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Arson attacks on Australian places of worship

Posted on: October 3, 2001 2:12 PM
Related Categories: Australia

Muslim and Christian leaders in Australia have expressed outrage at the recent arson attacks to their places of worship in the wake of the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11.

There has been an ugly backlash against the Muslim communities and Arab Christians as arsonists have attacked the buildings.

An Anglican church in one of the highest Islamic populations in Australia was also damaged by arsonists.

Damage to St Thomas' Anglican Church in Auburn, Sydney, is expected to reach A$10,000 after the fire damaged the front doors and badly burnt the side doors, part of the carpet and the floorboards.

Reverend Ken Coleman, rector of St Thomas', has asked all Anglicans in Sydney to pray for peace as community tensions rise, leading to Islamic attacks.

"I believe this is a reflection of the general unsettlement we are experiencing on our community at the moment."

Muslims are outraged after their Brisbane mosque was razed to the ground on Saturday. The arson is the fourth assault on Queensland Muslims. Another Brisbane mosque was fire bombed a week ago and a bus carrying Muslim children had bottles, rocks and other missiles thrown at it. Worshippers at a Gold Coast mosque apprehended a group of young men carrying petrol bombs after they scaled the wall of the mosque.

The President of the Queensland Islamic Council, Mr Sultan Dean, says there is a lot of anger in the Muslim community to the extent that Muslims maintain the arsons are terrorist attacks on their mosques. He says the Muslim community has been trying to distance themselves from these "terrorist ratbags".

So has Prime Minister John Howard, who said there was no place in Australia for the despicable attacks. "Islamic Australians are as entitled as I am to a place in this community."

Some Australians think that all Arabs are Muslims and all Muslims are the same. But The Reverend Moussa Ghazal, an Arabic Australian who leads a ministry focussing on second-generation migrants, says Arab Christians have their first allegiance to Christ, along with all Christians. They are praying for peace in Australia and for families who lost loved ones in the terrorist attacks.

"Most of us are reeling in horror just as much as anyone else at this awful tragedy," he said.

The head of the Anglican Church in Australia, Archbishop Peter Carnley, has said the world has been changed by the terrorist attacks. He urged Australians to take care before attributing blame, "It is not the time to direct our anger towards people of particular religious traditions or ethnic origins," he said.

Canon Ray Cleary, Chair of the Melbourne Anglican Social Responsibility Committee also expressed distress at reported violence on places of worship and against individuals.

"For whatever reasons for the terrorist attacks, there can be no justification for the attacks of innocent people at home," he said.

"It is not just or fair to blame innocent citizens of whatever faith or of no faith at all for atrocities committed."

North Western Australian bishop The Right Reverend Anthony Nichols has warned against retaliation, instead calling Australians to pray for world leaders and Christian minorities in Muslim lands. Rev Nichols, a former missionary in largely Islamic Malaysia and Indonesia, warns against Islamic fury if any US retaliation is seen to be more than a just and proportionate action against guilty terrorists. He says President George W Bush's "crusade" description of the pursuit of Osama bin Laden is unfortunate.

"For Muslims this immediately conjures up the memory of violent twelfth century Crusades which aimed to recover or Christendom the Holy Land and other provinces lost to Islam.

Dr Carnley recently contacted a leader of the Muslim community in Perth to share the need for prayer so "that we should not allow our understandable outrage to infect relationships with our own society."

Sydney's Archbishop Peter Jensen has encouraged Australians to take practical steps of love and to refuse to engage on racist attacks on others. "The Christian way is of love. Let us give ourselves to that path."