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20 years later, students seek better understanding of 9/11

By Kylie Smith, student writer

About 235 Wingate students, many of them born after the 9/11 terrorist attack, tuned in via Zoom on Thursday to learn more about the event that took the lives of nearly 3,000 people 20 years ago.

Dr. Joseph Ellis, chair of the University’s Department of History and Political Science, and Dr. Chelsea Kaufman, political science assistant professor, analyzed the social, political and cultural impacts of the tragedy. Students also heard from Joel Council, who worked as a corporate wellness director at the World Trade Center at the time of the attack, and from Dr. Hadia Mubarak, an assistant professor in the Philosophy and Religion Department at Queens University of Charlotte. 

Kaufman said that immediately after 9/11, there was tremendous support for the U.S. military, with 82 percent of Americans agreeing that military action was necessary to retaliate against terrorists, and 77 percent supporting the deployment of ground troops. Twenty years later, she said, the nation is split regarding the wisdom of sending forces to Afghanistan. Terrorism is considered a top issue by the majority of Americans and is one of the most important topics discussed during political campaigns. Polls taken shortly after 9/11 showed that more than half of U.S. residents believe that in order to curb terrorism, it is necessary to sacrifice some civil liberties.

Joseph Ellis

Ellis spoke about how much of an awakening the terrorist attack was to the U.S. public. A college student himself in 2001, Ellis told Wingate students that, even though he was majoring in political science, he had no clear definition of terrorism in his mind at the time. He shared memories of how simple it was to get on a plane prior to 9/11, without the present-day security measures, and discussed the rise of the Department of Homeland Security, which was formed through the integration of 22 federal departments in the wake of the attack.

In addressing the social impacts of the attack and the ensuing hunt for al-Quaida leader Osama Bin Laden, Ellis said many people began to label every Muslim a terrorist, or at least a threat to society.

Dr. Mubarak, who was a student at Florida State University at the time, found herself displaced and on the defensive after the attacks. Mubarak provided a reflection, which was read to students by Dr. Christy Cobb, assistant professor of religion.

Hadia Mubarak

“Before I was allowed to shed my tears, to grieve for the thousands of innocent lives or to try to make sense out of the absurd violence that shook our lives, I was put on the defense seat as American Muslims became the target of hate crimes, discrimination and irresponsible media coverage that associated terrorism with Islam,” she wrote. Mubarak shared memories of March 26, 2002, when a man drove his truck into the Tallahassee Mosque just minutes after she had walked out of the building. He later told police he intended to let Muslims know that they were not safe in this country.

What restored her faith in humanity was the overwhelming show of support from Christians, Jews and others who came to the mosque to help rebuild the front entrance.

“As I stood inside the mosque, sweeping the floor with a Jewish couple who had come to demonstrate their support, I finally understood that no event of terror, no violence, no absurd manifestation of hate could ever compromise the universal values of love, compassion and sincere altruism that characterize humanity and exist within all of us,” Mubarak wrote.

Joel Council, whose daughter is a Wingate student, shared the most personal account of 9/11, as he was headed to the Twin Towers on that day. He said that a few days before the attack, both he and his wife had unusual dreams. His wife vividly remembers dreaming that their house was shaking, scaring her to her core and giving her a feeling that something bad was going to happen.

Council said he felt uneasy and asked his wife to pray for him as he headed to the World Trade Center for a meeting on the morning of Sept. 11. Once there, he said, police rushed to him, telling him to evacuate the building. When he did, he saw bodies and debris everywhere and witnessed people jumping from the burning building. Council described the feeling of overwhelming fear as he wondered when the living nightmare would end or if he would ever see his family again.

“Joel’s reflection was so powerful,” said Dr. Antonio Jefferson, Wingate’s assistant vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, who leads the Lyceum program. “He witnessed people jumping out of the World Trade Center windows to their deaths. And he knew many people that died that day. Some were his clients.”

Sept. 13, 2021