New York’s Catalina Cruz Drafts Bill to Focus 9/11 Classroom Coverage on Islamophobia That Followed It 

Drazen Zigic /
Drazen Zigic /

Buckle up, folks, because one plucky New York lawmaker is here to give 9/11 a makeover. Forget the Al-Qaeda terrorists who orchestrated the deadliest attack on American soil; let’s shine a spotlight on ‘xenophobia’ and anti-Muslim hate crimes. Nothing says “educational priorities,” like sidestepping the whole “planes crashing into buildings” thing and focusing on the aftermath. The real tragedy here was hurt feelings, not the 2,977 lives lost. 

This is the focus of a bill proposed by New York assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, who wants to require schools to teach about the rise of ‘Islamophobia and xenophobia’ against Muslims, including an uptick in hate crimes and discriminatory attitudes against them following the attacks. 

Michele Exner, an advisor at Parents Defending Education, didn’t mince words, calling the move ‘idiotic.’ ‘Terrorists attacked America on 9/11 and took the lives of nearly 3,000 innocent people,’ she said. ‘These are the facts, and it is a day students should be required to learn about in schools. It is disgusting that this idiotic legislation aims to minimize those atrocities by focusing on more race-baiting instead of truth-telling.” 

Experts are still unraveling some tough questions about 9/11, trying to understand how U.S. foreign policies added to the hostility. Additionally, they are trying to understand the mechanics, both literal and metaphorical, of the attack and how so many lives were lost. 

In 2019, New York Gov Andrew Cuomo passed legislation requiring a moment of silence in public schools on September 11 so that students could appreciate the day’s significance. With classrooms full of students who have no real-time memory of the day, teaching them the facts is crucial to keep the memory of the shocking terrorist attack alive. With no experience to draw from, students rely on teachers to show them the burning chaos that echoed through New York City streets and the sorrow that rocked the nation. 

If Cruz has her way, the focus will shift from the attack to the aftermath. Under the proposed bill, teachers would cover some familiar ground like the build-up to the attack, the attack itself, the heroism of the city, and the resulting wars stemming from the attacks. But teachers would also be forced to cover ‘Islamophobia and xenophobia in politics, domestic and foreign policy/legislation, media, and general public attitudes.” 

Cruz is not entirely wrong. According to the Pew Research Center, discrimination and hate crimes against Muslim individuals did escalate following the incidents, with many reporting harassment and bullying, even from federal investigators. Hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims surged dramatically after 9/11. Organizations documented hundreds of violent incidents experienced by Arab and Muslim Americans, including several murders. Discrimination in workplaces, hate mail, physical assaults, and property vandalism were also reported. 

Cruz’s desire to rewrite how 9/11 history is taught draws her background into a sharper focus. Born in Medellín, Colombia, during the 1980s heyday of Pablo Escobar’s drug empire, Cruz came to the US illegally at age nine. According to her website, she lived without legal status for ten years before gaining it. 

Raised in Queens by her single mother, who worked as a street food vendor, nanny, and office cleaner, Cruz defied her modest beginnings by studying law and becoming a prominent assemblywoman in Albany. Cruz now lives in Jackson Heights, Queens. It’s an area overflowing with immigrants that borders the congressional territory of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, another wildly progressive lawmaker who frequently speaks without allowing common sense to form her opinions.  

Cruz’s proposed bill is not the first time that the aftermath of 9/11 has come under scrutiny. The National September 11 Memorial Museum grappled with how to depict Islam in the aftermath of the attacks, trying to find the delicate balance between honoring victims and avoiding harmful assumptions. While the museum aimed to educate visitors without reinforcing biases or fostering misunderstanding, it faced criticism for its portrayal of Islam. Some exhibits seemed to imply that the terrorists’ views were common among Muslims, and questions were raised about whether the exhibits adequately distinguished between the terrorists and the broader Muslim population. 

Although the aftermath of 9/11 is undoubtedly tragic, dedicating classroom time solely to exploring the terrified nation’s perspectives of the perpetrators shifts attention from the attack itself and the remarkable resilience of New York’s residents. The genuine aftermath of the attacks revealed heroism and an iron-clad unity among most Americans, sentiments that those who experienced the event firsthand will never forget. 

Terrorists destroyed the Twin Towers on 9/11, but they could never destroy America’s will as a nation. And that’s the lesson kids need to be taught.