The announcement that several terror suspects, including Khalid Saikh Mohammed, implicated in the 9/11 attacks, will have their day in New York City courts was released last week. This news sparked fervent debate both between and within political parties for a range of reasons. Why civilian courts? Why in New York City? And what will the ramifications be? One of the possible consequences that has been relatively overlooked is how the incessant coverage of these trials will affect New Yorkers who, eight years ago, were arguably most directly affected by the 9/11 attacks due to the number of deaths and level of damage to the city. What will bringing these trials to New York, where many people still suffer psychological consequences of the events of September 11th, do to the New Yorkers who lived through the destruction, chaos and utter fear eight years ago? More specifically, there is a possibility that some New Yorkers will be re-traumatized by the trials and perhaps anger and even a renewed desire for revenge will surface.
This weekend, CNN, MSNBC and FOX News all featured stories about the possibility of trials in NYC and each one of these channels broadcast at least several scenes of the events of 9/11. Aside from on the anniversary, the images of 9/11 have relatively faded into the background – they are still part of the collective memory, but not anywhere near as salient as they were just several years ago. Bringing these suspects to New York opens the door for increased attention to be focused on the events of 9/11 and for Americans and particularly New Yorkers to be re-exposed to much of the footage that many people find hard to witness even though almost a decade has passed.
Another worry might be that, while the initial experience of 9/11 was horrific, traumatizing and frightening, it also yielded some positive unintended consequences. New Yorkers and Americans more broadly were reminded of the need for pro-social behavior and often reported feeling an increased sense of kindness from their neighbors. People felt compelled to engage in helping behavior and connected to others around them in new ways – a sense of kinship emerged. However, in bringing the terror suspects to trial in New York, one might wonder if this will have the opposite effect and bring out antagonisms and possibly even violence and hatred. There is the possibility that these suspects will be seen as martyrs by their fellow extremists both in the US and abroad, which could fuel anti-American sentiment. There is also the possibility that the American feeling of the need for revenge will re-emerge and could create serious ethnic tensions at home and abroad. In sum, the possibility for re-traumatization and a resurgence of the desire for revenge will be unfortunate outcomes if the trials do indeed take place in New York. The article below on the social benefits of collective trauma indicates that there can be unexpected positive outcomes of even the most shocking and awful events. However, bringing these trials to New York seems as though it has the potential to re-ignite some of the negative sentiments surrounding 9/11, but very few of the pro-social or positive social outcomes of the actual traumatic event itself.