WashU, 9/11, the American Flag, and Distorted Narratives


Monday, October 4, 2021

Every year on the anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks, thousands of students nationwide participate in Young America’s Foundation’s 9/11: Never Forget Project. The project’s goal is to honor the victims in a non-partisan fashion by planting 2,977 American flags in the ground – one for every life lost that fateful day twenty years ago. 

Since the project’s launch in 2003, YAF members have continued organizing it annually. This year, the twentieth anniversary, had more than 100 schools participating. The organization’s president, Governor Scott Walker, stated: “Every student younger than 20 years old in this country was born after 9/11. As schools and public officials across the country attempt to sanitize the tragic attacks, we need to remind the next generation of what happened, who did it, and why they did it.”

Despite this project’s nonpartisan intent, many of the memorials sparked controversy this year. One of the more notable situations being that of Washington University in St. Louis. Following the memorial’s setup, Fadel Alkilani, a student senator at the university, removed and disposed of the flags, claiming that the display violated school rules. He later Tweeted that it was instead an act of “protest against American imperialism and the 900,000 lives lost as a result of post 9/11 war.”

In response, the university released the following statement

“We were disappointed to learn about the disruption to the 9/11 display on Mudd Field. We condemn the interference with the expression of support by the College Republicans for the victims of the national tragedy that took place 20 years ago today. The actions surrounding this incident were not on behalf of the university or a university-sponsored organization. We value freedom of expression in all forms and will work to ensure that all students are able to express their points of view through appropriate channels without disrupting the rights of others to show support for causes they care about. This is a critical component of our core values and we are committed to facilitating free speech on our campus.”

Despite this statement, many professors and faculty members have chosen to support Alkilani’s actions instead, claiming that his crime was a “protest,” justified as the American flag is a “symbol of American imperialism and violence in the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, and beyond.”

Additionally, many at the university argue that the flag’s presence is harmful to Muslim students, along with black and brown students, who “continuously suffer due to the Islamophobia perpetuated as a result of 9/11” and because “their countries have seen war and violence under the symbol of the American flag.”

Today, the events surrounding 9/11 often seem distant to college students. Most of us were infants when it happened. Many of us hadn’t even been born yet. Due to the lack of firsthand memory of 9/11, it is easy for our generation to fall victim to faulty narratives distorting 9/11’s reality with accusations and controversies. 

As the attacks continue to be unnecessarily politicized and used to push various agendas, it is important to recognize that in order to address this, we need not look further than the faults of our education system. According to a 2020 Nation Association of Scholars study analysis, 48.4% of college professors are liberal-leaning, whereas 5.7% hold conservative values. 

Sending students, who do not remember 9/11, off to be taught by professors like those supporting Fadel Alkilani will pave the way for similar incidents to occur every September going forward. So, let’s hold our teachers accountable. And let’s start with those at Washington University.

First, some things are sacred and 9/11 is one of them. The vandalism of the memorial honoring the victims is tasteless and cannot be justified. The fact that the university permitted Alkilani’s actions is shameful.  

Second, the American flag is not a symbol of oppression or violence. President Reagan once remarked that “when we honor our flag we honor what we stand for as a Nation – freedom, equality, justice, and hope.” Yes, we have made our fair share of mistakes, but Old Glory should not be written off as irredeemable.

We are at a crossroads. Going forward, we must choose. This way or that way. Are we going to accept the narrative that the American flag is an evil symbol of oppression? Or that honoring and remembering 9/11 upholds Islamophobia? Or are we going to recognize our faults and our shortcomings, honor the good, remember those who sacrificed for us, and keep moving forward towards a nation that better reflects freedom, equality, and justice?

I hope we choose the latter.

Amelia Underhill is a student of Politics, Philosophy, and Economics at The King's College in New York City. She's passionate about the First Amendment, free markets, and Ronald Reagan.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.

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About Amelia Underhill

Amelia Underhill is a student of Politics, Philosophy, and Economics at The King's College in New York City. She's passionate about the First Amendment, free markets, and Ronald Reagan.

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