Re-visiting Sept. 11: NDGer Cliche visits the U.S. to learn about impact of terror attacks

The Chronicle, September 10th, 2003

Yvan Cliche watched in horror as the second plane hit one of the World Trade Center towers. Just days earlier, the Notre Dame de Grâce resident had read about increased suicide bombings in Israel.

On Sept. 11, 2001, watching TV in his downtown office at Hydro Québec, Cliche couldn’t stop thinking of those earlier reports.

Cliche, a political-science scholar and constant contributor to Montreal’s French press, knew this was something amazing. It was a culmination of what he had been studying for years: The Middle East and radical Islam.

That evening Cliche sat down to pen one of many articles he would continue to write about Arab politics, Islam and its clash with Western culture. Those articles caught the attention of U.S. officials at the American consulate in Montreal.

This summer, the U.S. Department of State awarded Cliche a free trip to learn about the impacts Sept. 11 had on the United States.

For three weeks this summer, Cliche traveled to six cities across the United States and met with more than 35 leaders, ranging from Middle East scholar to Arab-American community leaders and high-ranking government officials. The trip was part of the International Visitors Program, which brings about 5,000 foreigners to the United States to meet with their American professional counterparts.

“Even though we’re neighbours, I still felt as a Quebecer I had a lot to learn” Cliche, 41, said. “U.S. perspective and U.S. reality is really different. I really felt that Sept. 11 was lived through very differently that in Canada”.

Cliche earned a Master’s degree in political science with an emphasis on radical Islam from the Université de Montréal. He studied Arabic in Tunisia and Algeria in the mid 1980s and continued to travel throughout the region.

Cliche said many Americans he met are expecting more terrorist attacks. While day-to-day life may have returned to normal, most Americans are still apprehensive.

“What I gathered is that people in the U.S. have come back to business, but with an increased vulnerability to their security”, he said.

Arab Americans have experienced the most profound change, Cliche said. They have been victims to an increasing number of hate crimes and profiling by the U.S. government.

Cliche spoke with Arab-American leaders in Detroit, the city with the United States’ most concentrated Arab-American population. Many of their stories echoed one another; they spoke of cases of closed-government proceedings, imprisonment and deportation.

Many U.S. civil liberties group have challenged the USA Patriot Act, which passed a little more than a month after the Sept. 11 attacks and gave the government broad powers in obtaining personal information without a warrant or probable cause.

“Many people have returned to their countries. Many are coming back to Canada,” Cliche said. “This has been one the biggest things I leaned out of my trip”.

But it’s not just those living in the United States that have been impacted. The number of refugees waiting to get into the country has dropped substantially – from 70,000 to 25,000 a year, Cliche said.
“For them, it is a very big impact. They’re anxious,” said Cliche, who volunteers with Montreal immigrant groups and is a member of many local intercultural groups. “They see the U.S. to be a refuge from brutality”.
No one seems to be able to escape 9/11’s impact. Even Middle Eastern scholars have been accused of not being able to predict the attacks. Think-tank leaders have witnessed a schism as they try to decide how to prevent future radical Islamic terrorism.

But some good has come out of tragedy.

More Americans have taken an interest in Islam and Middle Eastern events. And many have come to the aid of Arab Americans, sending flowers, e-mails and other sign of support, he said.
To combat future terrorism, the Islamic community shouldn’t be alienated from the rest of the population, Cliche said.

“We have to make them part of the struggle against terrorism. This is the way we should act in Montreal,” he said. “We have to learn from history.”

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