By Shahid Khan
#blasphemy #GMABlog #Youhanabad #Pakistan #Christianity
A few years ago I visited Youhanabad, one of the largest Christian neighbourhood in Punjab, Pakistan. I remember the endless houses and an acute sense of love and unity in the air. Today this sense of a peaceful community has gone and instead blood, violence and destruction show their grim presence after 15 innocent people, including seven Muslims, died last week in the wake of suicide Church bomb attacks on 15 March 2015.
The unfortunate history of minorities in Pakistan is littered with violence and institutional discrimination at all levels. Minorities are ‘othered’ by the land they belong to. Their patriotism is questioned and their loyalty to the country is often mingled with doubt and suspicion. Are Christians alienated in their own country?
In Pakistan, the history of minorities in general and Christians in particular is reddened with the blood of innocents with endless catalogues of persecution. The memories of the unspeakable horrors of 1997 in Shanti Nagar are still fresh. The attack by thousands of violent fundamentalists destroyed 785 homes and four churches; subsequently 2,500 people fled persecution. A similar event took place in 2009 when the Christian villages of Gojra and Korian were hit by religiously motivated violence. Nine Christians were burnt to death when their homes were attacked with chemical fire bombs the locals had made themselves.
The worst attack to date took place in September 2013 in Peshawar when the All Saints Church was hit by a twin suicide bomb attack which left more than 100 dead and no less than 250 injured. And then, in November 2014, a Christian couple (Shehzad Masih and Shama Bibi) were beaten to death by a Muslim mob after being accused of desecrating a copy of the Koran.
In the midst of this ever increasing persecution, terror-stricken Christians have no hope but to clamour for help to the Government which seem to have no ears at all. Christians find no protection in law; their vulnerability is even exploited by the law itself since it gives room for the wide misuse of Pakistan blasphemy laws, which further compounds their precariousness, disillusionment and alienation.
In most liberal democracies around the world, the law of the land should be the life blood for its citizens. It protects and promotes basic and fundamental rights of its citizens regardless of race, religion, language or any other background. However, in Pakistan, laws are more often than not used to spite the weak and the vulnerable – and support the strong.
Laws should be equally applied to everyone, but how far has the Government provided protection and justice to the victims of persecution? How many of those who killed Shehzad Masih and Shama Bibi have been charged with murder? Who among the attackers of Shanti Nagar or of Gojra and Korian has ever been prosecuted?
To fully understand the two-faced nature of Pakistan’s approach to its justice system a recent statement of the Pakistan Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar, is worth to mention here. Commenting on the aftermath of the Lahore Church blasts, which saw two Muslim men burnt to death by violent Christians, Nisar said: “Lynching is the worst form of terrorism.”
Without doubt it is true that no one has a right to take the law into their own hands and those who perpetrated this heinous crime of lynching two men should be brought to justice. Nevertheless, it is equally important to treat all citizens with justice.
What further punctuates the sense of alienation among Christian community is the cold reaction of political elite in Pakistan who tend to disengage themselves from the horrors Christians frequently suffer. It stokes the sense of alienation which leaves millions of Christians discouraged, dispirited and disillusioned.
When terrorist attacks happen around the world, government officials rush to the scenes of violence, including the premiers. The iconic presence of a premier in the midst of the terror stricken people provides them with moral courage when they need it most. When France faced the horrors of the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and on a Jewish Supermarket in Paris in January this year, President Francois Hollande was not only present at the scenes of violence – he further invited other heads of governments to march with him and the French people, uniting against terrorism. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif by contrast was more interested in celebrating a motorway project rather than giving condolences to the bereaved in person.
To cap it all, no government minister visited the families of Youhanabad at the time of writing these lines, let alone the Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif.
Pakistani Christians have long suffered the scars of persecution, from the misuse of blasphemy laws to bomb blasts in their places of worship. Never before in history have Pakistani Christians took the law into their own hands, let alone killed innocent people on a whim. We have to ask ourselves and the government of Pakistan how it could have come this far. Are Christians so alienated that they resort to violent acts of lynching to vent their helplessness? Has their cup of patience overflown or the pangs of persecution become so unbearable that violence seems to be the only chance to draw attention?
It is the first and foremost responsibility of the echelons of any state to provide legislation which serves the weak and the strong alike. They have to ensure that laws are applied equally to all citizens and that the justice system neither favours nor discriminates against anyone on grounds of their race, religion, language or any other background. Only then will alienation stop and persecution be eliminated so that Pakistan as nation can find peace and prosperity in unity, walking forward together to face the challenges of the 21st century.
Global Minorities Alliance is raising money for the families of the Youhanabad bomb blast victims – to find out more and donate, please click here: https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/bxed9/sh/54brp6