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Coping with Terror in the U.S. Heartland

Five years after the September 11th terrorist attacks on American soil, the United States is in many ways a fundamentally different nation. The memory of the devastation and loss on that day is still a national scar that has not healed. The experience has exposed the vulnerability of the United States to future attacks and instilled a sense of urgency to do what is necessary to protect every facet of society and region of the country.

The peaceful, quiet farmlands of Iowa seem far removed from the war on terror. But even here, five years after the September 11th terrorist attacks, life has changed.

"People meet us on the street and express their sympathies and condolences, even now," say Betty Haviland, who lives with her husband Doug in Des Moines, Iowa. Their son Tim worked in the World Trade Center and was one of the approximately 3,000 thousand people from more than 26 countries who died on September 11, 2001.

"He went to work early, as usual, and the planes crashed. His desk was, as near as we can figure, probably where the plane went in. So we like to think he was killed instantly," says Betty Haviland.

Small gestures from the community that shares their grief have helped. A tree has been planted in Tim's name and a scholarship fund established. While the pain never goes away, Doug Haviland says to cope he had to let go of his anger and hold on to his core beliefs.

"I felt from the beginning that this was a test of faith in many ways. Either we stood for reconciliation and trying to bring some healing out of this tragic event or we were simply failing in our profession of Christian faith," says Doug Haviland.

Heightened Tensions

Many Muslims in America feel that September 11th has cast a shadow of suspicion on their faith. "What happened in New York, this is not Islamic. We must put this in mind, but of course, unfortunately, everybody accuses us," says Ibrahim Dremali, the Imam of the Islamic Center of Des Moines. He says back in 2001 he was the Imam of a mosque in the southern state of Florida. After September 11th, he was invited to speak at a local Christian church as a gesture of solidarity and reconciliation. But before he could go, he was attacked by two men.

"I stopped my car. And suddenly the door is open and somebody with a shotgun and boom [he hits me] in my chest. When I am going back he hit me again. Of course, I have two bruises that the police took the picture. And I am supposed to go the second day and speak at a church. And he said, 'If we see you in church you are a dead man!," says Dremali.

Ibrahim Dremali says the threats and harassment continued, and forced him to leave Florida and eventually to find refuge in Iowa. Still whenever Imam Dremalai travels, he says he still feels like he is being targeted. At airports, he says he is constantly being pulled out of line and detained.

"When I come from international flight, my son and I, last time we came, 12 hours in the airport, and in the end, 'Oh sorry, sorry for the delay.' Twelve hours and sorry for the delay?," says Dremali.

Imam Dremali may be a casualty of heightened security measures imposed since September 11th, but preventing another terrorist attack has been the government's top priority.

Combating Agro-Terrorism

And here in a state where there are more pigs and cattle than people, this means protecting America's farms from possible agro- or bio-terrorist attacks.

"September 11th and the anthrax attacks pointed out that there are people out there who want to do harm to this country and will go to great lengths to do that," says Professor James Roth, Director of the Center for Food Security and Public Health at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. Since September 11th, he says, the federal government has developed a national animal health laboratory network of veterinarians. This rapid response team works to prevent the introduction of deadly diseases into the livestock population and stands ready to act if food security is threatened.

"In Iowa, we have about 250 veterinarians who have signed up as volunteers to be called up, essentially on a moment's notice, to respond under the direction of state veterinarian to go in and help with the diagnosis and eradication steps," says Roth.

Five years later, the ongoing threat of terrorism, the heightened ethnic tensions, the debate over civil liberties versus public security, and the still raw memories of those lost on September 11th have changed almost everyone, everywhere in America.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program,VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.