Ten Years Later: The September 11 Attacks
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Title: September 11 memorial
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National tragedies, such as the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, have a direct and profound impact not only on the immediate victims and their families but also the general public. An opinion poll conducted by Zogby International in September 2007 reported that a large majority (81%) of those surveyed either "strongly agreed" or "somewhat agreed" that the 9/11 attacks permanently altered how the American public "views the world." Moreover, this same poll reported that, six years after 9/11, more than 60% of those surveyed thought about the events of that day at least "once per week."

Initial Impact

Title: George W. Bush addresses Congress following 9/11
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The initial reaction of most Americans to the attacks was shock, disbelief, and anger. Among many there was an imminent sense that the United States was about to go to war. A large majority of the population rallied around President George W. Bush and other leaders in government and the military services. Those individuals would be responsible for determining a course of action in response to this blatant act of violence perpetrated against the United States. Following that day, many Americans' sense of security was gone, replaced by feelings of extreme vulnerability. The attacks also united the nation, and the diversity that was apparent prior to that day was largely replaced with a feeling of heightened nationalism, at least in the short term. Patriotism was at its highest level since the early days of World War II as a majority of Americans (65%) openly displayed the flag, compared to 25% who flew the Stars and Stripes prior to 9/11.

Interestingly, some studies indicate that American attitudes regarding minorities, specifically Muslims, were not changed as a result of 9/11. Generally speaking, among minorities Muslims have been "rated lower" than other groups both prior to and following the events of 9/11. Nevertheless, physical and verbal attacks on Muslim Americans did escalate in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Additionally, following the attacks law enforcement agencies focused their attention more heavily on individuals of South Asian and Middle Eastern origin. Following the 9/11 attacks, a large percentage of Caucasians and African Americans supported this racial profiling of individuals whose facial features appeared Middle Eastern.

Media Effect
Modern communication technology allows the viewing public to observe events in real time and to continuously revisit them through 24-hour news programs and on the Internet, where news and opinions are shared between people all over the globe. Additionally, during and following national and international events, many self-avowed "experts" provide commentary on television, in print media, and through other venues. These forums provide additional perspectives that no doubt impact the public's perception of the event.

Terrorism utilizes and manipulates national and international news venues, particularly television, which becomes a propaganda medium that impacts global and U.S. public opinion. Replayed images, numerous commentaries, and a variety of perspectives tend to heighten feelings of insecurity and alter or strengthen preexisting views relative to a national or global traumatic event.

Title: Marines take Baghdad
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Indeed, the media had a profound impact on how Americans viewed the 9/11 attacks and subsequent decisions and actions taken by the U.S. and foreign governments in response to these events. For example, in the days, weeks, and months after the 9/11 attacks, the decision to go to war in Afghanistan and then Iraq was largely supported by the news media and a majority of the American people. Support for these actions would eventually abate as time passed and the American public began to grow weary of the loss in blood and treasure exacted by these two conflicts. Additionally, after a period of time has elapsed—usually measured in months if not weeks, depending on the severity of the event—the media begins to focus on problems closer to home, such as the national economy, jobs, health care, and other issues that impact the average American's daily life.

Civil Liberties and Public Policy
With respect to impingements on civil liberties, the attitude of many Americans was initially one of acceptance and tolerance. In their view, 9/11 demanded some curtailment of civil liberties and a more intrusive role by government in the lives and activities of the average citizen. For example, enhanced airport security screening and other measures that restricted certain items from entering an aircraft's passenger sections, although irritating and inconvenient to travelers, were, for the most part, viewed as necessary in a heightened security environment. Most people realized that the "new normal" spawned by 9/11 necessitated some impact on activities that were heretofore taken for granted.

Title: Patriot Act signing
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An immediate response to the 9/11 attacks was the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act, legislation that, in part, increased the investigative powers of U.S. law enforcement agencies and provided additional tools and capabilities to those charged with combating terrorism. The PATRIOT Act was signed into law on October 26, 2001, after garnering overwhelming support across the political spectrum. However, although the American public generally supported the act, opinions diverged according to its specific stipulations. While many viewed the act as a safeguard on civil liberties and an instrument that strengthened national security, others were of the opinion that some of the law's provisions infringed and restricted rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.

For example, a poll conducted by ABC News/Washington Post almost four years after 9/11 found that although 59% of those responding to a telephone questionnaire continued to support the PATRIOT Act and favored its continuation, the majority of these respondents were against the implementation of provisions allowing the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) authority to have open access to private records and U.S. postal service mail.

