Thursday, 20 June 2013

Islamophobia, Islam and Religious Minorities

After my last posting, in which I tried to argue against the Islamophobic backlash that appeared to be starting in Britain after the horrific Woolwich murder, I received a reply from an old friend of mine, the Rev. John Faraday. John is an Anglican vicar in Manchester, but, to my surprise, he was writing from Pakistan, where he was a guest of the Pakistani Church. He agreed with my point about the need to resist Islamophobia, but raised a subject that the Western media never talks about - the treatment of Christians in Pakistan. I promised John that when he was safely back in the UK, I would write on this subject, however unpopular it might be in some quarters. Now that he is home with his family and congregation, I am able to write.
In a short email, John painted a sad picture of life for Pakistani Christians who, he said: "...face low level persecution all the time. (Difficulty getting jobs because of their faith, etc) and occasional violent opposition. (Hundreds of Christian homes burnt down in Lahore in the last few months)"
Despite this, he spoke with admiration of the "tremendous Christian people" that he had met who: "... accept discrimination as a part of life and do not give violence in return."
This last comment angered me - the idea that, in the 21st century, discrimination can be accepted as part of life, and I decided to look into this matter further.
After some research, I can confirm that there is widely documented persecution of Christians in Pakistan. If anything, John Faraday understated just how violent the persecution can be. These are just several of a number of examples given by Wikipedia:

"In August 2002, grenades were thrown at a church in the grounds of a Christian hospital in north-west Pakistan, near Islamabad, killing three nurses.[175]
On 25 September 2002, two terrorists entered the "Peace and Justice Institute", Karachi, where they separated Muslims from the Christians, and then murdered seven Christians by shooting them in the head.[176][177] All of the victims were Pakistani Christians. Karachi police chief Tariq Jamil said the victims had their hands tied and their mouths had been covered with tape.
In December 2002, three young girls were killed when a hand grenade was thrown into a church near Lahore on Christmas Day.[178]
In November 2005, 3,000 militant Islamists attacked Christians in Sangla Hill in Pakistan and destroyed Roman Catholic, Salvation Army and United Presbyterian churches. The attack was over allegations of violation of blasphemy laws by a Pakistani Christian named Yousaf Masih. The attacks were widely condemned by some political parties in Pakistan". (Only some!?)
This is not to say the Pakistani Government approves of these actions, nor does it mean that all Muslims in Pakistan support such crimes. The fact remains that there are militant Sunni Islamic groups in Pakistan who hate their non-Sunni fellow citizens enough to kill them. Even leading Christian politicians in Pakistan are not safe. Shahbaz Bhatti, minister for minorities, and a Christian, was murdered by Islamists in 2011.
This is bad enough, but Pakistan is not the only country where Christians face violence and discrimination, even though we hear very little about it in our media. The charity, Open Doors, does not even place Pakistan in the top ten of countries where Christians face persecution (North Korea takes first place). While I totally condemn the post-Woolwich antics of the English Defence League and the arson attacks on Muslim buildings since the Woolwich Murder, they pale into anaemic insignificance when compared to the 1.5 million Christians murdered by the Janjaweed in Sudan since 1984, or the beheading of prisoners carried out by Muslim insurgents in the Philippines.
Now, it needs to be said that Christians are not the only minority being hounded in Pakistan (and elsewhere). The Sunni fanatics who killed Shahbaz Bhatti would almost certainly have murdered him had he been an Atheist, Agnostic, Hindu, Sikh, Jew, Shia Muslim or Jedi Knight. (This opens up another area of investigation for me.) Islamism is a totalitarian movement that hates all minorities and dissenters.
There is also the painful historical fact that Christians have been guilty of persecution many times. It is a fact that Christians have persecuted other Christians. It is also true that Christians have persecuted Muslims horrifically at times - the Crusades being an early example. For me, this is irrelevant; medieval massacres by an invading Christian army do not justify throwing grenades into Pakistani churches in the 21st century - or any of the appalling crimes listed here.
There is an argument which says that attacks on Christians in Muslim countries come as a result of the "War on Terror" and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. This does not hold water - these incursions might have made it worse, but persecution of Christians was going on well before 9/11.
In no way do I support the Islamophobic attacks that have happened in the UK since the Woolwich Murder. I am also well aware that the majority of Muslim people in the UK deplore acts of terrorism and religious extremism and support our democratic institutions. However, I must say that while persecution of Christians (and others) exists in Muslim countries, Islamophobes in this country will have a treasure trove of anti-Muslim propaganda.