Christians, Muslims Fear Iraq War's Religious Impact. (World)

By Fletcher, Elaine Ruth | National Catholic Reporter, April 25, 2003 | Go to article overview

Christians, Muslims Fear Iraq War's Religious Impact. (World)


Fletcher, Elaine Ruth, National Catholic Reporter


People in Baghdad may have danced in the streets over the fall of Saddam Hussein, but here in another corner of the Middle East, Muslim and Christian Palestinians are reacting very differently to the rapid course of the U.S. victory over Iraq.

Many Muslims still see the invasion as an illicit move by the Christian world against Islam, while Christians fear that the war's outcome will, over the long term, threaten the security and stability of Christian communities throughout the Middle East.

"The results are very surprising. People here are confused," said Adnan Husseini, a senior official in the Islamic Trust administration that oversees Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. "In the media we have seen that they are happy for a few hours, but when they look at this more deeply, I think their thoughts will change. It will take them tens of years for them to restore their country and their future.

"People feel that under the title of a fight against terrorism, this is a war against Islam. Rather than trying to understand us, the West is trying to exert its power over us."

President Bush's continued use of religious terminology to describe the conflict in Iraq has contributed to that sense that the war is a confrontation between the Islamic East and the Judeo-Christian West, said Mustapha Abu Sway, a professor of Islamic thought at Al Kuds University.

"At an appearance at a military camp in Florida, he used the term `day of judgment' in reference to Saddam Hussein," remarked Abu Sway. "In the same speech, he talked about peace through power, which is another biblical reference. Language like that, along with his reference once earlier to Crusades, really has a bad effect on people.

"Certainly no one thinks that the war is being waged to liberate the Iraqi people from dictators. They think it is being done for the sake of oil, and also for the sake of Israel."

The fact that Iraq's population is 60 percent Shiite Muslim will pose a dilemma for the United States if it seeks to promote a genuinely representative form of government, he said.

Iraqi Shiite religious centers like Najaf and Karbala represent the centers of Shiite history and tradition, and the places to which leading Shiite families and scholars trace their origins all the way back to the family of the Prophet Mohammed.

"So if you are talking about real democracy, Iraq will become a Shiite government, and I am not sure that the U. …

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