Social media message ignites debate about cultural intolerance on the anniversary of Sept. 11

Ana Turner, Editor-in-Chief

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A Central student’s anti-immigrant and anti-muslim post to her Instagram story set off a burst of social media activity on Tuesday, the 17th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The post, made during the school day, was quickly shared through screenshots texted among students and posted to social media accounts run by multiple students from Central as well as students from surrounding schools.

Many included their own opinions in response to hers, such as “Nothing like racism on 9/11,” and “This is the last thing we need to see on 9/11.”

Sept. 11 is a day remembered for the terrorism, fear and racism that occurred when two planes crashed into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon and the other in a field in Pennsylvania. Led by a group based out of Afghanistan named Al Qaeda, the group consisted of extremist members of the Islamic faith, leading some people to associate terrorism with Muslims.

Although the force behind the 9/11 attacks was not representative of the values of Islam, some still believe that the followers of the Islamic religion inspired the actions taken on 9/11, and this misguided conclusion still exists 17 years later.

Senior Krystal Sanchez was one of the first to re-publish the image on her story.

“Coming from a daughter of an immigrant, it’s really sad to see that I go to school with someone who still thinks like this,”  Sanchez said. “It’s 2018, and I feel that it’s not ok to say things like that.”

The post also included “#MakeAmericaGreatAgain,” a hashtag associated with President Donald Trump.

Its inclusion has riled up some student supporters of Trump, who fear they’ll be lumped in with those who agree with the racist comment.

“I was mad,” senior Therese Deutsch said. “I feel like she categorized a lot of the right-leaning Trump supporters into having that opinion, and I don’t share that opinion at all. I think it’s very racist and wrong. I feel that now people at our school will view all right-leaning ideologies as that ideology.”

Other student Trump supporters reached out on social media to publicly disassociate themselves with the sentiment.

Senior Emma Alberico shared the photo on Twitter and wrote: “Although a supporter of the Conservative party, I will NOT side with hate speech. #MAGA is NOT an excuse for your inappropriate and disturbing actions. THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK. Thank you.”

Although originally shared on Instagram, the post spread to Twitter through a Metea Valley student whose tweet gained over 400 retweets and 600 likes within several hours of the end of the school day.

Before the school day ended, several students, including senior Gabriella Trespalacios, reported that they were approached by one of Central’s deans with a request to remove the inflammatory message from their stories.

“They asked me to take down the post because although [the dean]  doesn’t condone what’s being said, [the dean] said the administration will handle it,” Trespalacios said.

Some students believed that the original post needed to be shared as a means of pointing out racial intolerance, but others felt that the retweets and reposts put focus on the student in question, rather than on remembering 9/11 in a respectful way.

Senior Angelena Sichelski took a different approach. She edited the hate speech of the original post into a new one  with a more positive message. Now her post is going viral. “I love immigrants & I love muslims,” Sichelski wrote on Instagram. “Remember who committed these acts on 9/11 and that they are not representative of their population. Remember to spread kindness, support, and love on a day that’s remembered for hatred. #neverforget.”

As social media activity surrounding the posts and the comments attached to them continues to expand, some students are now debating the value of retweeting inflammatory messages and wondering how to best address those who post them.

“I think what she said was ill-informed,” senior Christopher Xu said. “However, I don’t think chastising her and belittling her will change her opinion or change the way she feels about this issue. I think what would be productive is criticizing her viewpoint, not her.”  

After the post was shared multiple times, the student issued an apology on her Instagram story, writing, “to everyone: I am truly sorry about what I posted earlier. I am sorry that my words were hurtful that was not my intention.”

The Central Times reached out to this student to inquire about her intentions, but has not received a response.

Many students hope that the social media exchange that took place today serves as a reminder that 17 years ago, America was unified during the tragedy.

“I hope people realize it’s not us versus them,” Sichelski said. “We shouldn’t gang up on one person, and one person shouldn’t gang up on a group. 9/11 wasn’t about political parties or xenophobia. It wasn’t about one specific thing. This tragedy that happened 17 years ago happened to everyone and all groups, and the fact that people use this tragedy to cause more division is saddening. I hope that in the future people use this event to talk to each other and reunite instead of leaning back into hatred.”

Laaiba Mahmood contributed to this story. 

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