Olivia Fellows. (File photo)
This week, the Pioneer staff reporters were asked to write a reflective column in remembrance of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, a renowned historic event that was the primary example of terrorism in the United States and still remains the deadliest terror attack in human history and the single deadliest incident for firefighters and law enforcement officers in the history of the United States.
As I pondered what angle to take in my reflection, I realized that I actually didn’t have any solid memories to reflect on from the actual day. I was born in early October 1998 and was just under three years old when the attacks occurred. My recollection of 9/11 comes mainly in the form of what I’ve seen indirectly through research of my own, social media and YouTube clips, as well as what my parents and family have told me about the event.
I can remember one of the first things I learned about when being taught the events of 9/11 was the staggering number of people that died as a result of the four hijacked plane crashes involved. The attacks resulted in 2,977 fatalities, over 25,000 injuries, and substantial long-term health consequences. Just this week, I learned that scientists and DNA analysts are still going through bone and tissue fragments from the crash to identify victims to this day.
Another thing I recently brought myself to watch was the actual footage of the planes hitting the towers. Having never seen anything like this, and having generally avoided viewing the actual footage, as a 22-year-old I felt aged enough to stand the emotions I knew would come from seeing something so gut-wrenchingly painful.
Seeing the instantaneous thousands of deaths that occurred within the few seconds, I found myself pondering sadly what it must have been like to have witnessed, or been a survivor of something like that, much less to have been able to recall memories of when it occurred. The wave of emotions I felt all at once was indescribable, it was one of the few things I’d seen online that made me need to take a minute to gather myself after viewing.
Having grown up in a time as a young adult, and later adult, in a post-9/11 United States, security and foreign relations have been in constant conversations when it comes to politics in my world. I’ve seen both failures and successes in government, and I know that we have necessary changes to make if we want to help dampen the efforts of groups who seek to plan an attack like 9/11.
We still have work to do if we want to make a difference in countries like Afghanistan, where the Taliban are now in power, something I’m sure many, including myself, never thought they would see in their lifetime. We’ll need to understand how to ensure the safety of our own country and new residents as we welcome Afghan immigrants, we’ll have to deal with foreign policy and how to create peace with a Taliban rule.
Deterring international terrorism threats is key in maintaining peace, but taking a look at domestic terrorism is also an important part of addressing the United States’ own issues with premeditated violence.
I may not have witnessed 9/11, but I have grown up in a world where terrorism and domestic threats were a consistent threat to be prepared for. I learned in classrooms and a school with regularly scheduled active shooter and bomb threat drills that were considered normal practice. As an adult, I’ve seen the dangers of and bias or belief-motivated violence in my own country, most often by my own fellow citizens.
My view on terrorism is not one that has not an Islamic or Afghan face, but one that can wear any face, even one that looks like mine. Time has shown that prejudice and bias can take many forms in violence, and 9/11 remains an extreme example of that.
It’s easy to put a familiar face on something like terrorism because it’s worn that face a few times, but it’s important to remember things are often just not that simple. The more we can understand the reasons and motives behind why something happened, the more we can educate ourselves and understand how to prevent it from occurring.
When you paint one singular face on terrorism, it affects the rest of the group that shares the defining traits of that group, and this creates a new cycle of bias. Defending the perpetrators of 9/11 cannot and should not be done, they were and are terrorists who continue to deserve to be treated as such. But to paint every Afghan or Islam-practicing person as a terrorist is unfair, just as you may not label every white person who practices a given religion or has a given belief a white supremacist.
Being able to remember the horror of 9/11 while recognizing the impact it has had on many groups socially throughout the last decades is an important part of understanding why something so difficult to imagine could occur. Sept. 11 reminds me that prejudice and judgment should never lead in my life and that being kind and honoring the lives of the people lost through educating myself is something to focus on.
My recollection of 9/11 is one that is of remembrance of the lives lost, the grief that will persist for the families of lost loved ones, and the individuals still suffering from the pain of that horrible day. We’ve seen that change is necessary, and honoring the lives of those lost on Sept. 11 should include understanding how and why the horrific event occurred, and what we can continue to do to prevent similar mass murders from occurring again.
So, this Sept. 11, consider donating to the 9/11 memorial and museum, or Tuesday’s Children, which has worked with at least three-quarters of the victims’ families and runs programs that include youth mentoring and career guidance and mental health services for first responders and victims’ children and spouses.
You might also check out the Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund which operates as a part of Scholarship America, has provided more than $150 million in scholarships to dependents of those killed or otherwise affected in the 9/11 attacks and subsequent rescue efforts.
There are also plenty of ways to honor the historic day without your wallet, including reading or watching the incredible stories of survivors, first responders and children of the victims via National Public Radio’s special reporting and interview features. Their stories and voices are sure to inspire you.
I’m planning on reading more about the first responders who risked and lost their lives during 9/11 and afterward. Their heroic efforts will never cease to amaze me, and I have always had such a respect for first responders, and even considered being both a police officer and firefighter as a young girl.
For this week, like every week, I’ll remain grateful for the life I have and the family and friends I’ve gifted with. I couldn’t imagine my life without any one of my friends, parents, brothers, or sisters, and appreciating them is the best thing I can think of to do. When remembering a day of such loss, celebrating life, love, and each other is what we all should do.
Olivia Fellows. (File photo)