The collapse of the two towers on 9/11 was heartbreaking for all Americans, especially those watching it unfold live. In the hours of held breath, many Americans may have thought about how this attack might affect America long term. Would it entice more terrorists to plan attacks on America? What if they are at work one day and suddenly there’s an airplane in the side of their work building? What many Americans failed to think about, however, is how this attack would affect Muslim Americans?

As Trump’s America trudges on, more and more people are beginning to realize that 9/11 was a traumatic event that also affected Muslim America as well.

How people remember 9/11, and how the younger generation is taught to remember it, contributes to who they think it hurt most, and who they may fail to think about in the context of today’s political climate. The 9/11 Memorial and Museum was established on September 11 of 2011. It is built around the two fallen towers. The museum is full of art installations commemorating those lost, and personal items that were either found on bodies, donated by the families of the victims, or in remembrance of those that risked their lives to save the lives of others. The memorial and museum also has a website where they supply lesson plans for how to teach 9/11 to grades K-12.

Why is teaching children grief important?

One of the first things one may notice is how the lesson plans are focused on teaching children that they are allowed to grieve. For example, the lesson plans for grades 1-5 have a lesson titled “Children Grieve Too...Strategies and Suggestions For Dealing With grief.” The questions and issues that this particular lesson plan addresses are as follows:

  • What is grief?
  • What are some instances when we might experience grief?
  • What are some strategies to help deal with grief?”

These questions are incredibly important because often, children who are grieving are not validated, and are told that because they are not adults, they cannot have these complex emotions.

Teaching children that grieving is important and real is the first step to molding a generation that is free of toxic masculinity and empathetic to the pain and grieving of others.

In another lesson plan for grades K-3, the after-effects of 9/11 are taught about. The questions and addressed issues are as follows:

  • “How did 9/11 affect businesses, both on 9/11 and in its aftermath?
  • Why do visitors come to New York City?
  • How did people help each other on 9/11?
  • How can students comfort other children feeling a loss or facing a crisis?”

It is easy to find oneself wondering if the first question includes businesses owned by Muslim-Americans.

Unfortunately, this question is not expanded upon in the lesson plan. One can only hope it addresses the failing and the rising of businesses due to Islamophobia. As the grade levels increase, the subjects in the lesson plans become more and more complex.

In a lesson titled “Islamist Extremism In the Last 20 Years” for grade levels 7-12, terrorism is discussed. The questions and addressed issues are as follows:

What is terrorism?

  • What are the goals of Islamist extremism?
  • What terrorist attacks have been conducted by Islamist extremists in the past 20 years?
  • How are they similar? How are they different? How have countries responded to terrorist attacks?
  • How do these attacks compare to 9/11?”

At first glance, this lesson plan seems to specifically pick on terrorism committed by individuals with a Muslim background, and America’s relationship with these individuals.

However, on second glance, one may notice the section titled “Background for lesson (if necessary).” In it, teachers are reminded to teach their students that not all terrorists are of Muslim background: “it is important to remind students that all terrorists aren’t members of al-Qaeda nor are all terrorists of Muslim background.” This also happens to be an important step to molding a generation of socially aware people.

However, it is not enough to get them there. This section should not have the disclaimer “if necessary.” It should be absolutely vital to a lesson plan such as this one. Terrorism is not only committed by Muslims. It is often white American Christain-raised boys who shoot and kill their fellow students in school shootings.

Another place on the site for the 9/11 Memorial and Museum people maybe find themselves in is the “Our City.

Our Story.” This page is set up as an interactive map. Browsers can click on a location on the map and are brought to a name and a story. The story is an interview with the person who is from the area and remembers 9/11. Each podcast is between 10 and 20 minutes.

There are few people of color represented in 'Our City: Our Story'

While looking at this page, some may notice that most of the people being interviewed are white. If a person is looking for inclusivity and wanting more stories outside of the white perspective, this may not be the place for them. It is unfortunate that there are so few people of color, and so few denominations represented. However, there is at least one Muslim voice included.

Imam Latif’s family immigrated from Pakistan. He fit in well growing up in America and found himself thinking more and more about spirituality. Latif describes his high school self as "your everyday American" - one who wore popular clothing brands and grew his hair out.

The part of the interview that a person may find themselves getting caught up in is what the interviewer says after he describes this all-American childhood. The interviewer, Jenny Pachucki, states “It seems like you had a pretty quote, unquote, American childhood. You’re describing the American high school kid.” A statement like this may catch someone’s eye because Latif is an American.

He had a typical American high school experience because he was an American high school student.

Latif makes sure to correct Pachucki:

I’m American. I was born in New Jersey. I live in New York now. I’ve lived here for the last 16 years.”

It is still strange that Latif had to set Pachucki straight. While she should have been more professional, and known better in general, it is an example of what most people think of Muslims, specifically of first-generation Muslims whose parents moved to the states.

Imam Latif was an undergraduate at NYU. On 9/11, he and his fellow students were evacuated and watched in the direction of downtown as the second plane hit the Towers. He describes it:

“There was a lot of commotion. There was a lot of noise, and we got hit with this very deafening silence as [we] watched the second plane fly into the Towers.

It felt like everything had just stopped. It was going very slow. It was really, just seconds and as instantaneously as that silence hit us it shattered, and we all went in different directions.”

The allusion to the students going in different directions may unknowingly speak to the different reactions the students had to 9/11. Some people became more paranoid, especially of Muslims. Latif recalls a moment right after the attack in which he heard fellow students sharing Islamophobic thoughts with each other:

“I went back into my dorm, and I overheard people who lived on my floor saying things to the effect of, ‘We need to get all the Muslims together and send them out of this country so that things like this don't happen anymore.’ When they saw that I could hear them they stopped and I said, ‘You don't have to be quiet on my account.

If this is something you really believe then feel free to keep saying what you're saying.”

Conformity as a means of survival

Not only did Latif feel isolated from his fellow students, but his parents suggested he not cover his head anymore so that he wouldn’t stick out. He describes his return to school:

“When I went back to school after classes resumed a lot of people had changed the way that they looked. Some young women who were wearing headscarves were now wearing hooded sweatshirts or bandanas and turtlenecks. Some just took off their scarves altogether. Young men who had large beards, many of them had trimmed them down. Some had shaved them off completely.”

Latif, it seems, would have to find a way to navigate this new world without losing himself.

This is a symptom we see happening every day: marginalized people conforming as a form of survival. They do not trust in the government to make a difference; to protect them, so they take it into their own hands.

The website for the 9/11 Memorial and Museum is a great start to teaching people, including young children, the lasting effects of 9/11. Each lesson plan is full of valuable information, such as how to manage grief, and how to sympathize with people grieving. The museum commemorates those who lost their lives and those who helped save the lives of others. These things are incredibly important, but they aren’t enough.

There should be more attention to people with different backgrounds, specifically Muslims.

Imam Latif offers a great segue way into the Muslim experience after 9/11, but he should not be the only voice. One can only hope the lesson plans and the voices represented become more inclusive in future years, especially considering we live under a president who endangers the lives of minorities even more.