Chicoans reflect on 9-11 and the events that followed
We don’t need to tell you that America changed forever on Sept. 11, 2001. And we don’t need to tell you what happened afterwards—the war in Afghanistan, the hunt for Osama, the secret detentions in this country, and now the drumbeats of war against Iraq.
You’ve heard it, read it, seen it all, especially lately. There’s nothing like the first anniversary of an earth-shaking, world-changing event to bring it all back and then some. We don’t need to cover that ground again.
Instead we’ve turned to people in the community who we thought might have interesting things to say about the attacks of 9-11 and their aftermath. We wanted to find out how a diverse group of thoughtful people believed their lives had changed and how America and the world had changed in the past year.
We hope you find their responses as interesting as we do, and we thank them for their participation.
A therapist on discord in the family of nations
Henry Ganzler is by nature an optimistic and upbeat person. But the events of last Sept. 11 and their aftermath have left him with “a deep sense of sadness,” he says.
Ganzler, who lives with his wife in Forest Ranch, has been a licensed psychologist and psychotherapist for 33 years. He’s traveled extensively in Asia and led study tours to Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Bhutan and Thailand. He also owns a video company that specializes in documentaries about the Himalayas and South Asia. He has been a Buddhist practitioner for 30 years.
The sadness he feels includes an “ongoing sadness for the people who lost their lives, for their families and friends who will never have the opportunity to love them, argue with them, share in the joys and pains in their lives.” But he also feels sadness for the families of the men who killed themselves by hijacking the planes and crashing them. And he feels sad that “there were thousand of people throughout the world who were happy that so many Americans were killed that day.”
Ultimately, he says, “the events of 9-11 and the past year have left me with an ongoing sense of pain, sadness and pessimism about the inability of so many people in the world to see each other as brothers and sisters, people just like themselves, who … want to be happy, enjoy their families and make the most of their lives.”
Since 9-11, he notes, Americans are more frightened than they were before—"afraid to fly, to gather together in large crowds, and suspicious of people who look different, especially those who have dark, swarthy complexions or who wear turbans.”
Worse is our willingness to give up our civil rights in the name of “security.” Many Americans have become “indifferent to the government’s holding people in prison without allowing them to talk to an attorney or charging them with any crimes.”
Unfortunately, our country “has failed to change in ways that are necessary to prevent terrorism in the future.” As a nation, he says, we cast ourselves as the “good guys” and others as the evil “bad guys.” We don’t “recognize our own shadow. We don’t see what we do to other people in the world that causes them to hate us, to want to harm us.”
We need to join global efforts to work cooperatively, not shun them and “act however we like because we are the most powerful nation on earth.” We can begin, he adds, by examining our addiction to oil and the policies that follow from it, he says.
“I do not mean to say that those who would destroy us have no ‘shadow side'. … They too are chauvinistic and ethnocentric. But I don’t believe the huge problems that confront us can be solved by bombing the other side until they yield.”
As a psychotherapist, he says, he “learned long ago that in a family or couple no one person is all right and the other all wrong. All must make changes if the family is to survive and thrive. And each side must believe that his or her point of view is heard and understood before he or she will be willing to listen to the other person’s point of view. I believe the same is true with the family of nations.”
Former editor equates 9-11 with Pearl Harbor
For Jack Winning, the now-retired former long-time editor of the Chico Enterprise-Record, the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, constitute one of the two major public tragedies in his life, the other being Pearl Harbor.
“It’s affected everybody in that many people have realized how fragile our existence is,” Winning said via phone from his home. “It’s one of those events where you certainly remember where you were when it happened for the rest of your life.”
Winning said that he believes the Bush administration’s response to 9-11 was proper, in that it did succeed in uniting the country and creating a broad awareness of the dangers of terrorism. But where it will all lead, he says, one can only guess. “There’s a feeling that we are now on a war footing,” he noted.
When asked whether he thought about how he might have handled the story had he still been editor of the daily, Winning pointed out that most of the stories on the national subject come via the wire services and that the one local story of interest he has followed was that of Ali Mubarek, the Corning man from Pakistan rounded up and eventually deported because of his one-time friendship with an Al Qaeda operative. Besides, he says, he no longer looks at the local media in the way he used to, as a news editor.
“I do have a lot of serious questions about the arrests and deportations that have occurred; that was interesting to me. … But whether it was on the same level as the Japanese internment camps [of World War II], I don’t think so, because that was thousands of people.”
Sinan and Samer Al-Faqeeh
Palestinian brothers still feel welcome in America
Sinan Al-Faqeeh, 25, and his brother Samer, 30, are Palestinians born and raised in the Persian Gulf country of Qatar. They came to the United States on student visas, and both attended Chico State University, following in the footsteps of their older brother Saaed. Samer came to Chico in 1992. Sinan, ,who came here six years ago, received his degree in finance last December; Samer is currently not enrolled—he calls his education “an ongoing project"—but gained his U.S. residency a few a years ago when he got married in the States.
