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Posted at 9:30 AM ET, 01/11/2010

School seizes 9/11 shirts of Arab-American students

By Valerie Strauss

Read the facts of the following case, and then comment about whether you think it was handled properly.

Some Arab-American students at Edsel Ford High School in Dearborn, Michigan--home to the country’s largest community of Arab-Americans--designed and had made sweatshirts that referenced the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by Islamic fundamentalists.

According to the Detroit Free Press, the sweatshirts had these words: “You can’t bring us down.” Above the words is the number “11” drawn to be the twin towers of the attacked World Trade Center, with little windows drawn in each digit. To the right is a thunderbird, the mascot of the school, flying toward the “11.”

The students, who are graduating in 2011, told school officials they were just supporting their class. But when other people at the school saw the sweatshirts, many were angered and complained.

"The whole design gave prominence to the 9/11 tragedy, and of course was very upsetting to staff and students," said an e-mail message sent from school district officials to local groups and individuals, the Free Press reported.

School officials confiscated the sweatshirts, which cost $25 a piece, and held a public meeting at school, where some 300 people showed up to discuss the situation. School officials said the students did not realize anybody would be offended by the design, the newspaper said.

The students were not disciplined, and the American Civil Liberties Union in Michigan praised school officials for not taking disciplinary action.

Could these kids really not have known the effect of the design on others? I find it hard to believe that kids of high school age didn’t know what they were doing. One hopes that their school broadens their education; maybe they could start by having the students read and watch the news coverage from that day.

What do you think about how this was handled?

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By Valerie Strauss  | January 11, 2010; 9:30 AM ET
Categories:  Civics Education  | Tags:  confiscated sweatshirts  
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Would this had been a story if, instead of Arab-American kids, the sweatshirts had been made up by other 2011 grads, perhaps the white or black or latino children of laid-off auto workers?

Figure these kids were maybe 7 years old when the towers were attacked. My mom is a 6th grade teacher and they didn't any of the elementary school kids about it, deciding that this was a better topic introduced by their parents. Yes, they'll have learned about it, but what they will have learned is that Arabs are in the middle of the wars, the attempted bombings, etc. Arabs are also their core family units and people they look to for guidance. It cannot be easy to be an American-Arab teenager.
But I can see how this design would have been very popular in late 2001, early 2002, when the towers appeared as a symbolism of strength and power -- you can take them down but you can't break our spirits. Sounds like exactly the message you want to deliver to high school kids in Dearborn. They need all the encouragement they can get.

Posted by: capecodner424 | January 11, 2010 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Um, I'm with capecodner424. I simply don't get it. If anything it sounds like it's bordering on an overly-macho patriotic statement, along with expressing defiance and strength.

I can see how the constant reminder of that day might be *disturbing* to someone in the school (in Michigan) if they lost someone in those towers. But "offensive"? No comprendo, lo siento.

Oh wait, now I get it. These were Arab Americans. Everyone knows by now that "9/11" is a registered trademark of the white Republican fearmongering establishment. The official copyright is held by Rudolph Giuliani, and may be hauled out at any time, ad nauseum, for use in scaring people and questioning the patriotism of anyone who disagrees with your plans to invade an oil-rich country for the later benefit of your campaign donors.

But Americans of Arab descent? Hands off buddy. That's Republican property there, to be used at will for whatever purpose they please. Silly kids. They weren't old enough back in 2003-4 to realize that 9/11 didn't belong to all of America.

Posted by: B2O2 | January 11, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

I don't understand anyone's point of view in this story. I don't understand what message the students were trying to convey. I don't understand why anyone would be offended by the shirts. I don't understand what the students' ethnicity has to do with it.

Posted by: oxhead1 | January 11, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Maybe you just don't realize how long it's been for these kids. For those of us who were adults at the time, or those who were in high school, it can feel like only yesterday. This is especially true for those of us from one of the areas directly affected.

But high school kids from Michigan weren't close to any of the targets, and were probably around 7 or 8 years old at the time of the attacks. This was half a lifetime ago for them.

At any rate, I also can't see why anyone took offense, except for the fact that it was Arab-American kids wearing the shirts. The message seems to be positive, if ham-fisted and awkward.

Posted by: dkp01 | January 11, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Were these shirts that were sold to the student body, i.e., the "official" shirt of the class of 2011? If so, then it was stupid for the adviser to let that design through.

My bigger question is why is the bird flying toward the 11/towers? If the bird was on top of the tower, it would look stronger and more of a pride statement. The design looks just like a plane flying into a tower.

Posted by: drl97 | January 11, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Thousands of people died that day - it's not an appropriate symbol for school/class spirit.

(Although I understand that the kids might not have made that connection for the reasons posters stated above)

Posted by: karling | January 11, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Lets get real, and get off our high horse. I know people who died in the attack, and I am not offended. Let's look at the facs -- it's been over 8 years since 2001. When you are a child, you barely know what happened four years ago, and in this case, the kids would have been what, 8 years old? I am sorry that you project your cynical adult view on this issue, and betray your prejudices, but I for one think using the Twin Towers as a motivator reflects what these kids probably saw, George Bush wrapping himself in patriotism. I feel honest regret you even wrote this article, for obviously you have failed to move on. Get over yourself.

