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The Terror Faced by Arabs and Muslims in the Aftermath of 9/11

In an excerpt from "A Country Called Amreeka," navigating an environment hostile to muslims, a priest takes heart when a piece of history emerges from the rubble.
 
 
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Editor's note: the following is an excerpt from A COUNTRY CALLED AMREEKA by Alia Malek. Copyright c 2009 by Alia Malek. Reprinted by permission of Free Press, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Monsignor Ignace Sadek was where he always was on Tuesday mornings: in the rectory of Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Cathedral in Brooklyn, New York. He was in his quiet office buried within the recesses of the church, preparing his homily for the midday mass.

Around 10:00 a.m., he decided to check on the young gardener tending to the grounds that surrounded Our Lady of Lebanon on its shaded block at the corner of Henry and Remsen Streets in Brooklyn Heights, separated from Manhattan by the East River. As he came out into the daylight, he noticed that the sky had changed -- no longer was it the clear blue day that he remembered; instead, it had become clouded by debris.

In front of the church he bumped into a parishioner, a gentleman his age from Lebanon, who anxiously asked him in Arabic, “Did you not hear? Are you a stranger to Jerusalem?”

Ignace explained he had been at work in his office, away from the radio and television.

“Two airplanes have hit the Twin Towers, and they are falling down!” the parishioner exclaimed.

Ignace had been to the towers just two weeks before, when his friend, a bishop, had come to visit him. He often took visitors to the Twin Towers for their views, so high in the heavens that people below were rendered the size of ants. They had waited nearly two hours on line to ascend to the top.

Ignace began to shake.

What can I do? he asked himself. I am a priest, I have to do something!

His seventy-one-year-old legs began to move quickly, and he almost ran toward the Promenade, a scenic overlook on the East River with views of lower Manhattan and its skyline dominated by the Twin Towers. When Ignace arrived, he could not see a thing. He could not see whether the towers had truly fallen or whether they were hidden behind the curtain created by the wind chasing debris across the river.

As he stood on the edge of Brooklyn, the waters of the East River obscured but restless below him, the black suit he had worn since he was twenty and his own signature black beret which he had worn since he was twenty-five turned the color of the white collar he wore around his neck.

***

In the airplanes, in the field in Pennsylvania, in the towers, Our Lady of Lebanon in Brooklyn lost eight souls on September 11, 2001. They were Robert Dirani, Catherine Gorayb, Peter Hashim, Mark Hindy, Walid Iskandar, Jude Moussa, Jude Safi, and Jacqueline Sayegh.

Ignace presided over no funerals for the eight that died because there were no bodies to be buried. Instead he said a memorial service for those whose families requested it.

Some of the victims were part of the larger community of the church; others, Ignace knew quite well personally.

He had baptized Catherine’s infant daughter just two Sundays before. During the baptism, he had noticed that Catherine had cried through the entire ceremony. He had wondered why then, and after she died, he said to himself that she must have been touched by a prophecy that she would soon lose sight of her daughter.

Jude had been raised in the Brooklyn church. Though his mother was Druze, he was a dedicated and joyful member of the congregation, who always had a hug and a kiss to share.

 
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