Reflection by bishops of England and Wales on Afghanistan

 At their November meeting, the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales discussed at length the current situation in Afghanistan. Following the meeting they issued a reflection paper which they said 'is offered primarily to the Catholics of England and Wales, with the hope that it will be of use to our political leaders, and deserve the attention of the Muslim communities in our countries.' The Bishops endorse the statement made in September by the President and Vice-President of the Conference, and reiterate that condemnation of the attacks of 11 September. They recognise the right to self-defence affirmed by Article 51 of the UN Charter, but point out that this must be balanced by the need to find a just peace. Any military action must be precisely targeted and strictly limited. They are dismayed by the rhetoric of a generalised war against terrorism, which risks unleashing further evil. The Bishops are concerned that many Muslims, both nationally and internationally, perceive the current attacks as a war against Islam, despite rightful insistence by Western leaders that this is not the case. The Bishops emphasise the need for all religions to reassert their search for justice and peace; they acknowledge the efforts of those Muslim leaders who have declared that religious belief can never be expressed by violence. They reiterate the urgent need for a just peace in the Holy Land. The current humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, exacerbated by the current political and military situation, is of great concern. The Catholic community in England and Wales is urged to support the current appeals to relieve the suffering in Afghanistan. Catholics are further asked to consider expressing their concern by prayer and fasting, particularly, where appropriate, in solidarity with many Muslims at the time of Ramadan. Finally, the Bishops' Conference seeks to speak as the voice of the poor, and to challenge the poverty and injustice which create the conditions in which terrorism flourishes. The full text of the Bishops' reflection follows. CATHOLIC BISHOPS' CONFERENCE OF ENGLAND AND WALES BISHOPS' REFLECTION ON THE AFTERMATH OF THE ATTACKS ON THE USA INTRODUCTION 1 This reflection paper is the fruit of lengthy discussion at the meeting of the Bishops' Conference. Our reflection is offered primarily to the Catholic community of England and Wales. At the same time, we hope this Catholic Christian account will be of use to the political leaders of our country who have to make momentous decisions on our behalf, and that it will also deserve the attention of the Muslim communities of England and Wales. A Bishops' Conference does not have the role of offering specific political and military solutions in the present situation, even apart from the fact that we have little authoritative information about such fast-moving events. We speak from the principles of our own faith, and from our perspective as religious leaders. 2 As the Bishops' Conference in plenary session, we fully endorse the statement made in September by our President and Vice-President, and repeat that statement's condemnation of the attacks of September 11th as a crime against our common humanity. This reflection presumes and complements that earlier statement. TERRORISM AND THE INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE 3 Terrorism is a profound evil, and must be restrained wherever possible by all legitimate means. Any government's primary duty is the protection of its citizens, and we fully recognise the right of self-defence that has long been part of international law and is affirmed by Article 51 of the UN Charter. By the same token, the need for legitimate self-protection must be held in tension with the need positively to build a peace founded on justice, and we believe that any military action must be precisely targeted and be strictly limited to the prevention of terrorism, in line with this objective of self-defence. This aspect of the crisis is difficult to evaluate. Any pursuit of properly limited military objectives through disproportionately destructive weaponry would always require moral challenge. Nor, within recent history, can all Western governments claim to have clean hands even in this matter of terrorism. Yet in the present situation, even though the bombing of military targets may sometimes lack accuracy and thus lamentably inflict civilian casualties, we insist that such actions are intrinsically different from terrorist actions that are designed to kill the public at large without discrimination. 4 Because of the need to set limited and precise targets for the military action, we are dismayed by the rhetoric of a generalized 'war against terrorism' implying that hostilities could continue indefinitely or arbitrarily, which could risk unleashing on the world unrestrained evils, perhaps even more terrible than those experienced hitherto. It is therefore crucial that the whole international community, through the United Nations, takes responsibility for determining the scope and limits of the present action, and plays a leading role in establishing stable government in Afghanistan. THE DIMENSION OF RELIGIOUS BELIEF 5 The September attackers claimed that their actions were justified in the name of Islam. Although Western political leaders have rightly insisted that the international response is not a 'war against Islam' it is sadly evident that the peoples of many Muslim countries, as well as Muslims within our own communities, do feel that the attacks are directed at them and their communities. It follows that the rhetoric of an ill-defined 'war against terrorism' could threaten the present international alliance, as well as the peace of our own multi-cultural and multi-faith societies. The terrible killing of Christian worshippers in Bahawalpur, as well as attacks against Muslims, mosques and churches in this country, shows the grim potential for scapegoating. 6 As a Conference, therefore, we emphasise the need for all religions to reassert their dedication to the pursuit of justice by peaceful means. Every great world religion includes within it movements that have acted violently or coercively. Some Islamic movements have aroused very reasonable fears in this respect. However, we also recall the Holy Father's recent apology for periods in which Catholics too have enforced their religious convictions through violence. We therefore acknowledge the role of the many Muslim leaders who have declared that terrorist violence can never be a legitimate expression of religious belief, and commit ourselves to sustained interfaith dialogue. Such a dialogue will have to explore the complexity of very different cultural and religious mindsets. 7 The urgent search for a just peace in the Israeli-Palestine conflict is imperative, both as a great good in itself and as a significant contribution to world peace. For this endeavour can manifest the commitment of the Western nations to a justice that embraces and respects the Islamic peoples, as well as Christian Palestinians, and demonstrably falsify many of the claims made by terrorist groups. THE HUMANITARIAN CRISIS 8 The present military and political crisis has exacerbated a humanitarian disaster. After a drought of three years, the people of Afghanistan were threatened with severe famine this winter, even before the beginning of bombing on October 7th. Essential humanitarian aid must be co-ordinated and delivered. Any military action that so damaged the infrastructure of Afghanistan as to prevent this urgent work, could not be accepted. It must be added that the population of that country has suffered under the brutal Taliban regime itself. Women especially have been ruthlessly oppressed. 9 We urge the Catholic community of England and Wales to support generously the current urgent appeals towards the relief of suffering and famine in Afghanistan. We wish to commend the appeal made to our parishes by CAFOD. It is a cause of thanks that among CAFOD's partners in this relief effort is Islamic Relief. 10 As we remember those who are suffering so intensely because of the present conflict, we invite Catholics to express their concern by prayer and fasting. Aware of the delicacy of Christian-Muslim relations in many countries, for reasons noted above, we still suggest that it could in some places be appropriate to carry out these acts during the period of Ramadan, in solidarity with those many Muslims who are themselves fasting prayerfully at this time. 11 To sum up, we recall that during the Mass at Coventry Airport in 1982, Pope John Paul II spoke as follows: Wherever the strong exploit the weak; wherever the rich take advantage of the poor; wherever great powers seek to dominate and to impose ideologies; there the work of making peace is undone; there the cathedral of peace is again destroyed. Today the scale and the horror of modern warfare - whether nuclear or not - makes it totally unacceptable as a way of settling differences. The Bishops' Conference cannot but speak as the voice of the poor, not least the poor of Afghanistan. A people's poverty cannot be transformed whilst the nation is virtually at war. Yet ultimately, the most effective way to restrain the type of terrorism practiced on September 11th, seemingly rooted in the utter rejection of Western values, is to challenge the extreme poverty and injustice which create conditions and grievances that terrorists can then exploit. source: CMO

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