I have been writing about the global persecution of religious minorities, especially persecuted Christians, for a long, long time. Sadly, there is no sign that I will be able to stop writing about this subject any time soon. The Divine Ms. MZ dug into this topic the other day and, of course, there has been a major outbreak of violence in Pakistan as well. After young master Brad's post on that subject, frequent commenter Julia raised some excellent questions:
What kind of Christians are the target in this event? Are they long-time Orthodox or Eastern Catholics? Are they recent converts? Have these people always lived in the colony? Are they forced to live in the colony if they convert? ...
The motive could be different depending on who these Christians are; especially if they converted from Islam.
It's a good sign that coverage is continuing.
It's a bad sign that most of Julia's questions remain unanswered, even in a fine follow-up report such as the Los Angeles Times piece that ran with the giant double-decker headline:
Attack on Christians a further crisis for Pakistan
A mob in the city of Gojra, angered by rumors that the Koran had been desecrated, set fire to Christian homes. Seven Christians died, and Pakistani officials are pledging protection.
The goal of this story, obviously, is to fill us in on the political fallout after the attacks -- with a heavy emphasis on the pledges by Pakistani officials that justice will be done and that the rights of religious-minorities will be defend. We are also given some background on the role of the tiny Christian minority -- singular -- in this tense nation.
First, there is this framework on the larger issue of religious minorities:
Perhaps the bigger problem for Pakistan is the harsh light the riots have shone on the country's dismal record for protecting the rights of ethnic and religious minorities.
Minority Rights Group International, a London-based watchdog organization, ranks Pakistan as the world's sixth-most dangerous country for minorities. Along with Christians, groups under threat include a variety of ethnicities, such as Pashtun in the northwest and Balochis and Sindhis in the south, the group says. Minority Shiite Muslims have also been victimized by Sunni Muslim radical groups.
You also have to ask how more moderate, modern Muslims are doing, as well. Often, Muslim-on-Muslim persecution of this kind is overlooked.
However, what about the "Christian" -- singular -- minority?
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan called the riots "a comprehensive failure by the government to protect minorities." Pope Benedict XVI said he was "deeply grieved" by the "senseless attack." However, Christians do not hold out much hope that attitudes will change any time soon. Representing less than 2% of the nation's 175 million people, Christians historically have occupied the lower rungs of society, largely relegated to menial jobs. A law against making derogatory remarks about Islam or desecrating the Koran is often used to settle scores against Christians.
"We are marginalized, that's a fact," said Cecil Chaudhry, a Christian human rights activist. "And a big cause for this marginalization is the use of discriminatory laws like the blasphemy law."
OK, let's break this down for a moment.
We have a reaction from the pope. So, how many Catholics are in Pakistan?
At the same time, think about the history of Pakistan and this region's ties with the British Empire. How large is the Anglican Church in Pakistan? Are we to believe that the Anglicans in Pakistan are part of the "lower rungs" in this society? Really?
Or, are the Anglicans in Pakistan cooperating with ministries to the lower levels of society and, thus, threatening the status quo? Years ago during a Lambeth Conference in Canterbury, I had a chance to talk with a Pakistani bishop or two about their behind-the-scenes roles in what amounted to an underground railroad to protect people who had converted from Islam to Christianity. The testimonies offered by the bishops were stunning.
Thus, note the report's emphasis on the blasphemy law, which is part of the fabric of Sharia law in Pakistan. It is literally illegal -- forget article 18 in the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights -- to convert to another faith or to say anything critical of Islam.
Thus, we really need to know one or two facts. As stated earlier, we need to know something about the make-up of the Christian community in Pakistan, in order to find out more about who is being persecuted and why.
This raises a second question: What groups are daring to do Christian evangelism in Pakistan? Is missionary work legal? Are these attacks on the impoverished Christians actually attacks on small, powerless, marginalized groups of evangelicals and Pentecostal Christians who are openly trying to spread their faith? Are they being backed by Anglicans, Catholics and others?
In other words, we need a paragraph or two of facts. Obviously, this is not a simple story. Obviously. Photo: A small band of Pakistani Christians celebrate Easter in 2007.