Both are articulate, thoughtful and very pleasant men.
One year ago, Sinan was the president of the Pan Arab Student Union at Chico State. On the evening of Sept. 11 he and a number of other Middle Eastern students met on campus with university and community leaders to discuss the potential backlash against people of Arab descent in the wake of the attack.
At that gathering, an understandably sober and nervous affair, Sinan said he was glad to see the faces of other Arab Muslim students, including Palestinians, and was grateful for the support from the community.
“It’s really a sad day,” he said. “We’ve been getting a lot of phone calls from back home. I would just like to say thank you.”
One year later, the brothers manage and operate Sam’s House of Hofbrau in downtown Chico. Sinan is currently looking for a job in the financial world, so far without success. In the back of his mind, he says, he can’t help but wonder if his failure to find a job has anything to do with his cultural heritage. Samer dismisses such thoughts and says the reality is the state of the economy makes it difficult for anyone to find a job.
His brother says for the most part he agrees with Samer, and that in fact his day-to day life hasn’t changed all that much in the past year.
“Maybe in the beginning I thought my life might change dramatically,” Sinan said in a recent interview. “You know, living in the United States and being an Arab. I thought it was going to change dramatically. … Often in the news we hear of new laws aimed at certain people or foreign students, but nothing has changed in that way. Obviously what happened on Sept. 11 changed what’s going on in the world, but personally no.
“I hear of things happening to my friends in other, supposedly more modern cities, where people are much more hostile than people in Chico.”
He said if anything has changed it’s for the positive.
“There are more people asking questions about how life is back home,” he said. “How things are in Palestine. People are becoming more curious. People are getting more interested in these kinds of things.”
Right now he is here on a work-study visa and says he does not feel he is being tracked by the Immigration and Naturalization Service any more than usual.
Samer, when he is in school, studies industrial technology. He’s moved around since coming here a dozen years ago and has lived in Los Angeles and Phoenix. As long as he is making progress toward a degree, he said, the government does not question his ambition. Plus, in 1995 he was married and received permanent residency. He worked for an Internet company in Sacramento until the company “tanked with the rest of the economy,” and he took a job in a hotel, where he was employed on Sept. 11.
“On that day my wife woke me up, and I looked at the screen and said, ‘Wait that’s not real,’ “ he said. “This only happens in the movies; it looked like an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.”
Driving to work, he said, he was looking over his shoulder, worried about retaliation. “I don’t know if I was overreacting. I just didn’t know what to expect.”
Nothing happened, he said, other than he was “faced with tons of questions from co-workers when I got to work. “Everybody wanted to know more. The problem was I was in the same boat. I just wanted to know more.”
For the next two or three months, he was nervous because of events like the murder of a Punjabi Sikh at a gas station in Mesa, Ariz.
“Muslims and Sikhs don’t like each other, historically speaking, and I thought to myself, ‘OK, that was mistaken just because he has a beard and he wore a turban on his head. What says somebody is not going to take a retaliatory action, because of ignorance, against whoever looks like that?'”
The first two months the feelings of fear of retaliation were strong, he said, and in fact have never completely gone away. “This is one of the things that feeling created; the fact that you just have to be extra careful,” Samer said.
Sinan said he didn’t get the same feelings because he was living in Chico on that day. Still, Samer cautioned, “ignorance exists everywhere.”
One former Chicoan of Palestinian descent whose life has changed dramatically in the wake of Sept. 11 is Kahlid Dudin, the fiery and outspoken former Chico State student who came to this country in 1988. Dudin, who often acted as a representative of Arab students, stunned his friends and acquaintances a few months ago when he joined the Army. He is currently stationed in Ft. Benning, Ga., undergoing basic training with hopes of joining the Army Airborne.
“The first time he was telling me about it, I was surprised,” said Sinan. “But it took him like four months to talk himself into it, so by the time he did, I guess I wasn’t surprised.”
“I was honestly in shock,” said Saner. “The other thing that surprised me was my reaction to it. My belief was never join the army—not just the U.S. Army, but any armed forces. Stay away from that because it is a waste of life. This was my belief.
“When Kahlid told me what he was doing, I was in total shock. What shocked me even more is [that] after he did that I actually started thinking about it. Not joining the Army, but the FBI or CIA.
“One thing that Kahlid told me was if you want to succeed in this country and really be recognized as American, you are going to have to be part of the armed forces. That was a very strong statement, and I think his saying that was part of the effect of 9-11. Prior to that you didn’t have to think that way.
