‘The terrorists are living here among us." But who exactly are they? That was the baffling question that was not addressed here last week during a gathering of counterterrorism experts sponsored by Gov. George Pataki and the New York State Office of Public Security.
Hundreds of law enforcement officials attended the ambitiously titled "Counterterrorism Summit" at the Federal Reserve Bank in Lower Manhattan, just blocks from the World Trade Center site.
The daylong event featured Mark Holman, deputy assistant to President Bush for Homeland Security; James Kallstrom, the former head of the FBI’s New York office and now a part-time senior policy adviser to Pataki on counterterrorism; and John Scanlon, director of the state’s Office of Public Security.
Throughout the morning sessions (when the press was allowed to attend) experts stressed the seriousness of the terrorist threat to America from within and without. But no one wanted to name the bad guys.
"The terrorists are living here among us," declared Kallstrom, who warned of sleeper agents just waiting to be activated by their leaders, a la "The Manchurian Candidate."
But it was impossible to discern more details about who these dangerous neighbors are. Holman, the right-hand man for the nation’s Homeland Security chief, Tom Ridge, referred to them as "very evil people." Or the "evil force." Or a "dangerous enemy."
Kallstrom also referred to the Sept. 11 hijackers only as "19 deluded individuals."
Pressed later during a news conference, Kallstrom launched into a complicated explanation, first saying, "We don’t know who they are." He then talked about people who are being brainwashed against the United States.
Finally, he said, "It’s not just Arabs. It’s Europeans." He also mentioned people from the Pacific Rim. The other experts at the podium, including Holman, remained silent.
But the failure to directly answer who the enemy is 11 months after 9-11 is a recipe for disaster, some experts told Interfaith Affairs.
"It’s very important to name who we are up against," declared Steve Emerson, an internationally recognized terrorism expert.
He didn’t hesitate when asked.
"It’s militant Islam. We are at war with militant Islam. We have to be willing to name the people involved and their political and religious affiliation," Emerson said.
Asked about the government’s non-responses, Emerson said it looked like "mindless political correctness" has crept in.
Devorah Halberstam, who said she spoke about the loss of her son Ari in the 1994 Brooklyn Bridge shooting (reporters were barred from hearing her) also identified Islamic fundamentalists as the enemy.
"In not identifying [them], you’re only asking for more," said Halberstam, a member of Pataki’s commission on terrorism, in an interview.
Oddly, reporters were forced to leave the summit after the press conference, even though the gathering continued for several more hours. One wonders what national security secrets officials thought they were protecting by barring the media from hearing Halberstam and Greg Manning, husband of a 9-11 survivor, talk about "Hope and Survival After Sept. 11."
A Honduran Roman Catholic cardinal has implied that Jews are manipulating the American media to exploit the Catholic sexual abuse scandal in order to divert attention from the Israel-Palestinian crisis.
In an interview published by an Italian-Catholic magazine, Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga said: "It gave me considerable food for thought that at a time of total media focus on developments in the Middle East, with all the injustices being perpetrated against the Palestinian people, U.S. television and press people were obsessed with sex scandals of 30 or 40 years ago."
The Anti-Defamation League blasted the Catholic cleric.
"The cardinal’s odious anti-Jewish conspiracy theory must be immediately and forcefully condemned by responsible voices in the Catholic Church," said ADL director Abraham Foxman, who sent a letter of protest to Cardinal Walter Kasper, in charge of the Vatican’s relations with Jews.
There was no response yet this week, an ADL spokeswoman said.
Meanwhile, the ADL is cosponsoring a five-day Holocaust education program this week in Washington for 45 Catholic educators. The program, titled "Bearing Witness," was developed in partnership with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Archdiocese of Washington, and with support from the U.S. Conference of Catholics Bishops.
A leading Reform rabbi last week joined a rally in Washington to support Falun Gong, the spiritual movement being persecuted in China.
"The brutal tactics used by the Chinese government to eradicate Falun Gong are all too familiar to the Jewish people," said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. "Thankfully, the spirit of Falun Gong, like the Jewish spirit, persists despite widespread arrests and harassment, with thousands shipped to ‘re-education through labor" camps.
"Tragically, over many centuries we Jews have been among the quintessential victims of religious persecution, precisely because in the face of the oppression and degradations visited upon us, good people stood silently and let it happen. We are here today to say, ‘ we will not let this happen again.’ "
Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the 82-year-old leader of the Unification Church, recently took out full-page ads in newspapers across the country declaring himself the "Savior, Messiah and King of Kings of all humanity."
The 7,000-word ad explained how Moon was voted the impressive title during a recent summit meeting in heaven attended by some of the greatest religious figures in history: Jesus, Mohammed, other representatives of the "five great religions" (Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism and Islam) and ghostly Communist leaders like Karl Marx and Josef Stalin.
Obviously missing was a Jewish presence.
"I don’t see this an accident or omission," said veteran interfaith expert Rabbi James Rudin. "I first started to laugh at its absurdity and the chutzpah of this megalomaniac."
He said there was a more serious point, citing a 1976 study he conducted for the American Jewish Committee concluding that the text of the Unification Church is filled with anti-Semitic teachings.
In the end, Rabbi Rudin said he was relieved that Moon did not invite Jewish leaders like Moses, Isaiah or Abraham Joshua Heschel to the "summit in the sky."
"They were mercifully spared the trivialization and abasement that was meted out to the other religious leaders," he said.