Afghanistan Needs Hospitals More Than Bombs, Bishop Says

President of Nigerian Episcopal Conference Has Advice for the West

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 16, 2001 ( Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria, an expert in dialogue with the Muslim world, said international terrorism is not combated with bombings, and he suggested that U.S. President George W. Bush should instead be building hospitals in Afghanistan.

The archbishop spoke with the Vatican agency Fides hours after Christian-Muslim clashes in Kano, Nigeria, left at least 200 dead over the weekend. The fighting followed protests over the British-U.S. attacks on Afghanistan.

Archbishop Onaiyekan appealed to Western and Muslim countries not to let extremism prevail.

«Extremists who speak of ´Christians´ and ´Muslims´ purposely use a religious mask to increase tension,» he said. «We are well aware that the rich West is not led by a Christian spirit.»

«This is not a matter of Christianity against Islam. Indeed, if we speak of Christianity, perhaps we Christians should fight the Western world, which is so unjust.»

«The Holy Father himself has said that the division between rich and poor is not the will of God,» the Nigerian archbishop said. «For example, the missiles used in this war cost millions of dollars. One of them would be enough to build at least 20 hospitals in Nigeria.

«Isn´t this insanity? We must ask ourselves, what type of person takes these decisions? Wouldn´t it be more effective to hunt out and capture bin Laden by building dozens of hospitals in Afghanistan, rather than dropping hundreds of bombs in the desert?»

He continued: «I would ask Mr. Bush to stop the bombs for a day and come and build the hospitals needed all over Nigeria. But we have said this so often, and they have never replied. The money we use in arms is wasted because we will never use them.»

Archbishop Onaiyekan hopes that the present events will serve for an examination of conscience, which will lead to a «more just distribution of world resources. While imbalance lasts, there can be no peace.»

«This situation is in danger of justifying terrorism and makes suicide killers appear as heroes,» he added. «If we refuse to take steps to reach for world justice, we must not be surprised to see children proudly displaying photos of bin Laden.»

With reference to the latest clashes in Nigeria, Archbishop Onaiyekan said: «There are fanatics, and fanaticism has its international network.»

«The groups in Nigeria are in contact with this network with video and audio cassettes, Arab radio, messages repeated in the local languages; teaching in mosques by mullahs who have studied in Egypt, Libya or Pakistan, or even Afghanistan,» he noted. «In these countries they fill their hearts with fundamentalism. On the other hand, the authorities are not able to control the faith in Islam, so no one is able to reduce their influence.»

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