This is the third and final post in a series covering the lead up to the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. This one focuses on news coverage; technology and social media issues; and media discourses about the so-called ‘Decade 9/11’ and ‘Gen 9/11’.
Most of the news focused on the heroism of the survivors and the rescuers. For example, The 7pm Project ran daily segments filmed in America such as this story about the New York Fire fighters. ABC News America interviewed Shelia Moody who survived the Pentagon attack. USA Today interviewed Lauren Manning who survived the attack at one of the Twin Towers. The View featured Marcy Borders who worked on the North Tower and whose dust-covered image was beamed around the world immediately after the attacks.
I read a lot of material from SBS World News Australia and ABC News Australia. Both hosted a series of special reports on the lead up to September 11 anniversary. I’ve blogged about one of the SBS features on the effects of September 11 on Australian-Muslims already. Abroad, Al Jazeera, the BBC, and CNN hosted specials on the ‘9-11 Decade’. I will briefly mention a couple of the reports that stood for me and which I’m still thinking about.
Lessons Learned: Metered Political Responses
On the 9th of September, Michael Crowley from Time magazine argues that a decade after the September 11 attacks, terrorism does not play a ‘central’ part in American politics. He writes: ‘Residents of New York and Washington are fretting over reports that al-Qaeda may want to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, in its own deranged fashion. But our political system remains calm. And it’s worth pausing to reflect on that’. I don’t really agree that terrorism is not a central part of American politics, but the point about the Obama Administration not using September 11 Anniversary as political currency is indeed a good one to reflect upon.
Lessons Still Not Learned: First Responders in New York Have ‘primitive’ communication technology compared to teenagers with smart phones
On the 12th of September, Anderson Cooper 360 reported that New York City first responders continue to struggle with poor communications tools. This was a major impediment to the efforts of rescue workers when the September 11 attacks first happened. Ten years later, the technology available to first responders ‘is still primitive’. Comm. Raymond Kelly from the New York City Police Department testified before a Senate Committee in February that: ‘a 16 year old with a smart phone has a more advanced communications capability than a police officer or a deputy carrying a radio. Given the technology that is available and the complexity of the threat that we face this is unacceptable’. The USA Senate Committee on Commerce is still struggling to secure a unified modern communication system for first responders.
Social Media Coverage: ‘Still Learning’
Also on the 12th of September, The Buffer Blog shared the efforts of American Twitter user, Brian Austin, who tweeted the timeline of events from the September 11th Terrorist Attacks in a series of real-time tweets. TweetSmarter relayed author Martin Bryant’s analysis on a similar theme gone wrong for The Guardian newspaper in the UK. Writing on The Next Web, Bryant reported that The Guardian set up a separate Twitter account to tweet the events of the terrorist attacks in real time; a move that was heavily criticised by the Twitter community. The Twitter feeds for this account consequently stopped abruptly and there was no further tweets from that account.
The biggest difference between Austin’s and The Guardian’s similar idea is that The Guardian is a respected news service that people trust to deliver up to the minute reports on current events. People were offended by the motivations behind the Guardian’s separate account. By tweeting events from September 11 2001 in real time as if they were happening in 2011 seemed exploitative. The public backlash reinforces that the practices between traditional media services and social media are still being negotiated. ‘The Guardian may have made a mistake yesterday, but it shows that we’re still discovering all the nuances in context and timing that can affect the way we “read” Twitter’. They also featured media commentator Iain Hepburn’s blog, which offers good analysis about the importance of providing emotion and context to news tweets.
Behind the buzzwords: ‘Decade 9-11’ and ‘Generation 9-11’
Most of the major news outlets named their special reports commemorating the September 11 anniversary ‘Decade 9-11’ or ‘The 9/11 Decade’. This includes ABC News Australia; Al Jazeera; The Interpreter; The Guardian; The Atlantic; Reuters Global News Journal; and New York magazine, which posed a somewhat enigmatic question: ‘The 9/11 decade is now over. The terrorists lost. But who won?’. The ‘Decade 9/11’ catch phrase may seem an appropriate way of classifying American politics, given the 9-11 attacks were one of the most significant political events in recent American history, but it got me thinking about whether or not this term is useful sociologically. I would argue probably not, since it silences other major events such as the global financial crisis that led to a recession in the USA (and elsewhere), as well as other major public events, like Hurricane Katrina, which highlighted deficiencies in political planning for natural disasters.
Professor Tim Dunne and Dr Matt McDonald, two senior International Relations academics from The University of Queensland, have a forthcoming publication: ‘Remembering and Forgetting the 9/11 Decade’. It will be published in the Australian Literary Review. I hope they take a critical look at this discourse. In a press release advertising a recent roundtable discussion on the same topic Professor Dunne says: ‘The War on Terror has defined the first decade of this century… Its catalyst, 9/11, did not have to happen, nor did the character of the responses… While future 9/11s are possible, so is a more just and law-governed world’. Although I hate the use of the phrase ‘future 9/11s’, I look forward to reading more.
