Muslim perspectives on dead Christians?


One of the bigger religion stories yesterday was the killing last weekend of seven Christians by Muslim Pakistanis. Many more were wounded in attacks on the Christian community of Gojra. Here's how the New York Times began its story on the attack, headlined "Hate Engulfs Christians in Pakistan":

The blistered black walls of the Hameed family's bedroom tell of an unspeakable crime. Seven family members died here on Saturday, six of them burned to death by a mob that had broken into their house and shot the grandfather dead, just because they were Christian.

The family had huddled in the bedroom, talking in whispers with their backs pressed against the door, as the mob taunted them.

"They said, 'If you come out, we'll kill you,'" said Ikhlaq Hameed, 22, who escaped. Among the dead were two children, Musa, 6, and Umaya, 13.

The attack in this shabby town in central Pakistan -- the culmination of several days of rioting over a claim that a Koran had been defiled -- shows how precarious life is for the tiny Christian minority in Pakistan.

More than 100 Christian houses were burned and looted on Saturday in a rampage that lasted about eight hours by a crowd the authorities estimate was as large as 20,000 strong. In addition to the seven members of the Hameed family who were killed, about 20 people were wounded.

There are two press angles that I found interesting. One is the disparity between different reports. Not just that some media report eight deaths and some report seven. But the crowd size estimates range from a few hundred to 20,000. There are different stories about the Koran defilement claim -- some say that area Muslims accused three Christian youth of burning pages from the Koran. Others said that a wedding party burned the Koran. Here's what the Washington Post reported:

The conflict apparently began with a wedding. On the evening of July 25, a wedding procession for a Christian couple passed through the nearby village of Korian, according to a police report. Revelers danced and threw money in the air, as is local custom. In the morning, a resident told police he had picked up scraps of paper on the ground and found Arabic writing. "We examined them, and it was the pages from the holy Koran," the man said in the report.

Four days later, the accused, a member of the wedding party named Talib Masih, faced a meeting of local elders, who demanded that he be punished. Instead of repenting, the report said, he denied the desecration, and as a result, "the whole Muslim population was enraged." The house burning began that night and then quieted down until Saturday morning.

And then there are the different reports regarding who was responsible. The Times (U.K.) writes that it was "hundreds of armed supporters of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an outlawed Islamic militant group." The New York Times has this:

Officials said a banned Sunni militant group, Sipah-e-Sohaba, was among those responsible for the attacks, the third convulsion of anti-Christian mob violence in the region in the past four weeks.

Sure, maybe it's both -- but each group was only named in one report. Neither group, of course, had its name translated into English -- the same problem we had when Lashkar-e-Taiba was in the news. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is described here as a Wahabi Muslim terrorist organization affiliated with Al Qaeda. These are the folks who brutally killed Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and bombed a Protestant church in Islamabad (during a worship service) that same year. Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan is a Sunni Muslim group established to deter Shia Muslim influence. It was also known as the Army of the Friends of the Prophet when it was founded by a Sunni cleric.

Both the Washington Post story and the New York Times piece are excellent reads with a great deal of information. They're also captivating -- really well written. But there is one huge gaping hole in both of them and many of the other stories. Nowhere do we get the perspective of any of the Muslims who were involved in the violence. There are quotes from Christians saying that clerics had incited the mobs but we don't hear from the clerics themselves or the people they preach to. Neither is there any or much perspective from Muslims who oppose the terrorism. If there were 20,000 people involved, surely we can talk to a few of them, no? It's not that we don't get some explanation of their motivation or how blasphemy laws in Pakistan encourage oppression of religious minorities, we just don't hear from the people themselves.

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