ROME — Fides, the Vatican's missionary news service, monitored the reaction in a number of Muslim countries following the commencement of U.S.-British military action against terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and against military assets of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban regime. Here is a sampling of the comments from religious leaders in those countries:
Tension is high in Pakistan where radical Muslims continue to invoke a holy war and the incoming flow of Afghan refugees continues. Father Sebastian Francis, Friar Minor in Karachi, head of the Franciscan province in Pakistan, said the people are divided between those in favor of the attack and those who support the Taliban.
Although in the north there are anti-American demonstrations, in the south, “in Karachi the schools are closed and roads blocked but there is no violence,” he said.
But Father Francis also expressed fear of retaliation against local Christians often identified with the West. “We are citizens of Pakistan. We will continue to pray for peace and work together with our Muslim brothers and sisters to build a society of justice and peace, united against terrorism,” he said. “But I fear that if violence breaks out it will be a spiral difficult to stop.”
In the Persian Gulf, after a terrorist attack in the area a few days earlier, calm seemed to have returned. Fides asked Bishop Bernardo Gremoli, vicar apostolic in Arabia, to comment about the situation. “Things are quiet at the moment,” Bishop Gremoli said. “The authorities have called for calm and there are no protests. The countries in the area have already voiced their support for the position of the West. Among the Christians here everything continues as normal: pastoral work, religious services.”
Father Ignatius Ismartono, head of interreligious dialogue for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Indonesia, said he is concerned about the situation there. Radical Muslims staged protests in front of the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, and the Ulema Council, a leading Muslim religious group, has told the Indonesian government to break diplomatic ties with the United States.
Said Father Ismartono, “The Archdiocese of Jakarta has called an emergency summit meeting of religious leaders. We want to restore calm, So far there is no danger for the Christian community.”
In Malaysia, reactions were highly negative. In a statement to Fides, Chandra Muzzafa, the leader of the Muslim group International Movement for a Just World, said military operations are not the right remedy for terrorism. “It is a shame that the Western countries chose to ignore the passionate pleas of peace activities throughout the world, launching these military strikes against unidentified terrorist bases in Afghanistan,” Muzzafa said. “There will probably be civilian casualties and this is bound to have an impact on public opinion in Muslim countries. The violence on Sept. 11 against the U.S., compounded by the violence of U.S.-British strikes in Afghanistan, will give rise to more terrorist and counter-terrorist violence in future.”
Bishop Cesare Mazzolari of Rumbek in Sudan told Fides that he fears the conflict will spread with unpredictable consequences. “I hope that the U.S. administration will maintain precise and limited objectives,” Bishop Mazzolari said. “Islam has powerful forces and it wants to unleash a war to change the world — I hope Washington does not provide the opportunity.”
The bishop added that Westerners find it difficult to understand the Muslim world.
Said Bishop Mazzolari, “Fundamental Muslim groups play on the fact that the West is unfamiliar with Islam. World leaders must realize that this war could degenerate into a world war. Maximum prudence is necessary to prevent further tragedies.”