Harry J. Byrne
Image

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.

Rev. Msgr. Harry J. Byrne is a retired pastor and former chancellor of the Archdiocese of New York.

Comments

Thomas Weaver | 1/29/2007 - 9:49am
What struck me most about the article by Msgr. Harry J. Byrne (“A Neighborhood Reflects,” 6/17) was the lack of reflection on the cause of the Sept. 11 tragedy.

Absolutely no consideration is given to the possibility that the United States is the author of its own misfortune. Those “bad guys,” the Muslims, are all to blame.

Even minimal reflection on post-World War II events in South America, Asia and the Middle East suffice to reveal an outrageous disregard by the United States for the human rights of indigenous peoples. Not surprisingly, one of these indigenous peoples has retaliated.

(Rev.) Michael Burton Roark | 1/29/2007 - 9:28am
My brother has been a professional paramedic/firefighter for many years; my nephew is a police officer whose beat is not in the best area of a large southern city; my sister and brother-in-law both work in the landmark building of a very large city in the northeast; and I have been a priest for 32 years, serving in a wide variety of ministries in many cultural settings. In no way could I presume to know the pain Msgr. Harry Byrne expresses in his reflection on Sept. 11 in New York City (6/17), but I would like to think I have some sense of where he is coming from.

Monsignor Byrne concludes his reflection, “This must not be allowed to happen again.” My question is, “What are we supposed to do to stop it?” I, like many others, have learned more about Islam in the last several months than in all my previous 60 years. With Monsignor Byrne, I have reached the conclusion that while many Muslims seem to think that Sept.11 and other acts of indiscriminate terror done in the name of God are wrong, no one in the Islamic world can declare with authority their wrongfulness. So do we go to war with the whole Islamic world?

Some months ago I read that the world will know no peace until it takes account of the fact that the state of Israel was established without consulting the people who already lived there. A frank acknowledgment of that fact on the part of our government is much in order, together with a resolve to oblige Israel to make the same acknowledgment and to do its part in building a peace built on as much equity as can be established for all who live there now. Not that this would solve all our problems with the Islamic and Arab world, but it would certainly represent a solid start.

Thomas Weaver | 7/21/2002 - 11:28am
What struck me most about this article was the lack of reflection on the cause of this horrific tragedy.

Absolutely no consideration was given to the possibility that the USA is the author of its own misfortune. Those bad guys, the Muslims, are entirely to blame.

Even minimal reflection on post-WW II events in South and Central America, Asia and the Middle East suffice to reveal an outrageous disregard by the USA for the rights of indigenous peoples.

Not surprisingly, one of these indigenous peoples has retaliated.

Don Rampolla | 7/11/2002 - 9:30pm
This article presents a compelling portrait of the emotional currents among the people affected so profoundly by the attack on the WTC and their need for healing and assurance that this will not happen again. But without minimizing these needs I want to note that we Christians are in no position to criticize the Muslim community for the quoted comments which are characterized as ambiguous regarding killing, and as belligerent. The Pentateuch (which we insist is the inspired word of God) and the historical record of the Christian world down to the present day is full of similar ambiguities and belligerence.

Regarding the quotation from the Koran “Whoever kills a soul, except for a soul, or for corruption done in the land – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely”, Msgr. Byrne asks “How is one to understand the two exculpatory phrases except as justifying killing?”

The “exculpatory phrases” from the Koran are similar to a much wider range of such phrases in the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Ex. 20:13 and Dt. 5:19 both read “Thou shalt not kill”. However this is excepted in dozens of other verses. Exodus chapters 21 and 22 present commands to kill the following people; a murderer, a sorceress, anyone who strikes or curses mother or father, anyone who has intercourse with an animal, and anyone who sacrifices to other gods. Ex. 25:25-29 has the Levites killing 3000 idolators for worshiping the golden calf, and receiving as their reward the right to the priesthood. Leviticus 20:8-17 repeats most of the above commands and adds the following cases; adultery and incest (both man and woman must die), homosexual intercourse between men (both men must die), and intercourse with animals (both the human and the animal must die).

There are many other verses which repeat the above. Then there are even more troubling verses commanding wholesale slaughter of the inhabitants of towns. Dt. 13:13-15 commands the slaughter of all of the inhabitants of an Israelite town in which the leaders have led the people into apostasy. Dt: 20:10-14 commands the slaughter of all the men in far distant towns which are captured, and Dt. 20:15-18 commands the slaughter of every living thing in towns which are captured in the promised land. The book of Joshua claims that this last command was carried out faithfully for at least 31 towns; Jos. 11:13 reads “They struck all the human beings with the edge of the sword and wiped them all out; they did not leave one living soul”.

Paul the Apostle, before his conversion, approved the killing of apostates--he approved the stoning of Stephen. Acts 9 starts out “Meanwhile Saul was still breathing threats to slaughter the Lord’s disciples”; we are not told how many people were killed because of him. Paul, although he admits to having persecuted the early Christians, (Ga 1:13,14) never states that this was wrong, nor does he even state that he was sorry.

