up to a different reality for our faith. We realized that there are people who could exploit it for their political purposes, and commit a heinous crime against humanity in the name of our faith.
Every year 9/11 is a time of great reflection for me. I wonder how 19 people could suddenly define our faith and determine what it is and what it should be. Now the greatest challenge we face is to convince people that our religion is totally against what happened on 9/11.
Right after 9/11, I flew to Las Vegas from Los Angeles to speak with the congregation here. I was flying on Southwest Airlines, had been issued a boarding pass and was sitting in the back of the plane when they announced my name on the loudspeaker. They told me I was asked to deplane for security reasons. Every foot I moved forward felt like ton of weight. Everyone was looking at me probably thinking that this is the guy who might be responsible for 9/11. They picked me off the passenger list because of my name that clearly shows that I am a Muslim.
My congregation has problems, too. When Osama bin Laden was killed, a teacher told one of the Muslim students that “your uncle has died today.” Ten years after 9/11 we are still looked down upon.
Douglas, a state Supreme Court justice, says life for him and others in the post-9/11 era has fundamentally changed: He thinks about security and his own mortality, something he never did before.
After 9/11, there’s the feeling that people are not in control of their world. Not since Pearl Harbor have we been attacked, and suddenly there is no longer a sense that we are safe from attacks, whether it’s a shooting in Carson City or a terrorist attack in New York. I am more afraid because I am in front of a courtroom as a government official, and 50 percent of the people don’t like the decisions I make.
You get up in the morning and you’re happy, you’re just trying to start your day, and you’re not five minutes into driving your car before the first person gets mad because you didn’t take off at the light fast enough.
It can all relate back to 9/11 because I’m now aware that on any given day, anything can happen. It really hits your psyche. I think about my mortality more. This is something I never thought about before 9/11. But I don’t let the fear rule my life. It’s just something in the back of my mind.
Photo by Sam Morris
Former Las Vegas Mayor Jan Jones watched on TV as the second plane crashed into the twin towers that day. She said she was impressed by how the people of Las Vegas came together in the months following 9/11.
As our country rallied together, Las Vegas reinvented itself and experienced a significant growth period by making visitors feel safe. The spirit of Las Vegas is our ability to adapt and visualize and be creative. So going through airports now — it’s a little bit of an aggravation, but they’ve gotten a lot better. Travel in those days following 9/11 was more difficult, but the city adapted to a changing environment like we always do.
There’s always going to be terrorism. But it’s made me believe that we must adapt to new times in the most positive ways. To be fueled by anger doesn’t solve anything. I don’t approve of racial profiling. If it’s happening, I’m concerned. How can you group together one ethnicity? The spirit of America was not founded on discrimination.
The daughter of an Air Force pilot, Moore grew up believing in the effectiveness of the U.S. military. That belief, she says, has only gotten stronger since 9/11. Moore, 42, general manager of a fitness center in Henderson, still fears the Strip may be a target for terrorists.
I had just had a baby at the time, so the effect of 9/11 was quite significant. I was suddenly concerned about the future of the world. I grew up overseas, and I always thought it was a privilege to come from the land of the free, home of the brave.
After 9/11, I reflected on that and was more cautious about everything. Approaching the 10-year anniversary, I am more fearful for Las Vegas, for sure. There are such large numbers of people on the Strip, in the hotels, especially on New Year’s. I have more of a fear of the unknown. Now my son is 10 years old. We’ve been at war that entire time, fighting for our country. There’s a reason for that. I feel we are more protected, that we’ve learned from 9/11. I have confidence in our military, especially now that 9/11 has taken place.
Attorney Matthew Dushoff, 46, says that since 9/11, his life as a father of an 11-year-old and 2-year-old twins has become filled with what he calls “irrational fears,” of possible terrorism looming near. Every place he goes, he explains, he knows where the exits are.
I know people who got out of the twin towers. All our lives were changed by that event. Because of 9/11, I am very wary.
I live in fear, knowing that at any given time my children’s safety can be at risk. You don’t know if there’s a bomb on a flight, knowing that something like 9/11 can happen and you can’t really stop it. All of this is frightening.
But I don’t want my children to live in fear. It’s a dichotomy. You can’t let the radical minority in this world affect how you live. It’s almost perverse how much some extremists hate. There can’t be a God that hates so much. I feel bad for Muslim friends and clients who get labeled as extremists, and people thinking, “What are they hiding? What do they know?” It’s ridiculous.
As a father, I have the everyday fears for my children’s safety, then there are these, what I call, irrational fears that everything is a target. Every place I go I know where the exits are.
Adriana Arevalo was a Miami-based reporter for a Colombian news service on 9/11. She and her camera crew drove to New York City and for 12 consecutive days reported on the tragedy. Today, Arevalo, 37, is news director for Univision Nevada in Las Vegas.
I was watching the 9/11 coverage on TV that morning and couldn’t figure out what it was. I thought it was a movie.
When I saw the second plane fly into the twin towers, I understood that it was real. I couldn’t believe it.
When we got to New York, I interviewed everyone, from survivors and family members looking for those who had disappeared to firefighters and the local Arab population that had to remain in their neighborhoods at a time when people were not going to their stores. People were throwing rocks at Arab businesses and breaking their store windows. Business owners also said they got notes with ugly comments. It was very intense.
When I got back to Miami, I watched a CNN special on the tragedy and all the images suddenly hit home. I had interviewed a lot of the same kind of people, the same faces looked familiar. I cried for an hour after that, and finally was able to feel how everything had affected me.
