Osama bin Laden, in the Name of Allah … or, Rather, of Oil

President of Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies Speaks

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ROME, OCT. 23, 2001 (ZENIT.orgAvvenire).- In no way is Islam related to the terrorists who struck the Twin Towers — it is an excuse, says Father Justo Lacunza, president of the Pontifical Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies (PISAI).

“Osama bin Laden wanted to be a new Saladin [who expelled the crusaders from Jerusalem] and the new manager of the natural resources of the Arab world,” said the priest, a leading expert on Islam.

The purpose of PISAI, entrusted by the Holy See to the Rome-based Missionaries of Africa, is to educate Christians about Islam.

–Q: Five years ago, Osama bin Laden proclaimed a jihad, a declaration of war against “crusaders” and Jews.

–Father Lacunza: Yes, in a text published on Aug. 23, 1996 — a declaration of war against the United States, “crusaders” and Jews.

–Q: What was he saying?

–Father Lacunza: He said that Americans should leave Saudi Arabia which, according to him, they had “occupied” since the Gulf War. The word “Christian” was never used in this text. He spoke of “crusaders,” understood as “those who have led crusades,” namely, who have fought against Muslims.

Finally, he attacked the Jews because of the Palestinian issue and the Middle East in general. However, there is also a reference to oil, and bin Laden proposes the control of resources in his declaration of war.

–Q: Less than a year later he had his religious investiture.

–Father Lacunza: In their view of Islam, the Taliban sought and obtained the support of this already legendary man, who is a great financial manager and able exploiter of his position as a combatant, first against Russia and in favor of the United States, and now against the United States on account of the Taliban.

In this connection, one of the crucial moments was in March 1997, when he changed from being a warrior to a Muslim chief. He has been conferred a sort of religious “authority” by Mullah Omar, the supreme Taliban chief, who invited him to lead the “Salad,” a public prayer rite.

–Q: What happened then?

–Father Lacunza: Mullah Omar remains as the spiritual head of the Taliban but bin Laden is the one who carries forward the political, religious, cultural and economic dimension.

–Q: Do you believe in bin Laden´s religious motivations?

–Father Lacunza: He is yet to articulate them.

–Q: But do you think they are his motivation?

–Father Lacunza: I don´t think so. He refers to religious motivations because they allow him a wide field of action among Muslims. If his [cause] were only the control of oil resources or the expulsion of Americans, they would not serve him.

–Q: Do the Taliban need bin Laden, or does bin Laden need the Taliban?

–Father Lacunza: They are two inseparable parts.

–Q: Are relations between the Muslim and Western world deteriorating?

–Father Lacunza: The terror, destruction and death sowed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are a fact. These are realities we must face. Let´s clarify another fact: You, me, any Jew, Christian, Muslim — is less safe than before. This is the reality we must address.

–Q: And yet, we know too well what is happening in Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan, Algeria and other places.

–Father Lacunza: All religions must take stock of their own history. However, it is true that certain Muslim groups use violence for their own ends.

–Q: How is it possible to interpret the Koran in such diametrically opposite ways?

–Father Lacunza: How is it possible that in Northern Ireland the police must go so far as to protect 7- and 8-year-old children going to school? How is it possible to interpret the Catholic and Protestant faiths in this way? The situation must be analyzed. The Taliban use the Koran and Islam, using God as a fortress for their plans.

–Q: A cross cannot be worn around the neck in Arab countries.

–Father Lacunza: Religious liberty was sanctioned by the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. Its defense is the competence of the United Nations, the European Union, parliamentary assemblies and governments of countries, not of the Church or citizens.

Can you recall any time when the European Parliament seriously debated religious liberty? This problem, like that of violence, did not begin on Sept. 11. Perhaps there is fear of becoming an enemy of some Arab politician or some leader.

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