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American Muslim

Remembering 9/11:
Bay Area residents say sense of security seems lost forever

This article was published by  Alameda Times Star, Argus, Daily Review, Oakland Tribune, San Mateo County Times and Tri-Valley Herald.

By Kari Hulac - STAFF WRITER  Monday, September 08, 2003

Jeff Kunkel sometimes feels jittery. Carmella Meier says the ugly images are fresh in her mind. Diana Belger always thinks of the families. And Samina Faheem's life will never be the same.

Two years later, Sept. 11, 2001, still holds a powerful grasp on the hearts and minds of many Americans.

While these four Bay Area residents didn't see the death and destruction firsthand, they watched the horror unfold minute by minute on TV. They prayed for the victims and their families. They wondered if it could happen here.

The legacy of Sept. 11 - things like color-coded security alerts and invasive airport searches - have become a normal part of life. But does anyone feel any safer? Will life ever really be "normal" again?

Bay Area Living invited the four - a 91-year-old native New Yorker, a Methodist pastor, a Muslim activist and a senior caregiver - to meet and discuss such questions in the company of psychologist Alan Siegel, an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Despite the group's diverse backgrounds, the participants all seemed to agree that Sept. 11 stripped them of their sense of security and changed how they think of their place - and the United States' place - in the world forever.

Ground Zero
The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, it seemed like the whole world was falling apart, says Faheem, a Palo Alto mother of two and director of American Muslim Voice. Faheem, 48, who had run a child care business for 18 years, couldn't believe that something so awful could befall a super power nation like the United States, a place where she always felt so protected. "How could this happen to us?" Faheem says, describing her first thoughts. "Then I was praying, `Let there be no Muslims on the plane."

Meier, 91, of San Leandro was born in New York, but she left there before the Twin Towers were completed in 1973. She had never seen the landmark buildings in person. An early riser, Meier had her morning cup of tea in hand when she turned on the TV and saw the smoke. "I was just frightened to death, beyond belief," she recalls in a matter-of-fact tone, her New York accent faint but still detectable.

Home health care provider and Hayward resident Diana Belger, 48, was in a celebratory mood that day. One daughter had just been married and another was visiting from out of town. Then someone called and told her to turn on her TV. "We were all watching, and I just couldn't understand what really happened," says Belger, a soft-spoken native of El Salvador who moved to the United States when she was 18. "I just couldn't believe it."

When it was clear the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were terrorist acts, she felt a complete sadness that stayed with her for a long time. Kunkel, 49, recalls the shock and disbelief he felt when he too watched the events of the day unfold on TV. "The anger and fear came up much later," says the bearded pastor and author from Oakland.

Two years later
As the second anniversary of Sept. 11 nears, people will likely feel less intense feelings than they might have a year ago, but there still may be a sense of anticipation, says Siegel, author of the book "Dream Wisdom" and of a study on nightmares suffered by survivors of the Oakland firestorm.

Siegel, who lost a friend from college in the World Trade Center attacks, says it's normal to feel a sense of anxiety around anniversaries of traumas. People might also find themselves remembering other tragedies of their lives.

Kunkel, author of a book filled with children's artwork about their fears, says Sept. 11 for him represents a new vulnerability - for himself and for the nation. And that vulnerability seems here to stay. "There's nothing anybody can do to change that in the end," Kunkel says.

Of the discussion group members, Faheem's life was most dramatically altered.

Before Sept. 11 she worked to help Muslims obtain elected offices and other positions of leadership.

Now, because of an atmosphere of fear she blames on the U.S. government's crackdown on immigrants, she says most Muslims don't dare put themselves in the public eye.

"I wish I could be more positive two years later," she says.

She feels that Congress used the loss of life on Sept. 11 as an excuse to quickly pass laws that unfairly restrict the rights and civil liberties of Muslims and Arabs. "All in the name of security," Faheem says, referring to the Patriot Act. "I don't know about you, but I don't feel more secure." If anything, Faheem says, she worries that the crackdown on immigrants will create more enemies of the United States.

Faheem isn't worried about any threats to her life. As a Muslim, she's already accepted that her death has been predetermined. But she is worried about how a post-Sept. 11 world perceives the practioners of her faith. So she has cut back on her daycare business and refocused her efforts toward educating the world about Muslims.

She hopes Americans will realize that Muslims are their friends and neighbors and colleagues and that everyone can learn to respect one another and celebrate diversity. "I'm dedicating my life for humanity," she says.