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For a generation born after 9/11, why it happened proves a difficult question to answer

Sept. 11 21st anniversary, 9/11 history exhibit, Osama Bin Laden, Sept. 7, 2022
Martha Harris
Panel in “Davis Remembers: The 9/11 Project” that explains who Osama bin Laden was and his role in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

As the students got off of school buses at the Legacy Events Center in Farmington, they were met with dozens of American flags stuck into the ground. When they entered the events center, a volunteer reminded them to be respectful, but they are also told it’s OK to ask questions.

Some students were even greeted by Steve Casquarelli, a retired New York firefighter who was one of the first responders at Ground Zero on Sept. 11, 2001.

It’s been 21 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That means students currently in K-12 schools were all born after the event. To teach them about the history and what it means, schools have brought classes here on field trips to visit “Davis Remembers: The 9/11 Project.”

Sept. 11 21st anniversary, Davis Remembers Sign, Sept. 7, 2022
Martha Harris
Outside of the Legacy Events Center in Farmington, Utah, that is set up for the “Davis Remembers” 9/11 exhibit.

The exhibit was put on by the Major Brent Taylor Foundation, named after a former North Ogden mayor who was killed in 2018 while deployed in Afghanistan. A panel in the exhibit said Maj. Brent Taylor was inspired to enlist after the terrorist attacks.

Brent’s widow, Jennie Taylor, is the founder and director of the foundation. She said the exhibit is for all ages.

“But we definitely hone in on the younger generation,” Taylor said. “We want them to learn about 9/11, perhaps in a way they never have before. They don’t have their memories. They didn’t live through it.”

For Taylor, the exhibit is intended to educate people about 9/11 and help them experience the emotions of that day.

“Then, what we hope is that people who do that come away a little more motivated to figure out what their role in this beautiful American story is. What part do I play? What, maybe, can I do to improve my home, my community, my state, my country?”

The first part of the exhibit focused on what life was like before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It laid out the history of Davis County and nodded to 90s culture with pictures of the Simpsons and Spice Girls.

Then, students entered a green tunnel that says “Subway” at the entrance. After they exited the tunnel, they were met with pictures and videos of the 9/11 attacks, front pages of newspapers and a minute-by-minute timeline of the day.

Sept. 11 21st anniversary, Steve Casquarelli, Sept. 7, 2022
Martha Harris
Retired New York Fire Department firefighter, Steve Casquarelli, who was a first responder to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Teacher Danny Alvey was at the exhibit on a field trip with his Doxey Elementary sixth graders. In this second part of the exhibit, one of his students became emotional and started crying.

“She saw a picture of a woman who was crying because she lost her son in the tower,” Alvery said. “That hit her a little, you know, just the reality of that.”

At the end of the exhibit, there were booths staffed with police officers, firefighters, first responders and community organizations that individuals can donate to or volunteer with.

“It just felt amazing to learn about what happened,” said South Weber Elementary fifth grader Simon Randall. “It was fun, I really liked it.”

When asked if he still has any lingering questions after going through the exhibit, he said he still doesn’t understand why 9/11 happened.

“I wonder why the people who attacked us thought we were too free,” he said. “People need to be free to be able to live their life.”

Sept. 11 21st anniversary, 9/11 history exhibit, Sept. 7, 2022
Martha Harris
Aerial view of the “Davis Remembers” 9/11 exhibit at the Legacy Events Center in Farmington, Utah.

In an address to Congress and the nation on Sept. 20, 2001, then President George Bush said, “They [al-Qaeda] hate our freedoms — our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.”

Satin Tashnizi understood Simon’s confusion and believes he’s not alone. Tashnizi is Muslim, the daughter of Iranian immigrants and a co-founder of the Emerald Project, which focuses on combatting the misrepresentation of Islam.

“Do we understand why 9/11 happened, as a nation? Absolutely not,” Tashnizi said. “And the things that obstruct our understanding are misinformation campaigns using patriotism to avoid accountability.”

Tashnizi said in order for the U.S. to maintain its national security, it needs to be able to answer why the attacks happened. And to answer that question, Tashnizi said Americans need to critically look at U.S. foreign policy.

“9/11 didn’t happen because people were jealous of our freedom. There is a document that Osama bin Laden wrote that outlined all of his grievances with the United States and why he attacked them,” Tashnizi said.

She specifically pointed to sanctions against Iraq, the United State’s support of Israel, and western interests competing for influence in the Middle East.

“Exploiting a peaceful religion to advance political gains is disgusting and it’s shameful. And [9/11] has been condemned over and over again by the Muslim community,” she said. “If you’re willing to put all of that aside, there is a group that were unhappy with its [the United State’s] conduct and they reacted that way.”

But, Tashnizi said that is hard to explain to a fifth grader.

“The best thing I can do without overwhelming someone, especially a fifth grader, is introduce them to the idea that maybe the world isn't as they thought it was,” she said. “You have to learn that over the course of a lifetime.”

Tashnizi said it is hard to talk about why 9/11 happened because you can be labeled as unpatriotic.

“I love the United States of America, it’s a beautiful country. And the concepts that the U.S. tries to build on and the freedoms that it tries to build on within its borders is beautiful,” she said. “The fact of the matter is, what happens outside the United State’s borders is not a reflection of the values that we like to think we stand by.”

Sept. 11 21st anniversary, Davis County Legacy Center, Sept. 7, 2022
Martha Harris
A class of students lined up outside the Legacy Events Center in Farmington, Utah, waiting to get into the “Davis Remembers” 9/11 exhibit.

The exhibit in Davis County does not talk about the United State’s involvement in the Middle East as a motive for 9/11. It also does not discuss the Muslim community. The co-chair of the exhibit, Johnny Ferry, said they didn’t want to create any animosity.

“We try and keep it family friendly, nonpolitical and very focused on our patriotism to this country and everything that goes with that,” he said.

For his part, Alvey said he talks with his students a little bit about the Muslim community when teaching about the 9/11 attacks.

“Make sure that we understand that this was done by a certain group,” Alvey said. “Don’t lay the sins of that specific small group on a large population.”

Tashnizi thinks it’s noble that people are trying to separate Muslims from the violence of 9/11. But she does not think you can discuss 9/11 without talking about Muslims, specifically, about how the aftermath of the attacks affected Muslims.

Islamophobia rose in the United States in the months and years after the attacks.

“I was 9 years old when we had two F.B.I agents come and ask my parents if they had any ill intentions toward the U.S. or wished to harm it,” said Tashnizi.

She thinks it’s important for people to know how Muslims worldwide were harmed by the United State’s response to 9/11. To her, it’s not too late to learn and that people should be asking questions.

“You live in a country that makes a lot of decisions for the rest of the world, and you being informed could change the trajectory of our history and our future.”

The Emerald Project will host a panel on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022 about how the aftermath of 9/11 has affected Muslims, non-Muslims, and families in Muslim-majority countries.

Martha is KUER’s education reporter.
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