10 Years Later: Did the Terrorists Win?

By Yasser Khalil

Even a decade on, the memory of the 9/11 attacks is still present. While the terrorists achieved the physical destruction they set out to create, they failed to accomplish their goal of inciting all-out hatred between Muslims and the West. As such, on this 10th anniversary of 9/11, the most fitting legacy would be to reach out to our neighbours and to those who are different from us.

In 2002, I was selected to be a participant in a programme for young media professionals run by the U.S. Department of State. I travelled from Egypt – where I work as a freelance journalist – to the United States. I visited Washington, DC; New York; Illinois; Seattle; and Texas in 21 days. At dawn on 11 September 2002, we headed to Manhattan to visit the site where the World Trade Center collapsed and commemorated the first anniversary of the attacks. Looking out over the site where the Twin Towers once stood, I observed that it had become an almost empty stretch of land, surrounded by a small fence.

During the commemoration ceremony, I realised the magnitude of pain and suffering that Americans felt as a result of that treacherous attack. I could not help but notice that all the Americans present – Muslims, Jews, Christians and others– were overtaken by deep emotion.

Afterwards I travelled through several American states. I noticed that the majority of the Muslims I met during my tour emphasised that they were American and expressed a deep sense of belonging to this land.

In Seattle, I remember meeting an Egyptian immigrant named Samir Al-Arabi, who owned a shop selling traditional Egyptian artefacts. He told me: “On the day following the attacks, I found people waiting for me at the door of my shop. They knew I was a Muslim immigrant and they asked if I had been harassed or harmed, or if I had perceived any discrimination for being Muslim.” Sometimes, he explained, he would find a bunch of flowers, or a letter that had been pushed under the store’s front door, with an offer to help him if he was ever harassed. Al-Arabi added: “I felt reassured as a Muslim immigrant who was becoming worried about his status in the United States after September 11 and I was grateful for this spirit of brotherhood. I felt true love for America and content with my life here.”

I heard similar remarks from many people on my visit to America. I also learned from discussions with a number of officials at civil society organisations focusing on Arab and Muslim affairs that they were involved in concerted efforts to convince Muslims of the need for their political and social participation in American society. These organisations encouraged positive integration and helped Muslims avoid the potential for isolation as a community.

I also participated in discussions between Americans and citizens and journalists from Muslim-majority countries facilitated through the Internet, video conferencing and in-person cultural exchanges.

These conversations were only one result of 9/11. There were other consequences as well – all certainly unintended. For instance, many religious leaders in the Arab world spoke of the need to update religious sermons for the contemporary world, criticising extremism, and using evidence from the Qur’an and the Sunnah (the words and actions of the Prophet Muhammad) to show that Islam does not condone terrorism.

Additionally, inter-religious dialogue flourished. Prominent leaders from the three Abrahamic faiths met with one another and expressed the desire for positive coexistence. One of the many important initiatives that developed was World Interfaith Harmony Week, proposed by King Abdullah II of Jordan. It was adopted unanimously by the United Nations on 20 October 2010 as an annual event.

The King’s suggestion was based on the work of a group of Muslim figures who started the Common Word initiative in 2007 with an open letter to Christians about the commonalities between Islam and Christianity. Over 70 Christian religious leaders and institutions, including representatives from the Vatican, responded in writing. Such initiatives were a significant step toward global dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

Looking at all the events that have taken place over the past decade, it is clear that though terrorists may have succeeded in committing a crime, they failed to achieve their goal.

Yasser Khalil is an Egyptian researcher and journalist.

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