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Another hotly debated subject in the weeks, months, and years following 9/11 was border and immigration control. It remains a very contentious issue and a consistent topic for discussion by the news media, as well as the general public. Indeed, heightened post-9/11 security put this issue on the floor of the U.S. Congress, which passed the Border Protection Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act in December 2005. A telephone survey conducted by Rasmussen Reports in August 2007 found that 71% would support a measure requiring "foreign visitors" to carry an identification card and a greater number (74%) would support the establishment of a "central database" to monitor all foreign nationals visiting the United States.

The War on Terror
Several polls conducted in the first few weeks following the attacks showed that the American public was generally supportive of and trusted the government's response to 9/11; regarding the use of military force, this remained true 18 months after 9/11. On October 7, 2001, the date the U.S.-led coalition invaded Afghanistan (Operation ENDURING FREEDOM), an ABC News/Washington Post poll indicated that 94% of those surveyed supported the U.S. attack on that country. In July 2008, this same organization reported that only 51% of those surveyed believed that the war in Afghanistan was worth fighting. Moreover, various opinion polls revealed that between 69% and 80% of those surveyed initially supported military action against Iraq. This support remained high into and following the March 2003 invasion. A CBS News opinion poll taken in March 2003, one week after the United States launched a ground and air assault on Iraq, found that 69% of those surveyed viewed the invasion of that country as the right course of action. This number differs significantly from the CBS News poll, which, in August 2008, reported that only 38% of those surveyed viewed the U.S. invasion as the right course of action.

Title: Inauguration Day protest
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As months of fighting extended into years and costs in blood and treasure continued to rise, public approval for a continued U.S. presence in Iraq declined significantly. In a CBS/New York Times poll conducted in April 2007, 64% of respondents reported that the U.S. government should set a timetable of 2008 for withdrawing American forces from Iraq, and in a Princeton Survey Research Associates/Newsweek poll conducted in March 2007, 57% of respondents stated that they would support congressional legislation that would mandate the removal of U.S. troops by March 2008. Moreover, in an ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted in early December 2006, a majority (69%) of those surveyed supported the removal of "almost all" U.S. combat troops from Iraq by 2008. This survey also revealed that nearly 80% of those polled believed that the United States should revise its mission in Iraq to a more support- and training-based role rather than continue armed engagement with insurgent forces.

A fairly recent issue that garnered quite a bit of controversy was a proposal by a New York imam to build an Islamic community center and mosque near the site of the 9/11 attacks. In August 2010, a public opinion poll published by Rasmussen Reports indicated that over 60% of the respondents were against the building of a mosque near Ground Zero, while an equal number considered the proposal to be "insensitive" to the family members of victims of this tragedy.

The events of 9/11 have altered the views and perceptions of many Americans on a variety of security-related issues. Public opinion, while sometimes volatile, remains a powerful catalyst for action, both shaping and shaped by the ever-changing world around us.

Frank Shanty

Frank Shanty
Frank Shanty, PhD, is cofounder and director of research for the Cobra Institute, a terrorism and counterterrorism research firm in Abingdon, MD. Dr. Shanty is the author of The Nexus: International Terrorism and Drug Trafficking from Afghanistan (Praeger, 2011). He has also coauthored two published works on terrorism and served as general editor and contributing author on Encyclopedia of World Terrorism, Vol. 4 and ABC-CLIO's Organized Crime: From Trafficking to Terrorism. Dr. Shanty was also chief consultant and contributing author for Mafia. He is currently working on Counterterrorism: From the Cold War to the War on Terror (Praeger, 2012).

Further Reading
Morin, Richard, and Claudia Deane. “Poll: Strong Backing for Bush, War: Few Americans See Easy End to Conflict.” Washington Post, March 11, 2002, A1; Schafer, Chelsea E., and Grey M. Shaw. "The Polls Trends: Tolerance in the United States." Public Opinion Quarterly Vol. 73, No. 2 (Summer 2009): 404–431; Shook, Natalie, Randall Thomas, and Jon Krosnick. “Public Opinion Change in the Aftermath of 9/11.” Paper presented at the 2004 annual meeting of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, Pointe Hilton, Tapatio Cliffs, Phoenix, AZ, May 11, 2004; Rhine, Staci L., Bennett, Stephen & Flickinger, Richard. "After 9/11: Television Viewers, Newspaper Readers and Public Opinion about Terrorism’s Consequences." Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association. Boston Marriott Copley Place, Sheraton Boston & Hynes Convention Center, Boston, MA: August 28, 2002; Howell, Marcela, and Marilyn Keefe. "The History of Federal Abstinence-Only Funding." Washington, D.C.: Advocates for Youth, July 2007. http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/.

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