Kids and September 11 - Two Years On

Because of the terrorist attacks many governments around the world changed their foreign policies and made fighting terrorism their number one goal. But is 9/11 still having an effect in young people's everyday lives?

Because of the attacks of September 11 governments around the world changed their foreign policies and many countries' security forces made fighting terrorism their number one goal. But is 9/11 still having an effect in young people's everyday lives?

Foto: AP
Barbara John

​​Directly after the attacks on September 11 2001 some Muslims in Germany were worried that they would be discriminated against because of what had happened. Barbara John was Berlin’s Commissioner for Foreigners for 22 years. She says some Muslims in Germany continue to feel uncomfortable being open about their religion: “I meet parents very often who tell me ‘I tell my child or children not to mention they are Muslim children’. I think that is a very sad moment. And when I ask, ‘Why do you do that?’ they say ‘Well, if we disclose that we are Muslims I get afraid that something will happen to my child.”

Some Muslims, and people who look like they are of Arab descent, may still be concerned about the way they will be treated, and there probably has been some discrimination related to the September 11 attacks, but this has not been a problem everywhere in Germany.

The “Elsaß Street Youth Centre” is near the centre of the city of Cologne. It's a colourful building where kids from the neighbourhood come to meet, play football and cards, talk and listen to music.

"We accept each other as we are"

15-year-old Vanessa visits the centre all the time. She says the different religions have got on very well at the centre since September 11: "We have never had any problems or fights because of religion. I’ve got friends who are Muslim and they have never said to me ‘You can’t be my friend because you are Catholic’. We accept each other as we are."

It is hard to say what is going on in other parts of Germany, or even other parts of Cologne, since there are no statistics on the topic available, but all the people at the “Elsaß Street Youth centre” said, there hadn’t been any extra discrimination against Arabs or Muslims because of the September 11 attacks.

It is true that some of the Muslim children, many of whom are of Turkish origin, feel discriminated against in German society. Some feel the police especially treat them unfairly, but they perceive this discrimination as more to with their nationality and difficulties with the German language than suspicions they could be terrorists. Different problems related to September 11 have developed at the “Elsaß Street Youth Centre”.

Laela was also hanging out at the centre. She is also 15. She is a Christian, like her mother. Laela's father is Muslim. She says: “I know a couple of boys who said that what Osama bin Laden did was good. I don’t think what he did was good, but I don’t think the Americans are better. Both are wrong.” As well as the fact that some of the young people at the youth centre still see the September 11 attacks as a good thing, there is also the problem that some believe conspiracy theories about what happened. 16-year-old Dennis believes: "It wasn’t a Muslim that did it. It was a Christian. That’s all I’ll say. I can only say what I know."

Anti-American or anti-jewish sentiments often run down the family line

Sabine Fuchs is one of the youth workers at the youth centre. She says she has talked a lot to the kids who have anti-American or anti-Jewish views, but that it is hard to educate them because of where their views come from in the first place. “For the most part that sort of thinking comes from the family and the family’s history. It’s past down through generations. It depends on where kids grew up, where they were born, their environment.”

September 11, 2001 is still an important event for many young people in Germany. But for the young people at “Elsaß Street Youth Centre” it has not been a cause for much extra conflict. After all the young people there have grown up together and have learned to accept each others’ culture and religion over time. Sure there are some issues that still need some work. But perhaps one of the lasting effects of September 11 is that people remember how important it is that we keep developing our understanding of others and the world around us.

Dr. Bernd Hübinger from the German Federal Agency for Civic Education has been working on projects to educate German students and their teachers about issues surrounding September 11. He claims, that a big process of discussion started in German society, like: What is global terrorism? How can we be affected by it? What can we do against it? And perhaps the most important thing what is the background for these terrorist activities. “By discussing this problem other side topics, intolerance and so on were discussed as well and we got a new impetus from this terrorism discussion and I think that was a good thing”, Hübinger says.

Martin Vogl

© 2003 Deutsche Welle

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