“Before that I thought I was as American as anybody. I think 9-11 created a situation where now we have to prove it.”
City largely unaffected—but now prepared
City Manager Tom Lando says the main impact he has witnessed over the last year as a result of 9-11 has been felt at the Chico Municipal airport.
For the first few weeks after the attack, the federal government began imposing all sorts of new regulations—such as new airport screeners and plans for a redesign—as well as other measures, many of which changed on a weekly basis as the government tried to educate itself to combat terrorism. For several months, the city of Chico used staff time and resources to implement the changes, assuming they might be reimbursed for the project later, which is in fact what happened.
“The federal government is incurring a fairly expensive price on this, for us something like $250,000 a year to screen—not counting the cost for the redesign of the airport that is being required.”
Others city departments, including fire and police, began receiving new warnings since 9-11 and new training measures concerning hazardous materials, for example. Also, the city has been under pressure to look closely at its evacuation plan. But overall, the financial burden has not been that great, Lando says, thanks to the federal government.
“Most of us thought some of the moves at the airport were a little silly,” he says, noting that future attacks would likely come from other areas—avenues that the city has also been exploring. Right after 9-11, there was federal notification to look at security concerning the Oroville Dam. Then, of course, during the anthrax scare, there was increased preparation and training for an appropriate response.
“Of course, we hope nothing like that happens, but you have to be ready.”
Asked how it personally affected him, Lando says that, like many others, he has felt a kind of “incremental impact” that has manifested itself more as “mental effort” than physical.
“There’s been a loss of innocence as a society, and we’re all much more alert as a result. … But mainly it depends on the person—different people have been psychologically harmed in different ways.”
Civil-liberties expert sees ironies
Ed Bronson is intelligent and opinionated, and while he hasn’t run into many people who disagree with him about the effects of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on civil liberties, he knows he and his liberal-minded ilk are probably in the minority.
“I’m one of those card-carrying members of the ACLU,” said the Chico State University political-science professor. In the wake of the attacks, he sees another tragedy in that the nation’s fears have ironically given more power to those who would love to see an end to the American way of life. The physical and emotional damage to the nation was significant, Bronson acknowledges, but “the danger to our civil liberties is much greater.”
Bronson is frequently called upon as an expert witness, usually hired by defendants to make a case for a change of trial venue. He was consulted on the trial of the accused bombers of the African embassy and on the case of “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh.
Bronson said that, as he spends much of his time in academia, he hasn’t heard the mainstream public’s concerns first-hand and thus hasn’t found himself in a position to explain foreign-policy issues and contradictions in behavior that, in progressive circles, are so obvious they’re left unsaid. “I’m just not around that many right-wing zealots,” he said. For this reason, and his confidence in his world view, his life hasn’t changed since Sept. 11.
“The idea of secret detentions, people with no lawyers, American citizens held incommunicado. That’s some other country; that’s not us.”
He’s frightened by what people are willing to accept in the name of fighting evildoers—the idea of blindly trusting the government and allowing people to be searched and detained out of the belief that only the guilty have something to fear. “Being pulled off an airplane because of your skin color—that’s unreal.”
He believes a lot of the measures taken since Sept. 11—for example, forbidding people from parking in the lot of the Chico Municipal Airport for fear of bomb-toting vehicles—were ill-advised. “People need that security to feel safe, no matter how silly it is.
“Everyone says, ‘Sure, I support free speech.’ Then, peel away the layers and ask about, say, gay pride at high school, and they’ll say, ‘Well, I didn’t mean that.'”
The reaction of the American public and government officials—particularly Democrats’ willingness to stand by while all this goes on—is offensive to Bronson. “We need more opinion leaders speaking out,” he said. “They’ve got to show some guts in hearings and the Senate. There has to be more standing up when things are wrong.
“I’ve never had a lot of confidence in our ability to avoid repression,” he said, adding that the whole aftermath of Sept. 11 sparks feelings of déjà vu for “people who are familiar with the McCarthy period and some of the excesses of the FBI.
“I guess one has to relearn those lessons,” he said. “I suspect that it will get better.
“The scary part is when it gets to relatively decent people who never see it get to them,” said Bronson, predicting that awareness will come only as civil-rights violations touch everyone personally—like the parents of the proverbial college student who gets busted for something and suddenly see the flaws in the justice system. “A liberal is someone who’s spent the night in jail, just like a conservative is a liberal who got mugged.
“It would be tragic if the terrorists win, not because of their attacking us, but because we do it to ourselves.”
‘A new sense of community’
U.S. Representative Wally Herger could hardly believe what he was seeing on Sept. 11 as he was evacuated out of the Capitol building.
