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Putting Together the Pieces

IN THE WAKE OF THE SEPT. 11 tragedies at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania, members of the UNT family shared a common experience with fellow Americans
and friends.

We stayed close to our radios and television sets. We mourned the loss of life. We cheered for the heroes who risked and, in many cases, sacrificed their lives to save others. We donated blood, collected money, prayed together and sought to come to terms with these attacks on our sense of security and safety.

“As a nation, this is a tragedy that we will overcome,” UNT President Norval Pohl said following the attacks. “As a university, our spirit of determination and the kindness and respect we show one another will carry us through.”

The terrors of Sept. 11 froze moments in our collective and individual memories that will stay with us for a lifetime. But so did the responses to the terrors.


Emile Sahliyeh
associate professor of political science

Like many first hearing of the events, Emile Sahliyeh was disbelieving.

“My daughter told me of the attack and I wanted to believe it was pure nonsense,” he says. “When I heard more about the first plane crash, I hoped it was an accident.”

“All I could think of were the numbers of casualties,” he says. “I couldn’t think or work or do anything. No one in their right mind could.”

By the end of the day, he was taking calls from newspaper, radio and television reporters. All wanted the expert opinion of someone who studies the politics of the Middle East.

“I feel it is my duty to educate the public, keep people calm and share my insights about who the terrorists might be,” Sahliyeh says. “But it still exhausts me to sort things out. This was so hard, so painful, so tragic, and to try to talk about it rationally seemed impossible.”

Sahliyeh and his colleagues, in addition to sharing their expertise with the media, created a forum to discuss the issues with the UNT community. They addressed such questions from students as “Why do they hate us?” and “What comes next?”

“Most of all I wanted to emphasize calmness and faith,” Sahliyeh says. “But I’ve been pleased that our students truly want to understand, to see how other nations see the U.S.”

Mohammad Al-Momani
graduate student in political science

Jordan-born Mohammad Al-Momani says each terrorist assault that day felt like an attack on his family and faith. He feared for America, but he also feared for his family’s safety as Muslims.

“I was worried about my 7-month-old child and my wife,” he says. “I wasn’t sure what to expect, so I asked my wife to stay home.”

At the end of the day, Al-Momani found only that his neighbors, teachers and friends were concerned about his family. Fellow students wanted earnestly to understand his faith and separate it from the terrorist attacks. In tragedy, Al-Momani found an opportunity to share his faith with fellow students.

“This was not only an attack on a country I love, but a personal attack on my faith that teaches me to love other people and live in peace — for others to do something so terrible in the name of Islam is a personal attack on me,” he says.

Molly McFadden
senior emergency management student

Molly McFadden says the Sept. 11 attacks moved her to the edge of despair and helplessness.

“Then my father told me that I could either sit around feeling terrible, or I could do some good for others who were more directly affected,” she says. “He helped me realize that this was an opportunity for me to make a difference.”

McFadden called the local Red Cross to help. By 10 p.m. she and a group of UNT students from the International Emergency Management Student Association arrived at the Dallas Red Cross office and began fielding the desperate calls of family members searching for loved ones potentially killed in the attacks.

The hardest call came from a mother who had no doubt her son had died that day.

“This tragedy focused me on what I want to do in emergency management,” McFadden says. “I want to help people.”

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