Posted by: ChrisW1958 | January 11, 2010 2:25 PM | Report abuse

A picture of the shirts whould have helped this article. is the issue because the kids are arab-americans? and they were 8 at the time...

Heres an alternative question: why haven't they been rebuilt in 8 years? Dubai managed to put the tallest buildin in the world up in 5 years. What has happened?

Posted by: Michael_A1 | January 11, 2010 2:25 PM | Report abuse

From what I can gather from the article, the school's mascot is being used to represent one of the airplanes that struck the Twin Towers. If someone had compared my high school mascot to an airplane that was going to be used to murder thousands of people... I would have been offended. If the reporting of that depiction is correct, it's highly offensive, and I don't think that these students were so clueless as to not know they were comparing their student body to al-qaeda.

Posted by: omelas | January 11, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

If "fock the draft" (slightly amended to avoid filter) is OK, why isn't this one?

Posted by: Nemo24601 | January 11, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

The picture displayed with the Free Press article makes me believe that the uproar is because they are Arab students. The graphic itself does not contain specific 9/11 imagery. It's seems more about being the class of 2011.
This feels like an over reaction based on the ethnicity of the students. Not good. Not good at all.

Posted by: dcampbell1 | January 11, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

Not sure how the ethniticity of the students was relevent... those shirts would have been offensive no matter who was selling them. Very poor taste. And yes, high-school aged kids should have known better. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that you don't use symbols of mass murder to engender school spirit.

Posted by: floof | January 11, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

Here's another article... apparently one of the kids said they did this deliberately because they were angry about portrayals of Muslims in the media after the attempted Christmas plane attack.

Posted by: floof | January 11, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

I think it's safe to say the terrorist's have one. When 5hit like this happens it makes white people look terrible. Maybe it's time for these bigots to get a life.

Posted by: askgees | January 11, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse

Trying to avoid punishment, the students asserted that "Can’t bring us down" referred to the 11. As displayed on the shirt, it could easily be interpreted to apply to the school mascot, a bird on an intercept course with the 11.

Which did the students intend? Both of course. Creative and intelligent kids love a double-entendre, especially if it tweaks the adults.

Posted by: Bill64738 | January 11, 2010 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Not sure how the ethniticity of the students was relevent... those shirts would have been offensive no matter who was selling them. Very poor taste. And yes, high-school aged kids should have known better. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that you don't use symbols of mass murder to engender school spirit.

Posted by: floof | January 11, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

So I guess we must ban the use of 1's since they can be mistaken for the towers. LOL Are you ret@rded???? Maybe the reason the terrorists chose to attack is because they realize how weak and pathetic the average American is. Their scared of their own shadow. PATHETIC. So as a simple solution I suggest we set schools up so no one graduates in the year 11. We wouldn’t want some chicken 5hit pansy pi$$ing his/her pants.

Posted by: askgees | January 11, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

I can believe high school students really didn't understand the reaction. If they are 15, they were around the age of 7 when it happened. Not everyone follows history or historic events--even something like 11 Sep 01. It doesn't affect their everyday life.

I'm not saying that's right, but if you poll teenagers across the US, you'll find a lot who have heard about it but have never delved into the true meaning and significance of that date.

Posted by: davidp54 | January 11, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

I was in the band in high school and when I was a Senior we had t-shirts made that read "Co-Ed Naked Marching Band" (popular theme in early 90's). The Director threw a fit, questioned our judgement, made us all turn in the shirts, and we each lost our $20. Truly not one of the 20 of us had a problem with the shirts. Looking back now, I can see the issues with that, especially for the younger members of the band/school. So, I suspect that some of these students did not consider ALL of the ways that their shirts could be interpreted, or misconstrued. They should have run the idea by a few adults/teachers beforehand, but yes, high schoolers can have bad judgement and may not realize the implications of what they see as a simple design.

Posted by: lclcl33 | January 11, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

John Wayne did a recording known as "The Hyphen." Either are are all Americans or we have become a disintegrated society. The PC bu11sh1t needs to cease. If ARAB-AMERICANS want to have loyalites to a bunch of two-bit terrorists, screw-em and the PC crowd.

Posted by: Computer_Forensics_Expert_Computer_Expert_Witness | January 11, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Whoa.. Talk about profiling. I agree with most of the other posters here that this is much ado about nothing. Move on and bring us some real insight.

Posted by: yomama533 | January 11, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Now that I've actually seen the design, the whole outrage thing seems even dumber. Some over-sensitive types didn't like brown people walking around in shirts that could pretty much only evoke 9/11 if you were half-drunk and squinting at the things.

Posted by: dkp01 | January 11, 2010 7:41 PM | Report abuse

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