09/09/2004, 00.00
iraq - italy
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Bishop of Baghdad: "I share in your pain, but don't back down against terrorism"

by Lorenzo Fazzini

Msgr Sleiman sympathizes with Italians for the abductions of 2 volunteer workers, but asks Italy to commit itself fully against terrorism, for Iraq's sake and for Europe's

Baghdad (AsiaNews) -- "Italians, don't be discouraged: the Iraq crisis is not only an Iraqi problem: it is also the Middle East's and Europe's."  "Terrorism cannot be defeated by closing in on oneself.  Re-establishing peace in Iraq also means guaranteeing security in Europe.  Msgr. Jean Benjamin Sleiman, Latin-rite Archbishop of Baghdad is sure of this.  He told AsiaNews that the Church in Iraq will "certainly take action" to free the two Italians, even if it is difficult to find the right interlocutors.

Here is the interview Msgr Sleiman gave to AsiaNews.

The abduction of two Italian women: a case of terrorism or not?

I think there is a link, if not an actual alliance, between the gangster phenomenon and organized terrorism, between local delinquents and foreign terrorists.  Each can serve the other to reach their ends.

Will the Iraqi Church do something for the 2 Italians?

Certainly: but the problem is knowing who to talk to.  It's terrible: living in a situation of utter powerlessness.  Who does one turn to when there are problems such as this: one just doesn't know and this is very serious.

What message do you have for the Italian people, distraught by the abduction of their co-citizens?

I am as worried as the Italians, I share their pain.  But we must remember that the crisis in Iraq is not only an Iraqi problem: it is also the entire Middle East's and Europe's... There will be other victims, before terrorism is defeated.  The important thing is not to let ourselves be discouraged, but do all that is possible to re-establish peace in Iraq.  Peace here in Iraq means peace also in Europe.

What do you mean by "re-establish peace"?

Whenever a crisis such as this occurs, there is the tendency to rethink political decisions and the full range of commitments that have been made.  Such a temptation is strong, as is the desire to close in on one's own interests and one's own country.  But it takes wider boundaries and a larger context to defend one's country against terrorism.

What would you say to Italian NGOs operating in Iraq?  Should they stay or go?

It is difficult to tell others to stay when there is a concrete risk of danger.  In the war underway, terrorists make no distinction for volunteers who do good and work for the people: it's not part of their logic.  The life of foreigners in Iraq will always be at risk.  Above all for Italians: Italy has been threatened by various terrorist groups.

Some refer to the "Lebanonization" of the Iraqi crisisDo you, as a Lebanese, agree?

Partly.  Manifestations of evil - abductions, attacks, battles between various secret services -- resemble each other, but the context is different.  In Lebanon, there was a violent clash between the various local factions.  Instead in Iraq, there is a new government which is trying to take control and is being thwarted by international terrorists and a certain amount of internal resistance.

After the August 1 attacks, it was feared that Christians would flee Iraq

Christian emigration is a concern that dates back a long way: it is not a problem that began with the bombs of August.  Certainly, after those incidents many families decided to leave Iraq, but there is a much larger and more profound problem.

What role should Christians have in the country?

In this crisis, Christians play the role of peaceful mediators.  They have no political demands of their own, and certainly no use for violence.  They instead want to see restored the strength of the state and security for Iraqi society.

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