Reflecting on the 19th Anniversary of 9/11: Resources and Teaching Tips for Educators

Ameena Ghaffar-Kucher (Ameena Ghaffar-Kucher, EdD) and Deepa Iyer

For both of us, 9/11 and its aftermath were transformative times, and catalyzed our work in documentation, research, teaching, and advocacy. As we mark the 19th anniversary of 9/11, we offer resources and tips for educators seeking to teach young people about how the world changed in the wake of this historical moment and how Muslim, South Asian, Arab, and Sikh communities have been affected by the post 9/11 era. While it is important to reflect on the impact of 9/11, it is equally important to situate that day in a larger context than as a singular event, and recognize that its continued impact, even 19 years later.

As time passes, it becomes even more imperative to teach, learn about, and share the complete and inclusive histories of 9/11 and its aftermath. For most young people in K-12 classrooms today, 9/11 is not part of their lived experiences. Their understanding of the impact of 9/11 is shaped by what they learn from teachers and family members. In fact, with teachers as young as 22 years of age entering the workforce, many early career teachers (and even some parents) probably have little direct recollection of 9/11 themselves.

Teaching and learning about the lived histories of affected communities is also a way to ensure that we do not marginalize or render invisible the experiences of South Asians, Arabs, Muslims, and Sikhs. This is especially important now given the current US Administration’s efforts to target curricula that interrogate whiteness and white supremacy, from critical race theory to the 1619 project.

We encourage educators to include a wide array of material that critically engages students with 9/11 and its long-standing consequences, exposes them to the lived experiences and histories of affected communities, and draws connections about the influence of 9/11 on national security and immigration policies in place today.

We suggest that educators enhance their curricula on 9/11 with an emphasis on three themes: the Global War on Terror; Islamophobia and anti-Muslim racism; and community building by Muslim, Arab, South Asian, and Sikh people and organizations. For each of the themes, we provide teaching tips and resources that are best suited for the middle-school level and up. We also encourage educators to be sensitive to how addressing 9/11 and its aftermath can affect students, particularly those from affected communities.

Photo by Jin S. Lee (9/11 Memorial and Museum; https://www.911memorial.org/visit/memorial)

Theme 1: THE GLOBAL WAR ON TERROR

The War on Terror may have been fought in countries far from the US but its ramifications continue to affect people across the globe — both in and outside of the United States. Yet, a generation of students remain unaware of the devastating effects of these ongoing wars on children and families in far too many places.

Teaching Tips:

Diversify perspectives around US domestic and foreign policy. We recommend that teachers place the 9/11 attacks in context as a significant link in a chain of events that did not start with 9/11 but as a series of US interventions in Muslim majority countries since the Cold War. One way to do this is to help students gain a more nuanced picture of US foreign policy by tracing the connections between US interventions in other countries and the ramifications at home. The influx of refugees, for example, is often a direct result of wars elsewhere (many of which are fueled by US intervention).

Recognize the effects of state violence. The post 9/11 backlash goes beyond hate violence to include state violence, which comprises of government policies that surveil, detain, deport, and torture people based on faith and national origin. Non-Muslim South Asians and Arabs are also targeted by the post 9/11 backlash in terms of hate violence, profiling, bullying, and immigration enforcement. Connecting US foreign and domestic policy is essential here.

Resources for teaching on The Global War on Terror:

  1. Creating Refugees: Displacement Caused by the United States’ Post-9/11 Wars, Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs (Report)

Theme 2: ISLAMOPHOBIA AND THE POST-911 BACKLASH

Islam is the second largest and fastest growing religion in the world, Although its growth in the United States is more recent, Islam has a long history in the Americas, with roots in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Given that Muslims have been in the Americas for almost 400 years, Islamophobia or anti-Muslim racism has a much longer history in the United States than simply as a post-9/11 phenomenon.

Teaching Tips:

Situate anti-Muslim racism historically. The term Islamophobia may be a fairly new one in our vocabulary but anti-Muslim racism began with the forced arrival of enslaved people during the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Highlighting this history is important to help students recognize that Islam is part of American history and has influenced the US in myriad ways even if the media (both news and popular media) would have us believe the opposite.

Be explicit about Black Muslim experiences. Teachers should highlight how Black Muslims live at the intersection of both anti-Black racism and structural Islamophobia. Black Muslims endure state violence, police brutality, and surveillance as the result of their race and their faith.

Resources on Islamophobia and anti-Muslim Racism:

  1. American Muslims in Early America (NMAAHC museum site with online artifacts)

Theme 3: BUILDING COMMUNITY POWER

In the aftermath of 9/11, young Muslims, South Asians, Sikhs and Arabs took action. They set up organizations and collectives, documented hate violence, advocated for systems change, and mobilized community members. They are building solidarity with other social justice movements, pushing back on policies like the Muslim ban and countering violent extremism programs, and exploring intersections along the lines of sexual orientation, gender, class, and immigration status.

Teaching Tips:

Leverage storytelling about youth activism. Go beyond apolitical celebrations of cultural diversity and instead share stories of activism and organizing. Look for examples of how young people are building community power and connecting social justice issues and communities through solidarity practices.

Learn from Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian leaders. Invite organizational and community leaders to guest lecture or be interviewed in your classes.

Resources on Building Community Power:

  1. Asian American Literary Review’s Special Issue: Commemorating the Tenth Anniversary of Sept. 11 (literary reflections)

We recognize that there are many more resources that could be added here, and invite additions to this list either via the comments section below or via DMs on Twitter (@dviyer and @AmeenaGK).

Ameena Ghaffar-Kucher, EdD is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. She researches and writes on Islamophobia, anti-Muslim racism, and the lived experiences of youth from Muslim-American immigrant communities.

Deepa Iyer is the author of We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Communities Shape Our Multiracial Future, the former executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together during the post 9/11 years (2004–2014), and Director of Movement Building at the Building Movement Project.

Author of We Too Sing America; Host of Solidarity is This podcast; Senior Advisor at Building Movement Project; South Asian American activist/lawyer. @dviyer

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