Updated: Apr 4, 2022
The week before the 9/11 anniversary, I sat down with my family to watch television together. It didn’t matter what channel I switched to; whether it be CNN or Fox News, every channel reminded viewers to "Never Forget." Local politicians, when interviewed about the upcoming anniversary, urged Americans to "Never Forget." Everywhere I went, I heard the words “Never Forget." I was born after the 9/11 tragedy, but I could tell that after 20 years, the vow to "Never Forget" retained its power. After conducting extensive research and reading reports, I learned that this phrase was created to remind the nation of that horrifying, surreal day of deadly attacks and honor those who lost their lives. From my research, I wondered: Why is "Never Forget" the most used phrase for a day that the nation clearly hasn't forgotten, and what meaning does "Never Forget" truly hold?
When people say “Never Forget,” what are they referring to? Are they referring to the event itself and the lives lost? If so, we clearly haven't forgotten. We dedicate a day annually to pay respect to those who perished, whose names are included in the 9/11 Memorial. We also have not forgotten this tragedy, as the aftermath of 9/11 has been referenced by those who support military aggression. In fact, California congresswoman Barbra Lee foreshadowed this when she was the only person to vote against the War on Terror. She warned the nation against using 9/11 to justify military aggression. So what exactly are the potentially forgettable components of the day that we should "Never Forget?"
In a hearing for the 9/11 victim compensation fund, Jon Stewart became furious when he and a room of first responders from the 9/11 incident showed up to a nearly empty congress. During this hearing, Stewart highlighted how the government failed to sufficiently aid first responders who contracted health illnesses from the event. These brave individuals, who rushed into burning buildings on the verge of collapse to save those who were inside, have contracted fatal health issues, from the inhalation of smoke, debris, and toxic construction materials during the 9/11 attacks. Stewart argued that politicians often use 9/11 as justification for increasing appropriations for their local projects. This exemplifies the misuse of 9/11 as a political tool, where politicians invoke that day for their political advantage, not for the genuine commemoration of victims.
Ironically, even though we say “Never Forget,” many aspects of the narrative have been forgotten. One crucial point that we seem to forget is islamophobia. Islamophobia is the disliking of, or prejudice against, Islam or Muslims. After 9/11, many Muslim American-owned businesses and stores were smashed in and vandalized. There were accounts of people throwing trash and rocks at Muslim Americans walking around on the streets. Muslim American children were bullied, and those who were even perceived to be Muslim were harassed. Given the recent Muslim Travel Ban imposed by the Trump Administration a few years ago, it's clear that we have forgotten the sufferings of the Muslim community after 9/11.
Consider the present day. We are no better off now than we were in the wake of 9/11 in terms of xenophobia. Take the example of media coverage of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. While Biden did make mistakes in the withdrawal of troops (which indicates that we should not have sent soldiers in the first place), many members of Congress used this event as an opportunity to attack the president for failing to take decisive action. Xenophobia is rampant and visible in the hypocritical approach many Americans take towards Afghanistan: some politicians pretend to care for Afghans, but balk at any suggestion that Afghan refugees could be relocated to their communities.
Instead of playing political football in the wake of tragedy and excluding, harassing, and blaming those who were not responsible, the lesson we should "Never Forget" is that we should not foster xenophobia, and we should not forget the troubling aspects of America's responses to the event. Extending from the lessons learned from 9/11, "Never Forget" signifies the importance of respect and dignity to all people. Especially in light of the trauma inflicted by some against Asian Americans, where we can now see history repeating itself, "Never Forget" begs the question: Are we capable of learning from our past mistakes, and promoting the true American values that we seem to have forgotten?