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UA unites to cope with terrorism disaster

Headline Photo

Omar Shahin, front, director and Imam of the Islamic Center of Tucson, joins other mourners in prayer Sept. 12 on the UA Mall at a "Unity Rally" prompted by the nation's recent terrorist crisis.

By Arek Sarkissian II

Friday October 26, 2001

As the reality of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks slowly set in with UA students, emotions on campus ran the gamut from shock to fear.

Though 3,000 miles from Ground Zero in New York, the University of Arizona seemed at times to be as near to the tragedy as anywhere in the country.

For more than 30 Muslim students, the news that one of the hijackers who flew into the World Trade Center had attended the UA and the Mesa attack of a man wearing a turban was reason enough for them to return to their homes in the Middle East.

The majority of the students were from the United Arab Emirates.

"If they feel that there is a danger on their lives·then they can go home," said Avdulla Alsaboosi, a diplomat at the UAE Embassy in Washington, D.C. "If they don't feel comfortable, they can't study."

Meanwhile, members of the Tucson Islamic community were fearful for their safety in the first days after the attack. Members of the Islamic Center of Tucson, located just west of campus, refused to allow anyone they didn't recognize into the building.

But at the same time, they overwhelmingly voiced their outrage over the attacks, which the U.S. government believes were committed by an extremist faction of the Muslim faith.

"On behalf of the Muslim community, we are extremely sad," Omar Shahin, Imam and director of the Islamic Center, said at a September 11 gathering on the UA Mall. "Whoever did this does not belong to the religious community. He does not belong to the believers. He does not belong to humanity."

Still, reports from across the nation made it clear that not everyone understood the sentiments of the Islamic community.

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Veterinary sciences junior Shannon McDonald paused for a moment of silence Sept. 11 at the Catholic Newman Center. The center held a vigil for the victims and their families in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks upon the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

To help counter anti-Islamic sentiments, the University of Arizona Police Department set up an anonymous tip line in attempt to field calls from people wanting to warn them of possible hate crimes.

The only calls they received were from people asking questions.

Other campus religious groups embraced the Islamic students in a show of solidarity that culminated with a vigil led by Shahin and Rabbi Thomas Louchein.

"Both of our religions practice peace. No person who committed these acts is a member of either religion," Louchein said.

More than 500 people attended the vigil, including UA President Peter Likins.

"It moves me to see there is a unity, and we all now recognize there's a dark side to all of this," Likins said. "People are coming together here today to realize all three of these religions are based on the belief in one God."

Students across campus weighed in with their opinions on boards scattered across campus that were collectively named the "Wall of Expression."

The wall became a forum for uncensored, attack-related commentary, and the opinions expressed on these boards were so numerous that by the time it was finally taken down, it extended almost the entire length of the construction area on the Mall.

The diverse range of statements written on the wall reflected the wide-ranging emotions of the student body.

Statements written on the Wall included:

  • "This is our Pearl Harbor! Don't forget."
  • "Fight violence and pain with peace and compassion."
  • "What if it was your dad? Your boyfriend? Your best friend? It was mine."

Headline Photo

A portion of the Wall of Expression, erected on the Mall on Sept. 11.

As time passed and the attacks grew more distant, reactions to the wall became mixed, and some students said they were even offended by the wide-ranging statements and drawings.

One month after the attacks, the Dean of Students moderated a panel where representatives from different student organizations and faiths expressed mixed reactions to the contrast of statements and drawings on the wall.

Katherine Ruiz, a student panelist representing the Self-Help Intervention Program, said the wall had become tagging post.

Kristi Lange, a panel member representing the Associated Students of University of Arizona, told the audience she avoided walking by the wall at all costs.

All panelists agreed, however, that the wall had served its purpose - to allow students to express themselves in an open but in a safe manner.

As ideas on the future of the Wall of Expression were examined by administration, one student expressed the need to remember the way the community handled the event.

"They should put it all back up in a couple of years to show how we stood so strong together," said Earl Rosales, family studies senior.


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