The fateful day of September 11 marked an entire world
When it comes to leaving an indelible mark on the modern American psyche, nothing comes close to the events of September 11, 2001. As we pass the 21st anniversary of that fateful day, few Americans have forgotten the tragic events of that fateful day and the 2,977 lives that were so unjustly taken.
We knew that after two hijacked airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center towers. One hit the Pentagon, and another was brought down by heroic passengers in a Pennsylvanian field, America (and the wider world) would never be the same again.
The attacks cast a long shadow over American life, one we are still reeling from, but what did the events of September 11, 2001, do to change the nation? Here are five significant ways that America was changed by 9/11.
1. It Sparked The War on Terror
When then-President George W. Bush stood in front of Congress and addressed the nation on September 20, 2001, he called for a new kind of warfare. Not a war with surgical strikes on specific targets, but a wide-ranging global War on Terror. Less than a month after nearly 3000 people lost their lives in the attacks, American troops invaded Afghanistan.
With Americans’ backing and Congress and the support from our NATO allies, American forces would set out to crush al Qaeda and bring its leader Osama bin Laden to justice for his role in the most significant attack on America in the history of our nation.
What the American people didn’t know at the time was that this invasion would become the longest-sustained military campaign in U.S. history. It wouldn’t be long before the cracks started to show in the support for the War on Terror as more and more troops lost their lives or returned home with physical and psychological wounds.
Despite the misgivings of the public for a war that never seemed to have an endpoint, there was still an underlying need to stay in the Middle East and root out any terrorist cells or rogue regimes that could be capable of hitting the continental U.S. We were NEVER going to allow that to happen again.
2. Air Travel Was Never The Same
Many people believe this was all some inside job involving the Bush administration, and while there remain some troubling questions, one thing is undeniable, this was a complete failure of America’s intelligence apparatus and a failure of airport security systems.
After the tragic 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, it would have been natural to assume that both our intelligence services and airport security would have been laser focused in their efforts to identify potential hijackings or bombings of commercial planes. Sadly that was not the case.
If we just look at what you didn’t have to do before 9/11, you might be quite surprised at just how relaxed everything was. You didn’t need a ticket to wander around the airport or wait at the gate. You didn’t have to worry about what you had in your pockets while walking through security and you certainly didn’t have to show any identification before boarding the plane.
Everything would change with Congress creating an entirely new federal agency in the Transportation Security Administration just a month after the attacks. Before the attacks, airports rarely did background checks on their employees and didn’t scan luggage as frequently as we do now, in the space of a year, everything would change.
Within a year of its creation, the TSA had over 50,000 employees and had introduced U.S. travelers to extensive new security protocols such as needing tickets and photo IDs to get through the screening area. The airport detectors that only identified metal objects were replaced with the controversial full-body scanners and any technology you had had to be removed from your bags or pockets to be scanned as well.
The world was also introduced to the “No Fly” list after the FBI created its Terrorist Screening Center and its Terrorist Watch List. Surprisingly, this list, which had around 6000 suspicious individuals that would be banned from flying on it, had around 500 American citizens on it too.
3. The Rise of Anti-Muslim Violence
After September 11, there was a concerted effort by politicians, law enforcement agencies, and religious groups to highlight that Islam was largely a peaceful religion. They tried to show how the 19 hijackers and their al Qaeda overlords had twisted Islam’s true teachings to suit their destructive ideology.
Sadly, their efforts largely fell on deaf ears in the United States as the nation saw a surge in anti-Muslim violence. The first major event happened just four days after the attacks when a gunman in Mesa, Arizona went on a shooting rampage, targeting anyone who even remotely looked Muslim. The only tragic victim that day was Balbir Singh Sodhi, a gas station owner of Indian descent. As a Sikh, he was wearing a turban, so the shooter assumed he was Muslim and took his life.
The year before the attack in 2000, there were only 12 anti-Muslim assaults reported to the FBI. By the end of 2001, that number had shot up to 93. Law enforcement and the Transportation Security Administration received heavy criticism for the racial profiling of Arab and Muslim men as hate crimes against Muslims continued to rise.
The discrimination, hostility, and violence statistics remained consistently high in the intervening years, hitting a peak of 127 attacks in 2016. When then-President Trump signed an executive order to ban six Muslim-majority countries from entering the USA in 2017, it only exacerbated the problem. Previously, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) reported a 9% increase in how many civil rights complaints it received from Muslims.
4. Increased Surveillance
As grief quickly turned to anger about how intelligence failures had allowed known terrorists to enter the United States and execute the deadliest plot in American history, lawmakers were just as quick to introduce the controversial Patriot Act. Much like with Senator Joseph McCarthy’s investigation into communist subversion in America in the 1950s, suddenly there were Islamic terror cells in every city in America just waiting for their moment to strike.
To combat this new threat, The Patriot Act would transform the way domestic intelligence agencies like the FBI conducted surveillance. Congress allowed the FBI and NSA new abilities to collect and share data with long-standing rules about “unreasonable search and seizure” of American citizens were all but thrown in the trash.
While fears of another impending attack were entirely warranted, the changes the surveillance apparatus of the United States would see over the next few years had many civil liberties groups and citizens alike, complain about the unconstitutional breaches of privacy being committed in the name of US national security.
It would only get more severe with time as by 2008, the FISA Amendments Act would be passed. This law would give the NSA unprecedented and unchecked powers to eavesdrop on American phone calls, text messages, and emails under the guise of identifying potential terrorists. The abuse of these powers would be infamously exposed by computer intelligence consultant Edward Snowden in 2013.
5. Is America Safer?
Ever since September 11, 2001, law enforcement has undoubtedly upped their game when it comes to identifying and neutralizing terrorists who wish to emulate the despicable actions of those 19 men. The most recent is an Iraqi national who has been in the US since 2020, accused of being an Islamic State sympathizer who wanted to murder George W Bush.
They must be doing some things right as there have not been any large-scale terrorist attacks on U.S. cities like the ones many believed would inevitably follow September 11th, not by Muslim extremists anyway. There have still been at least 14 attacks linked to Islamic extremism in the past 21 years.
The most recent was on May 21, 2020, when Adam Alsahi, someone who has openly expressed support for terrorist networks including ISIS, crashed through a northern perimeter gate at the Naval Air Station Corpus Christi in Texas and began shooting. Thankfully, the only one who was killed was Arashi.
The lasting effects of that tragic day are not just felt by the people who lost someone in the attacks but in every American’s sense of security. A Gallup poll from 2021 revealed that 64% of Americans say that the events of September 11, 2001, have permanently changed their lives. That same poll also revealed fewer Americans believed the U.S. is winning the War on Terror.
There will always be a threat both internationally and domestically to the freedom and democracy we hold so dearly. Unfortunately, we seem to be at a point in our history where we are more focused on fighting amongst ourselves.