In 2001, Fawaz Ismail kept his Northern Virginia flag shop open night after night until midnight, giving away hundreds of flags and flag pins, ministering to the grief of the people with whom he had come to share a country.
Last week, sales at Alamo Flag in Seven Corners were up 20 percent, but there was no mad crush of customers. This time, Ismail found himself not bound up in common cause with his fellow Americans but wondering what the country has learned in nearly 12 years of living with the prospect of terror.
After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Americans largely agreed that everything had changed. A broad consensus quickly emerged that to secure the nation, some freedoms had to be sacrificed. But then came years in which, despite warnings from intelligence officials that terrorism would certainly strike at home again, plot after plot was foiled, and no attacks were carried out.
Now that the inevitable has occurred, the impact of evolving attitudes toward terrorism is beginning to come clear as Americans react to the Boston bombing with sadness and anger but also with resilience and confidence.
Americans have rallied around Boston in ways that recall 2001: The crowd at the first Boston Bruins hockey game after the bombing belted out a heart-wrenching rendition of the national anthem. In towns across the country this weekend, ordinary people organized runs to raise money for victims of the bombing and send the message that Americans will not be deterred from reaching the finish line.
But there have been few calls for wholesale changes in defending against terrorism. Americans did not put aside politics this time; the divisive battle over gun control was back atop the news menu within 48 hours of the bombing. The Transportation Security Administration remains scheduled to lift the prohibition on small knives on airplanes starting Thursday.
Despite wall-to-wall coverage of the situation in Boston by the news media, TV ratings were nowhere near the levels sustained after the Sept. 11 attacks, and although most Americans say they tuned in to the coverage, a new Washington Post poll shows just 38 percent following the events “very closely.”
The poll, conducted Wednesday and Thursday evenings, also shows a far more muted public reaction to the bombing than the 2001 terrorist attacks. In 2001, most Americans — 53 percent — said they had changed their daily activities because of the attacks; only 6 percent said so last week. Similarly, 49 percent of those surveyed after Sept. 11, 2001, said they had difficulty concentrating on normal activities because of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon; only 9 percent reported that kind of impact last week.