Several news outlets also ran with Andrea Elliott’s ‘Generation 9-11’ article published in the the New York Times on the 8th of September. The story examined the impact of the September 11 attacks on the lives, religious identities and life choices of young American Muslims. Elliott reports that the increased negative scrutiny on Muslims since the September 11 attacks has led some young Muslims to turn away from their religion, while others experienced a ‘spiritual and civic awakening’. One American-Muslim filmmaker says that Muslim youths ‘were already accustomed to being ambassadors “of all things Muslim”’, but, Elliott argues, after of the terrorist attacks, ‘the children of Muslim immigrants became the first line of defence against a stream of queries by non-Muslims’. The findings of two sociologists, Lori Peek, from the Colorado State University and Louise Cainkar, from Marquette University, are cited in the report. Their research finds that many younger Muslims changed their career paths in response to the anti-Muslim backlash. Rather than pursuing engineering and medicine as their parents had done, they went on to study journalism and political science.
A similar topic came up again on the 12th of September on SBS World News Australia Television. Reporter Katrina Yu covered the ‘Youth Support Network Q&A Session: 9/11 – Ten Years On’, held in Auburn, New South Wales. A group of young Muslims shared their experiences growing up in Australia under the shadow of the September 11 attacks. Yu says these youths represent ‘A whole generation growing up with what they say is anti-Islamic sentiment’. Yu reports that the discussions were not ‘all negative’, with the youth saying that the events of September 11 prompted them to ‘ask more questions about the world, [and] engage with politics and religion’. You can watch the video below.
Another SBS report from the 8th of September, which I blogged about earlier, covered a similar theme. The SBS vox pop featured Australian-Muslims saying that one of the positive outcomes of September 11 attacks was that it forced some Muslims to become more politically aware about their religion. One man says that since the events of September 11, Muslims have been more explicit in showing other Australians that Islam is a religion that advocates peace. He says: ‘We couldn’t hide our beliefs… Among so many bad things [that happened since 9/11], for me this was a good thing that happened. It really cleared us of who we are’. Another woman said: ‘It gave us a bit more of a push. It made us to go and to meet more people and to show that this is not Islam. That Islam doesn’t teach us the kind of violence that has taken place here. And we are peaceful people’.
Numerous studies show that some young Muslims have chosen to take up the role of educating non-Muslims about their religion since the September 11 attacks. For example, I interviewed a group of young, well-educated Muslim women in 2001 who saw the Muslim headscarf (hijab) as a ‘flag for Islam’, also in response to the negative stereotypes about Islam which had intensified since the September 11 terrorist attacks.[i] These women believed that wearing the hijab meant they literally wore the responsibility to educate other Australians that their religion is peaceful and to dispel myths and stereotypes about Islam. This can be seen as a very positive exercise that supports the spirit of multicultural respect of other religions and cultures. Then again, members from other religious groups, such as Christians, are not held publicly accountable as individual ambassadors of their religion in Australia. The symbolic practice of expecting individual Muslims to be public educators about their faith exemplifies the extent to which Muslims are constructed as outsiders, or as ‘the Other’ of mainstream Australia.
10th anniversary of September 11 Media Coverage: The Wrap Up
The Australian and international English-language coverage in remembrance of the September 11 attacks focused on themes of survival and heroism. Time magazine highlighted that the Obama administration’s political discourse on terrorism was relatively restrained despite the high terrorism threat alert leading up to the anniversary. Ten years after the attack, technological advances exemplify that communication problems persist for first responders, while traditional media still has much to learn about how to use social media meaningfully when covering public tragedies. The ‘Decade 9-11’ and ‘Generation 9-11’ discussions lend ongoing support to idea that the September 11 attacks continue to define the social and political identifications of Muslims in Australia and America. At the same time, these terms are not being used in a critical manner that deconstructs this narrative, and so they are likely to exacerbate the social marginalisation of Muslims.
[i] Zevallos, Z. (2007) ‘The Hijab as Social Tool for Identity Mobilisation, Community Education and Inclusion’, published proceedings of the Access, Inclusion and Success Conference, 3-4 September. Sydney: University of Western Sydney. Online resource last accessed 11 Sep 11: http://www.uws.edu.au/equity_diversity/equity_and_diversity/tools_and_resources/conference_documents/the_hijab_as_social_tool
Image Credit: The National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center Foundation, Inc. Online resource 9/11 Memorial.org: http://www.911memorial.org/commemorating-91111
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