Regarding the commands mentioned above Jesus is never reported as repudiating explicitly any of them. Jesus treatment of the woman taken in adultery might be considered an example of repudiation. However in this incident the Jewish leaders are so pathetic in their stupidity -- where was the man who was also to be stoned? -- that it is difficult for me to consider Jesus response to be a blanket repudiation of the commands of the law. Jesus commands like “turn the other cheek” are clear regarding my response to violence against me, but say nothing about community response to general threats to communal well being.

Regarding the general Christian understanding regarding killing through the past 21 centuries, war has been considered acceptable by most popes and by kings and people of “Christian” nations. The World War I and II fighting in Europe was mostly between nations that are normally considered to be Christian. The just war theory attempted to limit the violence of war, but did not forbid w

Rev. Michael Burton Roark | 7/9/2002 - 8:09am
My brother has been a professional paramedic/firefighter for many years. My nephew is a police officer whose beat is a not-the-best area of a large Southern city. My sister and brother-in-law both work in the landmark building of a very large city in the Northeast. I have been a priest for 32 years, serving in a wide variety of ministries in many cultural settings. In no way could I presume to know the pain Msgr. Harry Byrne expresses in his reflection on September 11 in New York, but I would like to think I have some sense of where he is coming from.

Msgr. Byrne concludes his reflection, “This must not be allowed to happen again.” My question is, what are we supposed to do to stop it? I, like many others, have learned more about Islam in the last several months than in all my previous 60 years. With Msgr. Byrne I have reached the conclusion that while many Muslims seem to think that September 11 and other acts of indiscriminate terror done in the name of God are wrong, no one in the Islamic world can declare with authority their wrongfulness. So, do we go to war with the whole Islamic world?

Some months ago I read, where I do not now remember, that the world will know no peace until it takes account of the fact that the State of Israel was established without consulting the people who already lived there. A frank acknowledgement of that fact on the part of our government is much in order, together with a resolve to oblige Israel to make the same acknowledgement and to do its part in building a peace built on as much equity as can be established for all who live there now. Not that this would solve all our problems with the Islamic and Arab world, but it would certainly represent a solid start.

Klemens Werth, SJ | 6/16/2002 - 1:35pm
I am writing in response to Harry J. Byrne’s article, “September 11: A Neighborhood Reflects” (June 17-24). I am scandalized of the negative evaluation of Islam (in contrast to Christianity and Judaism) in this article. And this presentation of Islam is made without any necessary differentiation. Conclusion of the article is that September 11 “must not be allowed to happen again”. Of course September 11 should not happen again. This article does not say any word about the innocent victims of the war led by the USA forces in Afghanistan. What does this silence mean? Speaking about September 11 we cannot any more be silent about all its consequences which include the means we use in order to not let terrorist attacks to be repeated. The article reflects only about the one side of the problem: the “evil” Islam. It does not provide any reflection about the role of USA actions in the process of solving the terrorism problem. It is utterly wrong to look for evil only outside ourselves and our country. Why did terrorists choose USA for terror attacks? Do we try sincerely to answer this question? Nothing can justify terrorism. But it is evident that the terrorists did not appear suddenly from nothing; they were directly and indirectly stimulated by economic and military sanctions of USA against different countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, and so on. Likewise the solution of the terrorist problem requires a long time; and the fighting of a war makes this process only longer and more painful. Shortly after September 11 I was almost sure that USA would not go with a war against terrorism; but, unfortunately, I was mistaken. If the tragic events of September 11: the heavy personal losses of many Americans will not lead us, to compassion with victims of economic and military sanctions imposed by the USA, we will have little other opportunities to comprehend and admit the injustices USA causes in today’s world.

Thomas Weaver | 7/21/2002 - 11:28am
What struck me most about this article was the lack of reflection on the cause of this horrific tragedy.

Absolutely no consideration was given to the possibility that the USA is the author of its own misfortune. Those bad guys, the Muslims, are entirely to blame.

Even minimal reflection on post-WW II events in South and Central America, Asia and the Middle East suffice to reveal an outrageous disregard by the USA for the rights of indigenous peoples.

Not surprisingly, one of these indigenous peoples has retaliated.

Don Rampolla | 7/11/2002 - 9:30pm
This article presents a compelling portrait of the emotional currents among the people affected so profoundly by the attack on the WTC and their need for healing and assurance that this will not happen again. But without minimizing these needs I want to note that we Christians are in no position to criticize the Muslim community for the quoted comments which are characterized as ambiguous regarding killing, and as belligerent. The Pentateuch (which we insist is the inspired word of God) and the historical record of the Christian world down to the present day is full of similar ambiguities and belligerence.

Regarding the quotation from the Koran “Whoever kills a soul, except for a soul, or for corruption done in the land – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely”, Msgr. Byrne asks “How is one to understand the two exculpatory phrases except as justifying killing?”

