The echoes of Sept. 11, 2001, clatter through American life with continuing, tangible effect.

In many smaller towns and cities, shiny new fire trucks are the civic antidote to uncertainty — and the practical need to spend what the Department of Homeland Security dishes out. Other things Americans carry from that day are tiny and poignant, like Rick Edmond’s flashlight, always on hand against a return of the darkness that he remembers in the corridors of the Pentagon.

Ideas have been amplified and altered by time, war and ideology into things never known or thought about. What does that head scarf say about where your loyalties lie? Who walks with the dead from Iraq and Afghanistan and tells the stories of what they believed in life and why they died?

Some echoes define a country at five years in ways many Americans have stopped even thinking about, because they are just life now. Here are five people in five cities — all of them uncertain in different ways about where they have come to, but resolved to some action or declaration on the nation’s road forward.

Everything seemed to be going well, recalled Dena al-Atassi, a young college student planning a career as a diet consultant, until her prospective boss caught sight of the head scarf she wears as a devout Muslim.

“She said something like, What the heck is that on your head?” Ms. Atassi said in an interview at a recent Muslim conference in Chicago. “I don’t remember the exact words, but I will always remember the derogatory tone.”

Ms. Atassi, 21, said she argued that her head scarf would not interfere with her work, that the fleshy women who flocked to the Maryland office of the Jenny Craig diet chain where she had been a trainee seemed to appreciate the fact that she dressed modestly and avoided flaunting her own slim figure.

But the supervisor in the Jenny Craig office in Florida where Ms. Atassi hoped to relocate last summer was not moved, she said, and the job never materialized.

“She wanted her office to look all-American,” recalled Ms. Atassi, who reported the incident to a prominent Muslim advocacy group at the time.

Norma Hubble, Jenny Craig’s vice president of operations, said the supervisor in the Florida office no longer worked for Jenny Craig but “to the company’s knowledge, neither Ms. Atassi’s religion nor her religious dress was a factor in any employment decisions affecting her.”

Jenny Craig “has a policy of nondiscrimination on the basis of religion,” Ms. Hubble said in a statement, “and it complies with all federal and state laws regarding employee requests for religious dress accommodations.”

Cozette Phifer, the spokeswoman for Jenny Craig, confirmed that some staff members wore head scarves.

Before Sept. 11, Muslim women who wore head scarves in the United States were often viewed as vaguely exotic. The terrorist attacks abruptly changed that, transforming the head scarf, for many people, into a symbol of something dangerous, and marking the women who wear them as among the most obvious targets for those who deem the faith threatening.

Muslim leaders call discrimination a problem for many of the faithful, particularly for women like Ms. Atassi who wear head scarves and who say they face widespread discrimination in their careers and in their daily lives.


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