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Western Press Review: Christmas, Terrorism

Prague, 24 December 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western commentary, as is customary on Christmas Eve, addresses various aspects of the festival celebrated by many Christian denominations. Another topic at the top of the list: Terrorism.

TIMES: Hope is given to us and to our world this and every Christmas

The Times of London takes a traditional approach to a Christmas Eve editorial. England was one of the last majority-Christian countries to give up state-established religion -- known worldwide as Anglicanism. Following are excerpts:

"In the beginning was the Word ...' -- John 1.1 (a book of the Christian Bible).

"The sense of an ending and a new beginning marks this Christmas as no other. An old century passes, a new millennium begins.

"Throughout the Old Testament, the God who challenges and creates new possibilities, and who delivers from evil does so through his Word coming to prophets who speak that Word in hope and in judgment. In the birth, life and death of Jesus that Word is spoken as a human life.

"The transforming life of Christ is what we celebrate at Christmas and receive in communion, a Divine grace and love which will never let us down and will never let us go. That is the eternal life of every Christian century, the hope given to us and to our world this and every Christmas."

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: The requirement is a humble kindness not to intrude on another's basic beliefs

In the United States, a Christian-majority nation with significant Jewish, Muslim and other religious minorities, the Christian Science Monitor chose to examine in an editorial the U.S. constitutional mandate of separation of church and state.

In the words of the editorial: "Christmas is a time of year when many people confront the issue of government endorsing a faith. Can city hall put up a creche (that is a depiction of the birth of Christ in a manger in Bethlehem)? Should the school choir sing about baby Jesus? Why did my legislator send out Christmas cards? This is all part of America's innovative and ever-changing experiment to keep the state from imposing upon an individual's spiritual beliefs."

The newspaper considers briefly the right, upheld in 1983 by the U.S. Supreme Court, of the Congress to appoint (and pay with public funds) a Christian chaplain.

The editorial concludes with this appeal for tolerance and good sense: "Making such decisions -- either by government or individually -- requires a humble kindness in not intruding on another's basic beliefs. And that's the best kind of religion -- in action."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Secular Jews see this as a missed opportunity

German commentator Inge Guenther writes from Bethlehem in the Frankfurter Rundschau that "everyone in Bethlehem has just one thing in mind. With the magic 2000 coming up and but days to go to the turn of the millennium, the otherwise dreamy little West Bank town is in the grip of a fever." There's a mood like that of, as she puts it, schoolchildren's nervousness "before the premiere of the school play and childish anticipation of Christmas presents."

Bethlehem is decorated with lights and welcome signs and plaster Santa Clauses and overwhelmed with last minute construction, she writes.

Guenther continues with this: "In contrast, Jerusalem, Bethlehem's powerful neighbor, is striking in its pre-Christmas austerity. Admittedly, hordes of pilgrims have been pouring into the old city for days. And around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, business in hiring out massive wooden crosses to people keen to retrace Jesus' steps as penitents is not at all bad. But a few hundred meters to the west, in the foyer of the exclusively kosher Hilton Hotel, even a decorated Christmas tree is taboo. The guardians of Jewish orthodoxy have decided that such symbols of Christian unbelief are incompatible with the Jewish laws of conduct. So in West Jerusalem, any Christmas dinner or New Year parties will be held behind closed doors."

The writer concludes: "Secular Jews see this as a missed opportunity -- both for business and politics. 'Christmas,' says Bethlehem's Mayor Hanna Nasser, himself a Roman Catholic, 'is a national holiday too.'"

WASHINGTON POST: We must all learn to live with the risk of terrorism without being terrorized by it

Secularly and more soberly, The Washington Post says in an editorial that U.S. power has become so overwhelming that, in the newspaper's words, no open and direct challenge can threaten it." The Post says this: "Resentment therefore finds expression mainly in ineffectual growls and insults. Just occasionally it spills into secretive, insidious channels: into terrorism."

As the editorial puts it: "Law enforcement agencies have been forced to tighten security at borders and airports. Suspected terrorists have been arrested on the border between Canada and Vermont, between Canada and Seattle, and at a checkpoint for a U.S.-bound flight in the Bahamas."

The newspaper goes on, "The authorities are walking this fine line between caution and capitulation." And it concludes: "President Clinton himself has advised citizens 'to go about their holidays and enjoy themselves,' but he has also urged people who 'see anything suspicious to report it immediately.' It is tempting to resent these mixed messages, which disquiet citizens without offering any clear plan of action, and which serve to inoculate the government against accusations of unpreparedness in the event of a terrorist strike. But the reality -- for the next few days and possibly for as long as America is an envied superpower --- is that we must all learn to live with the risk of terrorism without being terrorized by it."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Osama bin Laden acts as subcontractor of terror

Finally, The Los Angeles Times carries a commentary about reports that Saudi Arabian exile and Muslim activist Osama bin Laden has dispatched teams of terrorists around the world assigned to target U.S. installations and Americans. Its headline: "Terror by Subcontractor."