After Sept. 11, what is there left to say? As pastor emeritus of a New York City parish, I settle for an embrace, a hug. There is a deep personal quality to our losses on mid-Manhattan’s East Side and throughout our city. Husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, lovers, sons and daughters, relationships and future dreams were destroyed in the imploding twin towers. A wedding I was to perform in November did not occur. The groom, a bond trader in the south tower, was gone. Seven of my high school alumni were also lost. Across the street from my former rectory, the 13th Precinct lost Bobby Fazio and Moira Smith, mother of Patricia, age 2; Emergency Squad One lost Brian McDonnell.
A Daily News photographer, Todd Maisel, caught five photos of Fazio bringing out five victims. Fazio went back in for a sixth and did not come out. At a subsequent gathering of the New York Press Photographers Association to deal with their trauma—they lost two dead, had several injured, witnessed terrifying scenes of people falling from the burning towers—Maisel stood on a restaurant table and, like a biblical prophet, tearfully spoke of heroism and destruction. He termed these times not Old Testament times nor New Testament times but a Newest Testament time, confronting a new face of evil.
In October, a funeral Mass was celebrated for Emergency Squad Officer McDonnell at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. There was no casket at the head of the aisle, just a large photo and his helmet. Maggie, his wife, spoke of how they met, their love at first sight and its continuance with the wider embrace of Katie, age 8, and Tommy, age 3. Katie was listed for the Scripture reading. Sobbing, she shook her head; a police officer did the reading. The Rev. Mike McHugh, who had married them 12 years before, spoke briefly and eloquently. After the Mass, the congregation spilled onto Fifth Avenue, which they saw was lined with hundreds of police officers. It was a moving scene: the N.Y.P.D. pipes and drums; the slow step and drumbeat of the funeral march; taps, with Maggie guiding Tommy’s hand in salute; then the fly-over of police helicopters. The pageantry was repeated for Moira Smith in February, after a delay in the vain hope that her body would be found.
Sean Lugano, 28, bond trader, rugby star, graduate of my parish school and Xavier High School—which lost 10 graduates and 50 relatives of staff and students—had 900 friends from his education, athletic and business worlds at his funeral Mass. Here too there was just a photo, no body. The cascading towers had obliterated flesh and identity. In the ensuing months, more firefighters’ bodies, shielded by their bunker gear, have been found in stairwells.
A retired Fire Captain, Bill Butler, 62, spent long days at the site searching, but in vain, for his son, Thomas, 37, of Rescue Squad 1. Butler is selling his Florida retirement home as he will be helping raise his son’s three children.
Retired Firefighter Lee Ielpi helped carry out the body of his son, Firefighter Jonathan, 29, father of two, from the ruins of the south tower. Retired Fire Captain John Vigiano, 63, another of the many fathers looking for their sons, lost John, 36, a firefighter, and Joseph, 34, an N.Y.P.D. detective. Joseph was found; John is still missing. The father told a reporter, “When I sit down there alone, I talk to him and tell him I love him.”
Among the roughly 3,000 lost in New York, 23 were members of the N.Y.P.D. A local firehouse near my apartment lost nine from the crews of 22 Engine and of Ladder Company 13. The Fire Department lost a total of 343 firefighters, depriving 607 children of their fathers. Cantor Fitzgerald, the financial firm, lost 700 employees, depriving 1,300 children of a parent.
In the face of such devastating loss of life and personal relationships, New Yorkers have come together in a remarkable way. Former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, a spectacular leader, said: “They tried to break our spirit. Instead they have emboldened it.” Friendships have become more precious than ever. Generosity has been overwhelming. Neighborhood women for weeks prepared hot meals around the clock at the local precinct. Still there is anger over what has happened and a determination that it must not happen again. James Woolsey, former director of the C.I.A., said that the Sept. 11 attack “was a systematic failure of the way this country protects itself. It’s aviation security delegated to the airlines, who did a lousy job. It’s a fighter aircraft deployment failure. It’s a foreign intelligence collection failure. It’s a visa and immigration policy failure.”
The nation’s elected officials must do better. After the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, legislation was introduced in Congress to ban the export of encryption software, valuable to terrorists; to require more careful scrutiny of foreign students; and to require surveillance of international banking operations to inhibit financial support of terrorists. All three proposals were defeated in Congress after lobbying by the software industry, which feared loss of sales; by schools and universities, fearing loss of high tuition-paying students; by the banking industry, fearing loss of profits.
To ensure that it must not happen again, the nation’s police authorities have placed a new emphasis on disrupting and preventing terrorist attacks before they occur, in addition to their more traditional role of apprehending criminals after the fact. This is a sea change that involves different functions and is guided by different rules.
Using profiles to screen for potential criminal activities without a well-founded individual suspicion is not acceptable. But it would be naïve to apply the same rules in searching for Al Qaeda terrorists as for pickpockets in New York City. Ziad al-Jarrah, a leader in one of the Sept. 11 attack airplanes, had been given a ticket for speeding two days before the attack. Closer police scrutiny suggested by his profile might have prevented the attack. The 19 hijackers were “sleepers” in our society, as are their ground crews, who still remain.
