In a break from his more usual diplomatic style, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, has lambasted the proposed policy of the U.S. government and its allies to launch air strikes against Syria.
In a forceful statement, released Wednesday, he questions the authority of these states to launch an attack, wonders who appointed them to be "policemen of democracy", and warns of the risk of more civilian casualties.
Each of his four points is an attempt to appeal to reason:
• “Why declare war when UN experts have not yet delivered the definitive findings on the chemical nature of the attack and the formal identity of its agents? We witness here a logic reminiscent of the Iraq war preparation in 2003. Do not repeat the ‘comedy’ of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, when there were none. Today the country is still in a very critical situation.”
• “How do you decide to attack a nation, a country? By what authority? While the U.S. president has the power to launch air strikes alone against Syria [while informing Congress], but what about the Arab League and the UN Security Council? Our friends in the West and the United States have not been attacked by Syria. With what legitimacy do they dare attack a country? Who appointed them as ‘policemen of democracy’ in the Middle East? ”
• “Has anyone seriously thought about the consequences of such a war for Syria and its neighboring countries? Is there a need to increase the number of deaths, now over 100,000? It is necessary to listen to all those living in Syria, who cry out their pain and suffering that has lasted for two and a half years. Has anyone thought of the mothers, children and innocent people? And countries that will attack Syria, have they taken into consideration that their citizens, embassies and consulates throughout the world may be the target of attacks and bombings in retaliation?”
• “More broadly, have we measured the consequences for the Middle East region? According to observers, the attacks should be specifically targeted and concentrated on a few strategic sites in order to prevent further use of chemical weapons. We know from experience that a targeted attack will have collateral consequences – in particular, strong reactions that could ignite the region.”
Some argue that comparisons cannot be made with the Iraq War. That involved a full invasion, while this is expected to be short, targeted air strikes designed to punish. But there is real fear that such action will escalate this conflict and cause more suffering to innocent civilians.
“My goodness, this is grievous - we are really scared,” Archbishop Maroun Laham, Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, told Vatican Radio yesterday. “Violence begets more violence,” he said.
Moreover, he stressed the region’s Christians are highly suspicious about the motives for such military action, especially given continuing doubts over the culpability of the chemical attack.
“This interest, on the part of the United States or of Europe, for human rights or for the defense of the weak, no one believes. No one believes it!,” Archbishop Laham said.
“All seek their own political and economic interests. So, since no one believes their good will, we do not want this wish for war applied to Syria. We hope that the voice of reason, and for us, of faith, will prevail and that the Syrian crisis find a political solution.”
His comments follow a series of similar statements from other bishops in the region, and the Holy See's view that dialogue is the "only option."
Although the British parliament yesterday voted against military action, the U.S. government appears determined to press ahead. France’s President Francois Hollande today said he continued to back targeted air strikes.
UPDATE: Aid to the Church in Need has called on the faithful to begin a Week of Prayer for Peace in Syria. Beginning today, August 30, and lasting until September 6, the week was originally scheduled for October, but recent events brought it forward.
"We cannot wait,” the charity said in a statement. “The time to pray for peace for the Syrian people is now. Our brothers and sisters in Syria need it more than ever".
The following intercessory prayer has been written for the week:
“God of compassion, listen to the cries of the people of Syria. Give comfort to those who suffer because of the violence. Console those who mourn their dead, and give strength to neighboring countries to welcome the refugees. Convert the hearts of those who resort to arms and protect those who work to promote peace. God of hope, inspire leaders to choose peace instead of violence and to seek reconciliation with their enemies. Inspire compassion in the universal Church for the Syrian people and give us hope for a future of peace based on justice for all. We ask this through Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace and Light of the world. Amen.”