Do you see the similarity? "Now Pilate, seeing that he was doing no good, but rather that a riot was breaking out, took water and washed his hands in sight of the crowd, saying, 'I am innocent of the blood of this man; see to it yourselves.' And all the people answered and said, 'His blood be on us and on our children'" (Matthew 27: 24-25).
In this case Pontius Pilate from proud Rome is the prouder United States, washing its hands of any involvement in East Timor where Catholics are being slain in alarming numbers. The crowds are the pro-Indonesian militia groups and Indonesian military who are taking this denial as a license to kill, pillage and rape the innocent citizens of this tiny island on the far eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago. America's refusal to get involved in East Timor where human rights have been abused since the former Portuguese territory, where Saint Francis Xavier brought the faith, was annexed by Indonesia in 1976. Since that time 200,000 of the country's 800,000 citizens, 85% of whom are Roman Catholic, have been murdered. Add to this the reported numbers of 150,000 to 200,000 who are being deported to West Timor and barely half the population remains. Talk about ethnic cleansing of the worst kind!
For twenty years the aberrations in East Timor have been kept a secret until Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo brought the problem to the world's attention and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996. Since then the world is more aware of the atrocities going on, but has done little about it until recently when the United Nations sanctioned a vote for independence for East Timor with assurances from Indonesian President B.J. Habibie that whatever the outcome Indonesia would abide and honor the people's will. Yet, storm warnings began forming this year again when intimidation tactics surfaced with pro-Indonesian forces composed mostly of college students and militia youth running amok throughout Dili, the capital city, and other parts of East Timor. Habibie sent Indonesian military in to quell the riots and, instead of establishing a cease fire and making it a safe environment for East Timorese Catholics to live and vote, the military either joined the militia youth or looked the other way as the killing continued. Yet, with UN "observers" in place, the vote took place on August 30th and the result was an overwhelming voice for independence. End of saga, the beginning of a new, bright future, right? Wrong!
The killings continued, Indonesia responded even slower. When the UN called on Habibie to rescue the people the military began rounding them up. Now they were refugees, but not taken to an area where they would necessarily be safe, but rather to Islam-dominated West Timor where they could be kept in check and the Church and her people of East Timor eventually disappear into oblivion and corpses. That is exactly what is happening. Cruel murder is being visited upon these poor people, heads severed, churches burned, villages pillaged and plundered, young women being raped before they are murdered. As we were writing this the latest news is that 18 priests have already been slaughtered.
Bishop Belo's residence, where he was sheltering over a thousand people, was attacked earlier in the week and Indonesian milita burned it to the ground, many dying in the unnecessary inferno. Bishop Belo was able to escape, but could no longer stay on the island with his beloved flock. He fled to Darwin in Northern Australia where he made an impassioned plea to the world before it is too late. Only Australia has troops at the ready - 7,000 strong to help. The Holy Father has made an impassioned plea to the international community for help. The response: Very little.
The United States chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Henry Shelton has been in contact several times by phone with Indonesia's military commander General Wiranto but it's all talk. Wait and see. Meanwhile, East Timor spirals into chaos. Why are they waiting? Could it be because the U.S. doesn't plan on getting involved? You betcha! This is the same country that raced into Kuwait in 1990. Why? Oil. This is the same country that finally got involved in Kosovo. Why? Strategic positioning and the fear the communists might gain the upper hand. Why then is America not sending peacekeepers to East Timor? First of all the Secretary of Defense said it is not America's place to be the policeman for the world. Come again? Hasn't that been the saving factor for the United States since World War I? Hasn't America built a reputation for upholding civil rights and protecting the innocent from despots and aggressive atrocities against helpless countries? Now America is washing its hands. But they are still stained, stained by the blood of hundreds of thousands of innocent souls, not to mention the millions of unborn babies slain in the name of progress and women's rights. Call it what you will, abortion is murder and murder is a sin. There are two ways one can sin, by commission which America has been guilty of for the past three decades since the atrocious Roe vs. Wade decision gave doctors the license to kill; the other is by the sin of omission. That is what America and every other country that sits and waits is guilty of in respect to East Timor.
Probably the most ridiculous thing we've heard is that the UN won't authorize peacekeeping troops unless Indonesia gives permission. Indonesia's defense minister, the same General Wiranto, has said no to that. And as the days pass by, more people die. Add to this, the fear that UN observers may be forced to vacate East Timor and any hopes of independence for the citizens will have gone up in smoke as the entire island will become one incendiary blaze with no one to stop the paramilitary marauders.
History has proven that the longer one waits when there are horrible murders going on, the greater the casualties. Do they expect these pro-Indonesian hatchet men to abide by laws? Sad though it is, the only thing they're going to understand is force. And the only ones who can provide this force is the UN right now with support from the largest and most respected of militaries, the United States. Why are the UN and US and others waiting when minutes means survival or extinction? We don't buy Indonesia's flimsy excuse that if East Timor gains independence, many other islands in the huge archipelago will follow suit. They forget Indonesia agreed to allow East Timor the vote. Now they are going back on their word. It no longer is the sovereign right of Indonesia to determine East Timor's future. For Indonesia to invite a UN-supervised vote, as Jakarta did, and then to change their mind and throw out the results is unprecedented. We say Indonesia has lost all rights to make the call whether UN-sponsored troops can move in or not. It's all about repression and suppressing human rights - the dignity of man.
The real reason America has washed its hands of this mess is that East Timor has nothing to offer America in resources. Indonesia, on the other hand, long an ally to be a buffer against communism, is rich in minerals. Again, it's all about the almighty dollar. Hopefully Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's ultimatum to Jakarta that they either restore order or step aside will carry some weight, but we have our doubts. It's a known fact Habibie has no control over the military which shows what state Jakarta is in. Australia has agreed to take the lead but they can't do it alone, they need the clout of the U.S. as well. If America is to be judged in the twentieth century for its deliverance of evil around the world, the we need to be involved in East Timor. It is not another Vietnam but rather another Kosovo, this time in the far east where ethnic cleansing is running amok. To do less is akin to cowardice.
The whole crux of this sorry situation is a religious war. It's not about independence per-se but allowing Catholics to worship and live freely. The Muslims don't want this and, since they have the numbers and the big stick they're going to bully the smaller, weaker countries like East Timor. The same thing is happening in the Sudan. Look around the world and, other than Northern Ireland, the wars and battles of this decade have been against Islam. Indonesia presently symbolizes the "Scourge of God" - Attila the Hun. All we ask is for America and the UN to have the courage of Pope Saint Leo the Great and stop the enemy in his tracks before it is too late. As soldiers of Christ it is our duty to pray, as generals for Christ the Pope and Bishop Belo are doing all they can, but they are hampered by a global battalion of fence-sitters who, the longer they hesitate, the worse things get. It's a matter of life and death right now in East Timor and, whether we want to admit it or not, this is still the Crusades and if we take the safe route and wash our hands of this as not our responsibility, then the blood of East Timor is on our hands and our childrens. We need to assume the battle position on our knees in prayer and encourage America to have mercy and take action immediately and sound the battle cry from the rooftops across America and the world: The infidel must be stopped now!