In seeking to prevent future terrorist attacks, the Department of Justice and local police agencies have been regularly challenged by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the American Muslim Council and the Muslim Public Affairs Council, when a Muslim is questioned or detained. They vigorously protested when on Christmas Day an armed Arab-American U.S. Secret Service agent was barred from a plane by its airline captain, who questioned his credentials and attitude, undoubtedly mindful of terrorists’ proven success with forged documents.
A careful balance between freedom and security must always be sought. But it is inevitable that mistakes will be made. Procedures that guarantee no mistakes also guarantee that there will be no security. Michigan’s Democratic Congressman John D. Dingell stripped to his underwear without protest on January 9th before being allowed to board a Northwest Airlines plane, because his artificial hip had set off the security alarm. Fellow passengers and the congressman himself expressed delight that their safety was being assured. In contrast, when a Muslim woman was required to remove her head scarf at a Northwest Airlines security checkpoint on Dec. 18, the Council on American-Islamic Relations charged “religious harassment,” demanded an apology and an investigation of the airline and insisted that the security guard be disciplined.
Throughout the nation, and especially here in our East Manhattan neighborhoods, people are bearing many burdens—deaths of loved ones, broken hearts and broken dreams, refusing to fly, fearing to drive through tunnels, dreading the long lines at airports and fearful at the sound of a passing airliner. But these losses and fears are connected to a determination that the terrorist attacks must not happen again. The Muslim community must share that determination and the consequent inconvenience that others are enduring in the nation’s effort to disrupt and prevent terrorist attacks. In our neighborhood, Muslims and their leaders have made statements condemning the attack of Sept. 11 but, unfortunately, with ambiguity and belligerence.
Three blocks from my home is the Islamic Cultural Center and Mosque of New York City, at which many of our neighbors worship. A group of them issued a statement in which they “denounce the killing of innocent civilians in the United States, just as we have patiently denounced the killing of innocent civilians in Bosnia, Chechnya, Kashmir, Palestine, India, and other countries.” But there was no attribution to indicate who issued it. It rejected “the media’s labeling of those who are allegedly responsible for these actions as Islamic terrorists and the linking of such actions to Islam or the Koran.”
Curiously, at the head of the document is a quotation from the Koran: “Whoever kills a soul, unless for a soul, or for corruption done in the land—it is as if he had slain mankind entirely” (5:32). How is one to understand the two exculpatory phrases except as justifying killing? Finally, with a remarkable lack of sensitivity, the document closes with a prayer that can only be felt by Christians as needlessly belligerent: “May God, Almighty, the One without any associates or partners in His Divinity, guide us.”
Sept. 11 provides an opportunity for the Muslim community to join the American conversation, where people of different religions no longer give offense to one another from doctrines that have had such a potential: Jews as “a chosen people,” the “one true Church” of the Catholics, and the “private interpretation” of the Protestants. People have come together in mutual understanding and respect. Christians and Jews now regularly vote one another into public office. Intermarriages are widespread. Interfaith gatherings and projects are common.
Our Muslim neighbors are challenged to dispel the perception that they endorse the polity of Muslim nations that regards Jews and Christians as infidels, denies them religious freedom and in law treats conversion as a capital crime. It is an occasion for them to re-examine their traditions and relate them to the American experience as other religious groups have done. It will require candid discussion and publication of what Muslim leaders are teaching in their mosques and schools, comparable to the successful model of such interaction between Christians and Jews.
What more can be said about the new local Muslim presence in this area? The nearby Islamic Cultural Center and Mosque was built in 1991, not by its congregation, but by an organization founded by the Islamic states represented here at the United Nations. Its board of trustees is composed of U.N. ambassadors from Muslim countries. Most of its $17-million cost was borne by Kuwait, where a recent apostasy trial resulted in a convert to Christianity being stripped of his home and job and the right to remain married to his Muslim wife.
Kuwait and the other Muslim nations provide the mosque’s imams. Its chief imam, Mohammed Gemea, shortly after the Sept. 11 attack, abruptly departed for Egypt, where on Oct. 5, he gave an interview in which he claimed that Jewish doctors in New York hospitals were poisoning Muslim children and that Zionists in the nation’s air traffic control towers had helped the suicide hijackers. His successor, Imam Omar Saleem Abu-Namous, who for years worked with the Kuwaiti Ministry of Foreign Affairs, declared that there was no evidence that Muslim elements were involved in the attack.
Our city, its neighborhoods and the country have been wounded. Our families, churches, synagogues, schools, businesses and organizations of all kinds have lost members and friends. Many Catholic parishes have suffered. Catholics constitute 85 percent of New York City’s police and fire departments and were heavily represented among the bond traders and analysts who died in the towers. Monumental economic losses pale in comparison with the loss of loved ones and friends, affections, relationships and futures.
This must not be allowed to happen again.