Last Tuesday, the undergraduate student government of the University of Minnesota Twin Cities rejected a proposal for a moment of recognition on future anniversaries of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The proposal was a response to the university’s lack of a commemoration regarding the attacks and was denied in a 36-23 vote (with three abstentions).
When I first read about the vote, I was enraged. As a Minnesota native, I could not believe that the university’s student government elected to disregard an event that fundamentally transformed the United States. But after thinking about the issue, I began to understand the student government’s decision. The rejection was not eliminating an already established moment of remembrance, but rather disallowing the implementation of a new one. I do not believe that the student government wanted to downplay the significance of Sept. 11, but rather was genuinely concerned for the safety of certain minority populations across campus—especially given that “Muslim students have reported repeated harassment each year on Sept. 11 and had concerns about how this proposal might impact their community” (as stated by student government president, Joelle Stangler). Thus the proposal was rejected to secure the safety of minority students.
Once again, I understand the student government’s decision. I admit that I ignorantly went headline-hopping in order to fuel a misguided and therein misplaced sense of anger regarding the situation. Yet, I still cannot agree with the decision.
Given the current social climate in America, we must consider the role of race and how it affected the rejection of the proposal (I am assuming that race and religious affiliation are correlated). Initially, we might incorrectly assume that Sept. 11 is completely independent from race—after all, it was not an attack on white Americans but rather an attack on all Americans. Christine Rousselle, a writer for Townhall.com, raises a valid point on the issue: “The victims of 9/11 aren’t remembered because they were killed by Muslims—they are remembered because they were killed by terrorists, who happened to be Muslim.”
Unfortunately, we must recognize the pervasive bigotry in the United States. We must understand that racism is and will be an undeniable response to Sept. 11 memorials. It is because of this very sense of narrow-mindedness that the University of Minnesota rejected the proposal. While Christine’s comment is completely accurate, it is wrong to believe that the Muslim community would not be further marginalized had the proposal been accepted.
Hence race is inevitably rooted within this discussion. But we should not make this proposal a divisive issue of race. And being a white male, I recognize how easy it is for me to misunderstand the scope of racism and its affects, but I think we are losing sight of what Sept. 11 represents: terrorism. The Sept. 11 attacks radically changed the way we perceive terrorism, national security, and involvement in the Middle East. It severely changed America and we have a duty to remember the victims and soldiers who have died as a consequence of Sept. 11. More importantly, I believe that all American universities have a responsibility to commemorate Sept. 11 because of the important dialogue it promotes: that terrorism is not dead.
Especially in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks this weekend, we need to be aware that there are people in the world who wish to destroy the foundations of our civilization with the cry “death to democracy.” And we need to be reminded that this conflict does not exist only in the Middle East. The attacks not just in Paris, but also in Kenya, Beirut, and Nigeria over this past year are devastating examples of how we are not safe—the war on terror exists in all corners of the world.
So while I understand the decision by the University of Minnesota’s student government, I cannot condone it. The threat of terror is too great a reality to ignore and commemorating Sept. 11 helps Americans remember that threat.
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