After that I understood that life is truly short. We have to tell people that we love them, how we feel, what we think. That tragedy was one time we were all on the same page, the same channel.
As news organizations, our job was to calm our viewers. Colombia was a violent country. I come from the era when there were car bombs and people lived with a lot of fear. Everyone thought those things took place only in Latin America, but now it’s also in the U.S.This country was supposed to be impenetrable and suddenly it was vulnerable. Now I understand that if we have to stand in line at the airport to be safer, that’s OK.
Life has changed a lot.
Business consultant Courtney Seard, 34, travels about 150,000 miles a year from her home in Las Vegas. She complains about rude airport security personnel and says she gives some people a second look if they appear Middle Eastern.
Being a traveler, I know I have given up a lot of freedoms such as freedom of speech. If you get upset in the airport for a good reason, like you’re having a bad day or your plane is late, people in the airport have the authority to pull you aside, so I stifle myself.
One time a gentleman and his friends at McCarran were a bit inebriated. His friends were allowed to board the plane, but not him. He was cursing loudly and being really rude, and three airport security personnel grabbed him from the back and pushed him up against a counter. Airport security people are letting their power go a bit too much to their heads.
People are freaking out about people from diverse cultures, who speak foreign languages, who wear different kinds of clothes that in other countries would be normal. America is not as diverse as we claim to be.
I’ve seen people in the airport get scared of passengers of Middle Eastern descent. I’ve heard people in the airport say they don’t want these people to get on a plane. The thing is you don’t know even if they’re from the Middle East or Muslim. There’s this idea that all terrorists are Muslim that is perpetuated in the media. I should understand — I’m African-American — but sometimes I also get a little apprehensive. It’s not something I’m proud of.
I definitely take a second look at people if they’re wearing traditional garb. I wouldn’t have done it before, but now I do a double take.
A world history teacher at Centennial High School, Alyssa Santos, 45, reflects that there is a new generation of students who don’t remember 9/11 but who show a curiosity about Islam, which she teaches as part of her curriculum on world religions.
The second or third year after 9/11, a student walked into my classroom before school started and threw an English translation of the Quran at me. He didn’t like that I was teaching Islam. He started screaming at me that I was a liberal and ignorant, calling me names. I was blown away.
I had never been treated like this in my life. I tell my students this story every year when I teach Islam.
The day of 9/11, students were holding prayer circles in the hallways. I’d never seen anything like it. There was a lot of fear.
Now you’re getting kids coming up in the school system who don’t remember 9/11. They were 2, 3 years old when it happened. It doesn’t have that big of an effect on them. It’s a lot like learning about the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. When that was taught immediately afterward, it was probably very raw and clear. Over time it just becomes a historical event. There are going to be other world events that are going to be clearer in the kids’ minds.
In the 10 years since 9/11, there’s been a huge shift with Muslim students, from being very closed about their religious beliefs to being very open. Now you see more interest in their religion by the general student population, and I think it’s because time has passed. Kids are still confused about Islam, especially with what the media present. Most of the kids are really intrigued by the burqa and the coverings that the women have to wear.
I had a Muslim student in my classroom who said, “Wait a minute, you guys have it all wrong.” He was going back to the mosque and telling the imam that his teacher was trying to teach Islam and he brought me a book called, “Islam for Dummies.”
My textbooks don’t even talk about 9/11. The books are 10 to 12 years old.
Software engineer Zaza Kozhin, 39, was riding a subway to work the day the twin towers were hit. He said the negative effect from 9/11 on his hometown was so dramatic that two years later, he moved to Las Vegas.
In New York there was a feeling of community and coming together right after 9/11, but honestly that only lasted a few months. New York was always a stressful place, but after the attacks it became more stressful.
Immediately after the attacks I was angry and upset. My worldview changed. I became less trusting of people and more jaded. It was a very strange time. It was a very surreal experience. I became more aware of my surroundings. New York City turned into an armed, militarized camp. It felt like the air just went out of it. It was not the same place to live anymore, and my view of it changed.
America lost its innocence.
It used to be a joy to travel. Then I traveled two months after the attacks, and it was a completely different feeling. I was looking around for suspicious characters. But now I think some things have gone too far on the security front, security issues have become a lot more reactive. They made my 2-year-old daughter take off her tiny sandals even though she wasn’t wearing any socks.
When I go back to New York now I feel the city is more polarized. There’s a lot more military and police presence. I think after 9/11 the whole country has changed for the worse, not for the better.
Rabbi Sanford Akselrad
Rabbi Sanford Akselrad of Congregation Ner Tamid silently points to a picture in his office to explain his personal feelings about 9/11. It’s his son, wearing his U.S. military uniform.
We launched two wars because of 9/11. Some people went into the U.S. military because of patriotic duty, and they wanted to contribute and do something. It’s an admirable thing. My son volunteered to go to Iraq. Had there not been 9/11, we wouldn’t have those two wars.
I think the history of 9/11 has not been written. We’re going to go back in time and see how this event changed how we viewed terrorism, redefined America’s enemies, imploded our budget and required a lot of human sacrifice on the part of our military and our society in general. It’s hard to know how that history is going to be written. The events that day made me more mindful of the freedoms we have in our country and the importance of protecting them.
I’ve become very involved in interfaith work since 9/11, especially with the Muslim community. The voices of prejudice and fear can speak very loudly when people are going through national crisis. It becomes very important to protect the rights of Muslims, just as historically it was important to protect the rights of Jews. A society is judged how it treats its minorities.