Reflecting on September 11, 2001 Seventeen Years Later

The 17th Anniversary of 9/11 Reminds Us of Lives and Liberties Lost Since 2001

September 11, 2018

On the 17th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, MPAC honors the nearly 3,000 individuals who lost their lives in the attacks, as well as those first responders who risked their well-being and, in many cases, their lives in order to mitigate the damage. The 17 years since, has profoundly shaped the national security policymaking apparatus.

In the aftermath of 9/11, issues of U.S. national security as well as domestic and foreign policy became politically salient, and were responded to with immediate legislation and responsive action. In October of 2001, just one month after 9/11, President George W. Bush signed the USA PATRIOT Act into law, an anti-terrorism effort which increased the U.S. government’s capacity to wiretap citizens and subpoena their data, maximize U.S. border security enforcement, and expand the legal definitions of what it meant to be a terrorist, among other things. With the passing of the Homeland Security Act in 2002, the United States government established the Department of Homeland Security, a cabinet department tasked with implementing measures to curb terrorism and enhance border security, as well as U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. Additionally, almost immediately after the 9/11 attacks, the stage was beginning to set for a war in and invasion of Afghanistan, and later Iraq, the latter of which was premised on a reactionary response to 9/11. Now, U.S. politicians jockey over who can best disavow the war in Iraq and strategize an exit plan for troops in Afghanistan, due in part, because the majority of the American public prefers a foreign interventionism with more restraint and Congressional oversight.

These tangible political actions resulted in real-world consequences. U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan led to thousands of deaths. A robust and emboldened ICE acted as the backbone for family detention procedures under President Barack Obama and further turned into family separation policies that persist today under President Donald Trump. A section of the PATRIOT Act authorizes the FBI to conduct clandestine searches of individuals’ homes and/or business. Many of the post-9/11 national security policies are fear-based, counterproductive and ineffective measures that waste taxpayer resources on tools like racial/ethnic and religious profiling.

However, the public arguments for and against these political actions have also shaped a U.S. political consciousness that still rewards aggressive U.S. national security procedures, and often at the expense of the most marginalized and underrepresented. It is imperative to understand how precedent set in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 continues to enforce contemporary practices which curb the civil liberties, civil rights and privacy of many in this country, not merely those of American Muslims, but of all communities. Moreover, we should understand how so often the debates surrounding those contemporary practices collapse along the same fraught lines drawn almost a generation ago. Namely, as those which “protect” American interests and citizens, and those which don’t.

Consider how, in post-9/11 America, Sikhs became subject to hate crimes and Islamophobia merely in virtue of their being mistaken to have a superficial connection to Islam and to the Middle East. This subjection, and the daily fear it instills, persists to this day, and is largely the result of a discriminative association between extremism and certain forms of cultural and religious presentation. Consider also the direct line which can be drawn from the detention and questioning of individuals suspected of terrorist activity in the aftermath of 9/11 to the coercive questioning of those Latinx or Latinx-passing individuals suspected of being undocumented. Recently, the Trump administration proposed a new rule which would permit the indefinite detention of children crossing the border, effectively undercutting the Flores settlement of 1997 which limits such detention to 20 days. Additionally, consider how the surveillance of Muslims in this country became routinely normalized as a necessary means to enforcing national security. Surveillance programs exist today, for example, the TSA’s ‘Quiet Skies’ program, which is conducted without regard for whether or not the individuals surveilled are likely to commit any terrorist activity. The advent of predictive policing procedures represents an example of how the U.S. government has extended the logic used to justify leveraging private information as public data in order to police citizens. The ways in which such a notion invariably leads to bad outcomes have been well documented.

The political consciousness which excuses and justifies these material realities cannot be done away with by the stroke of a pen, nor by any particularist counter-argument. Rather, it must be habitually considered and challenged just as it was habitually established and reinforced. Today, we should all reflect on the status of those freedoms and civil liberties to which this country promised we were entitled. We ought to engage with the broader political debate surrounding these issues with the understanding that its implications are broadly felt and, oftentimes, longstanding.



View All


Help us continue our work with a quick
one-time or monthly donation.