The legacy of 9/11: By Rebecca Cataldi

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This year, which marks the 8th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, has prompted many conversations on how the world has changed since. Many of these changes are bleak indeed: relations between America and the Muslim world suffered from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and terrorist attacks from London to Madrid, and from Pakistan to Indonesia. Security measures increased; so did suspicion and distrust.
Both Americans and Muslims know the fear that comes from feeling that aspects of our identities can make us targets for attack.
But perhaps there is another legacy of that fateful day. In America, 9/11 reminded many of us of what's really important. There was an outpouring of solidarity with one's community, compassion toward one's neighbour and service to one's society. The Red Cross received so many donations that it began asking people to donate to other organisations instead. People filled houses of worship, turning to something higher than themselves.
In "The Arab American Experience After September 11", the Arab American Institute documents how non-Muslim Americans stood guard for a week outside a local Islamic centre in Rockville, Maryland to protect it from any backlash following the attacks. Others accompanied Muslims to school or prayers to ensure they wouldn't be harassed. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Illinois Governor George Ryan declared November to be Arab Heritage Month, while the Ad Council launched public service announcements against hate and celebrating diversity.
The number of Americans studying Arabic surged, as did the number of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies programmes. In his article, "Studying Islam after September 11: Reflections and Resources", Dr. Gary Bunt, director and senior lecturer in Islamic studies at the University of Wales, writes, "There is certainly a new and sustained interest in the study of Islam and Muslim societies…. Books on Islam…have been enjoying an international sales boom, whilst the Qur'an has been reprinted to meet a growing demand, and newspapers have introduced basic guides to Islam."
In the aftermath of 9/11, people in Muslim-majority countries gathered outside US embassies to express their solidarity with the victims. In America, families of those killed in the attacks formed groups like September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows to promote alternatives to violence and aid victims of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. There has been a flourishing of dialogue and initiatives like the UN Alliance of Civilizations, the Saudi interfaith summit, the outreach of peace through the "Common Word" letter from Muslim world leaders to Christian world leaders, and their enthusiastic response, "Loving God and Neighbor Together".
Scholars, such as the American imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, have written books like What's Right with Islam is What's Right with America, which highlights values that America and Islam share—faith, service, individual dignity and God-given human rights. Key US civil society leaders, including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, in partnership with the conflict transformation organisation Search for Common Ground and the non-profit Consensus Building Institute, formed the bipartisan US-Muslim Engagement Project to advise US policymakers how to improve US-Muslim world relations through diplomacy, exchange, mutual respect and understanding.
Always a religious country, America experienced an increase in both religiosity and interfaith cooperation after 9/11. Before 9/11, I doubt many non-Muslim Americans knew what Ramadan was. This year, in one week, I—a Catholic—attended three different iftars, where we broke the daily Ramadan fast: one at a mosque, another at a Catholic church and yet another at a Jewish synagogue. US government agencies held their own iftars as well.
The annual 9/11 Unity Walk in America commemorates the anniversary of 9/11 with a gathering of people from different faiths who pray together at various houses of worship to demonstrate solidarity against violence and unity as one human family. This year, US President Barack Obama designated 11 September as the National Day of Service and Remembrance, so that the memory of that day might inspire people to recommit themselves to service to their communities.
September 11 was a horrific tragedy, but its legacy need not be. And that legacy is not yet finished. We can still choose how to respond to 9/11—by lashing out against each other in violence and by building walls of distrust and isolation, or by coming together in cooperation for peace.
The choice is ours.

* Rebecca Cataldi is a programme manager at the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy (ICRD) and a master's candidate at George Mason University's Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews

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