The “exculpatory phrases” from the Koran are similar to a much wider range of such phrases in the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Ex. 20:13 and Dt. 5:19 both read “Thou shalt not kill”. However this is excepted in dozens of other verses. Exodus chapters 21 and 22 present commands to kill the following people; a murderer, a sorceress, anyone who strikes or curses mother or father, anyone who has intercourse with an animal, and anyone who sacrifices to other gods. Ex. 25:25-29 has the Levites killing 3000 idolators for worshiping the golden calf, and receiving as their reward the right to the priesthood. Leviticus 20:8-17 repeats most of the above commands and adds the following cases; adultery and incest (both man and woman must die), homosexual intercourse between men (both men must die), and intercourse with animals (both the human and the animal must die).

There are many other verses which repeat the above. Then there are even more troubling verses commanding wholesale slaughter of the inhabitants of towns. Dt. 13:13-15 commands the slaughter of all of the inhabitants of an Israelite town in which the leaders have led the people into apostasy. Dt: 20:10-14 commands the slaughter of all the men in far distant towns which are captured, and Dt. 20:15-18 commands the slaughter of every living thing in towns which are captured in the promised land. The book of Joshua claims that this last command was carried out faithfully for at least 31 towns; Jos. 11:13 reads “They struck all the human beings with the edge of the sword and wiped them all out; they did not leave one living soul”.

Paul the Apostle, before his conversion, approved the killing of apostates--he approved the stoning of Stephen. Acts 9 starts out “Meanwhile Saul was still breathing threats to slaughter the Lord’s disciples”; we are not told how many people were killed because of him. Paul, although he admits to having persecuted the early Christians, (Ga 1:13,14) never states that this was wrong, nor does he even state that he was sorry.

Regarding the commands mentioned above Jesus is never reported as repudiating explicitly any of them. Jesus treatment of the woman taken in adultery might be considered an example of repudiation. However in this incident the Jewish leaders are so pathetic in their stupidity -- where was the man who was also to be stoned? -- that it is difficult for me to consider Jesus response to be a blanket repudiation of the commands of the law. Jesus commands like “turn the other cheek” are clear regarding my response to violence against me, but say nothing about community response to general threats to communal well being.

Regarding the general Christian understanding regarding killing through the past 21 centuries, war has been considered acceptable by most popes and by kings and people of “Christian” nations. The World War I and II fighting in Europe was mostly between nations that are normally considered to be Christian. The just war theory attempted to limit the violence of war, but did not forbid w

Rev. Michael Burton Roark | 7/9/2002 - 8:09am
My brother has been a professional paramedic/firefighter for many years. My nephew is a police officer whose beat is a not-the-best area of a large Southern city. My sister and brother-in-law both work in the landmark building of a very large city in the Northeast. I have been a priest for 32 years, serving in a wide variety of ministries in many cultural settings. In no way could I presume to know the pain Msgr. Harry Byrne expresses in his reflection on September 11 in New York, but I would like to think I have some sense of where he is coming from.

Msgr. Byrne concludes his reflection, “This must not be allowed to happen again.” My question is, what are we supposed to do to stop it? I, like many others, have learned more about Islam in the last several months than in all my previous 60 years. With Msgr. Byrne I have reached the conclusion that while many Muslims seem to think that September 11 and other acts of indiscriminate terror done in the name of God are wrong, no one in the Islamic world can declare with authority their wrongfulness. So, do we go to war with the whole Islamic world?

Some months ago I read, where I do not now remember, that the world will know no peace until it takes account of the fact that the State of Israel was established without consulting the people who already lived there. A frank acknowledgement of that fact on the part of our government is much in order, together with a resolve to oblige Israel to make the same acknowledgement and to do its part in building a peace built on as much equity as can be established for all who live there now. Not that this would solve all our problems with the Islamic and Arab world, but it would certainly represent a solid start.

Klemens Werth, SJ | 6/16/2002 - 1:35pm
I am writing in response to Harry J. Byrne’s article, “September 11: A Neighborhood Reflects” (June 17-24). I am scandalized of the negative evaluation of Islam (in contrast to Christianity and Judaism) in this article. And this presentation of Islam is made without any necessary differentiation. Conclusion of the article is that September 11 “must not be allowed to happen again”. Of course September 11 should not happen again. This article does not say any word about the innocent victims of the war led by the USA forces in Afghanistan. What does this silence mean? Speaking about September 11 we cannot any more be silent about all its consequences which include the means we use in order to not let terrorist attacks to be repeated. The article reflects only about the one side of the problem: the “evil” Islam. It does not provide any reflection about the role of USA actions in the process of solving the terrorism problem. It is utterly wrong to look for evil only outside ourselves and our country. Why did terrorists choose USA for terror attacks? Do we try sincerely to answer this question? Nothing can justify terrorism. But it is evident that the terrorists did not appear suddenly from nothing; they were directly and indirectly stimulated by economic and military sanctions of USA against different countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, and so on. Likewise the solution of the terrorist problem requires a long time; and the fighting of a war makes this process only longer and more painful. Shortly after September 11 I was almost sure that USA would not go with a war against terrorism; but, unfortunately, I was mistaken. If the tragic events of September 11: the heavy personal losses of many Americans will not lead us, to compassion with victims of economic and military sanctions imposed by the USA, we will have little other opportunities to comprehend and admit the injustices USA causes in today’s world.