Faith offers solace to citizens a decade after attack

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York Community High School/Elmhurst, Ill.
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First Ward City Councilman Fred Schmidt, pictured at work in his home office, was one of those touched yet unaffected in the religious sense by the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Photo by CHRISTOPHER PARKS/MUJW

First Ward City Councilman Fred Schmidt, pictured at work in his home office, was one of those touched yet unaffected in the religious sense by the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

COLUMBIA —

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The confusing day began with a simple phone call.

Fred Schmidt listened to his wife talk

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A plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. From his nearby apartment, Schmidt was in disbelief.

“Shit’s always blowing up in New York,” he said. “But it seemed totally incomprehensible.”

When the New Yorker saw the silent parade and the toxic confetti drift away from the twin towers, Schmidt was stunned by what was unfolding in front of him. An exodus was going past him on 52nd Street and 1st Avenue.

Schmidt, who now lives in Columbia and serves as the city councilman for the First Ward, said that though 9/11 is a day long-remembered, the horror that unfolded did not affect him religiously.

For more information

For more information about the Hillel Jewish Campus Center, 1107 University Ave., call Kerry Hollander at (573) 443-7460.

For more information about the Islamic Center of Central Missouri, 201 South Fifth St., call (573) 875-4633.

How faith has alleviated certain insecurities cannot be clearly measured, and some have said religious services are one way Columbia and the country manage their post-9/11 fears as the 10th anniversary of the attacks approaches.

Around the time of the terrorist attacks, according to a Gallup poll, there was a -percent increase in the number of Americans who considered religion important in their lives.

Bob Flanagan, an assistant professor in MU’s religious studies department, said adherence to a belief system allows individuals to appreciate what different people have in common, and that is beneficial to society.

Some Columbia religious leaders said they saw the healing power of religion on 9/11 — the type Flanagan described — and they expect to see it again on the 10th anniversary of the attack in September.

Shocked by the graphic reports, MU students arrived at the Hillel Jewish Campus Center just hours after the attack, said Kerry Hollander, executive director of the center.

“Students came here (to the center) for some kind of solace,” Hollander said. “Tears came from all of us, horror and disbelief.”

The recurring videos of the crashing planes on the newscasts traumatized viewers, Schmidt said, but he did not watch the video replays of the attacks for about two weeks. The former midtown Manhattan resident said he was not repeatedly exposed to the horrific images.

“We’re really affected by the images. I was a little bit surprised the U.S. didn’t declare war (immediately).”

Instead, Schmidt said he coped with

9/11 by observing New York in detail, writing about city scenes for his friends and family who considered the city a symbol of America’s vulnerability. Until he caught up with the news, Schmidt said he did not fully understand his friends’

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“I had no comprehension that this had any implication nationally or internationally,” he said. “I don’t know why I was so dense that day.”

In Columbia, Rashed Nizam, the president of the Islamic Center of Central Missouri at the time, said he feared for the safety of area Muslims.

“We made it very clear that Islam is a peaceful religion,” he said. “Nowhere in Islam does it say to kill other people.”

At the mosque gathering, United Methodist Pastor Otto Steinhaus told the congregation they had the support of the churches in Columbia. Nizam also said support came from local residents on every 9/11 anniversary, including community members who leave bouquets at the mosque each year.

Schmidt said it took tremendous moral courage for Americans to resist violence in the emotional wake of the attack. Even in New York City, where residents breathed in the clouds of dust and worried about their friends and family, he said they managed to remain peaceful.

“People became totally nice to each other

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— and that’s just not a New York thing,” Schmidt said. “We were not mad at somebody, but sad that 9/11 happened.”

As the country resisted violence, citizens wanted to help out, Schmidt said. There were people angry they could not help dig out survivors from the wreckage, he said.

Nizam said he still wants to “dissolve the misunderstanding (about Muslims)” through education. Instead of hiding, he said, people must strive to preserve human dignity, what he called a Pillar of Islam, and not just survive.

“History,” added Schmidt, “will see our response to 9/11 as a leap of faith.”