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Tuesday, 6 November, 2001, 18:01 GMT
Archbishop's visit illustrates divide
The Archbishop of Canterbury and Dr. Abdulatif Kanoo
The Archbishop was on a three-day visit to Bahrain
By the BBC's Robert Pigott in Qatar

The Archbishop of Canterbury's visit was front page news in Qatar.

His quiet tour of Christian minorities in the Gulf planned before 11 September became another act in the increasingly desperate efforts by political and religious leaders in the West to persuade Muslims that the bombing of Afghanistan was not a holy war.

Visiting the relatively liberal states of Bahrain and Qatar, has shown Dr Carey how hard it will be to win over even moderate Muslims.

The conflict has raised a number of sensitive issues, including the fate of Palestine.

Unwise word

Shortly before the archbishop arrived, the latest talking point was the accusation that Muslims face another Christian crusade.

Arab journalists reminded Dr Carey that US President George W Bush had himself described the campaign against terrorism as a crusade.

"I think he was unwise to use the word crusade," said Dr Carey. "This conflict is not a war against Islam but against terrorism.

Dr Carey: Concern about anti-Christian backlash
"Qatar's leadership has also come out strongly against terrorism and I don't want the image of Islam to be distorted by the events of 11 September. At the moment it is the image of Christianity that's in doubt," he added.

The long-established Christian communities in Arab countries have lived in notable harmony with the Muslim majority but the massacre of 18 Christians in Pakistan changed the atmosphere.

Mass murder

At a christening service in the small St Christopher's Cathedral in Bahrain, Dr Carey said the murders had shocked Christians. The murders have been a scar on relations between the two faiths he said.

I am very worried about the possibility of a backlash against Christian minorities

Dr George Carey
The building was packed with British expatriates and Christian minorities from countries such as India, Pakistan and Nigeria from which people have come in the search for work.

As they left the building, they added to a pile of notes and coins which formed the basis of a collection for the families of those killed.

Speaking to Muslim scholars in Bahrain, Dr Carey warned that such Christian communities could now be at risk. "I am very worried about the possibility of a backlash against Christian minorities," said Dr Carey.

Vulnerable minorities

"I believe they've never been so vulnerable. Christians should be given the same hospitality and freedom to worship as Muslims enjoy in the West. It is up to Muslims to speak up for them," he added.

Dr Carey met Christians, ministers and emirs in both Bahrain and Qatar. All were ready to accept the need for military action in Afghanistan.

But most ordinary Muslims in these countries are much more sceptical.

18 Christian worshippers were killed in Pakistan
As the sun sets over the main city of Bahrain, Manama, the Al-Fatih mosque takes an ethereal quality it lacks by day.

The massive building standing amid acres of tarmac car park is suddenly bathed in golden light and the lilting call to prayer adds a sense of mysticism.

But the faithful, streaming into the building to pray, have a worldly rage against what they perceive to be injustices against the Muslim world - Palestine, Iraq, Kashmir and now collateral casualties of the bombing in Afghanistan.

Television appearance

The Americans should present the evidence against Osama Bin Laden before they do the bombings, says one.

We must go beyond the military action to find solutions

Dr George Carey
Any fighting in Afghanistan should be done by the UN, says another. The United States is the only superpower around now and if it starts to bully people then there will be World War III.

In Qatar Dr Carey went to Al-Jazeera television which has come to prominence during the bombing of Afghanistan largely because of its unrivalled access to the Taleban authorities.

The station has become an important forum in the war of words over terrorism being fought outside Afghanistan.

Dr Carey repeated his message that 11 September should not become a wedge driving Christianity and Islam apart.

Instead it could be an opportunity for the two religions to work together to address the causes of terrorism including poverty.

"We must go beyond the military action to find solutions", said Dr Carey. "I hope that 11 September will provide a catalyst to deeper dialogue."

See also:

28 Oct 01 | South Asia
Christians massacred in Pakistan
04 Nov 01 | Middle East
Archbishop demands freedom of worship
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