“There was this thick column of black smoke rising above the Pentagon,” he remembered. “Everyone was just walking out, staring at it. We were in shock.”
Herger acknowledges that it’s “a little corny, by now, but I do think this is when America lost its innocence.”
“I think I am like most people in that I was just in a state of disbelief about it,” he said. “Even a year later, I still am. We’ve felt for so long that we were safe here. This was not something we imagined in our wildest dreams.”
Even Herger’s wildest dreams are different now. Personally, he acknowledges being shaken “as a citizen” by the attacks. His wife and six of his school-aged children moved from the Washington, D.C., suburbs where they lived back to California because they felt it was safer.
“It was something we planned to do anyway, but I’d say [the attacks] moved up the plan a couple of years,” he said. “My wife said, ‘If something happens, I don’t want to be stuck in Washington.'”
The attacks have had other, encouraging effects, too. Herger spoke of a lingering expanded sense of community, of a vague sense of “Americanism” that wasn’t there before the attacks.
“I think people realize more now that no matter where you are politically, what you think about the president or anything else, that we are all united,” he said. “And that’s an unbelievably good feeling.”
‘Our grief is not a war cry’
There’s a kind of hush in Amaera BayLaurel-Ceccone’s voice when she reflects on the swirl of emotions that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks dislodge in her.
BayLaurel-Ceccone is a careful person, a writer at heart who always wants to get her point across gracefully. So she took a day and a half to reflect—meditate, as she calls it—on the attacks. She refers to her notes often during our discussion.
Still, the words don’t come easily. BayLaurel-Ceccone, an activist who was director of the Chico Peace and Justice Center, is still struggling to sort out her response to the attacks. In a quiet voice, she tries anyway.
She’s disappointed in and fearful of the American military’s heavy-handed response to the attacks and continuing presence in places like Afghanistan. She notes that, yes, the attacks on the Trade Centers and the Pentagon were terribly tragic and said that she grieves for every one of the nearly 3,000 people who died Sept. 11, but upward of 5,000 Iraqi children die each month because of U.N. sanctions.
She deeply fears that most Americans, and their government, took too quickly to a fearful, reactionary posture in the nebulous “war on terror,” failing to step back and examine the years of events, the oil-drenched poverty, and the helplessness of so many Middle Eastern countries that bred the Sept. 11 suicide bombers.
“We have bred violence in other countries,” she says slowly, as if she’s examining each word. “There are little boys in Palestine who are living under so much violence, and they’re raised to believe that the suicide bombers are heroes, yet we still support the Israeli army. We’re cultivating that next generation of suicide bombers. Violence begets violence.”
Personally, the attacks have made BayLaurel-Ceccone, who’s 26, more committed than ever to fighting injustice. It’s a big job, she knows, but she fights small battles in big wars.
“Our grief is not a war cry,” she said. “And yet is has been.”
She teaches poetry at Chapman Elementary School with money from a state grant and hopes that the students’ new literacy will make them ethical consumers and critical thinkers. She maintains a “global view” and notes that death in any form, be it in humans, plants or animals, is tragic and should be grieved over. There’s sadness everywhere, she said, but some is more noticeable than others.
“It’s hard for me to separate [the Sept. 11 attacks] from everything else in the world,” she said. “It was just terrible, what happened [that day], but this kind of thing happens all over the world every day. We’re not protected from it just because we live here.”
Love of power or power of love?
Dr. Carolyn McKeown is the founding minister of the Spiritual Enrichment Center, the Religious Science church that now owns and meets in the former California Park Pavilion in east Chico. She’s been a minister for more than 30 years, and so she naturally tends to view the events of 9-11 in the context of her spiritual convictions.
Ultimately, she says, the emergency of 9-11 was also a call for a “state of emergence"—"a call for humanity to heal all sorts of ills caused, not by the will of God, but through misuse of the free will given to all people by God to choose how they will live in the world. Some choose to use the free will through the love of power; for others, it is through the power of love.”
She sees evidence of this “power of love” in the lines that formed at blood banks, the hard work and sacrifices of the helping agencies following the plane crashes, the prayer vigils by people of every faith that are still being held and still asking for an end to terrorism.
Personally, she says, she challenges herself to see divine intelligence operating in even the worst situations. She challenges the idea that humanity was made to mourn. “I believe we were made to express the goodness of God in as many ways as we can.” That includes taking seriously Jesus’ injunction not to kill, steal, commit adultery or lie and to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
“We are living our eternality right now,” she says.
“Sept. 11 opened the opportunity for each person to heal false ideas that limit their expression of love for themselves as spiritual beings," she concludes. "Being able to love your neighbors in all their differences is to practice the spiritual values taught in all traditions that bring lasting peace and harmony."