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Thursday, 10 March 2011

SOAS Pakistan Memorial to Shahbaz Bhatti cemented good relations amongst people of all faiths!

The windy weather created great harmony as we were all required to help each other light cnadles.

Students of a variety of Backgrounds joined the event and many learnt about the political and societal struggle in Pakistan.

The event was organised by NUPSA and the SOAS Pakistan Society.

Candles glowed on the memorial table just outside the Main School entrance.

The Lighting of candles is a long time established process that enables people to focus their thoughts on particular themes. It is a process that is used by most religions, in which the significance of the candle can differ, but the meditation aspect is similar in fashion.

A great humanitarian was remembered for his commitment to his nation and his desire for equality and justice.

A number of speeches from Students of a Pakistani origin highlighted the selfless work of Shahbaz Bhatti and his outspoken words in defence of the vulnerable, that ultimately led to his death.

The event was well organised. Young people with such egalitarian views and real determination to produce some good from the abhorrent act of violence meted on Shahbaz Bhatti, speaks well for the future for our people.

After Wilson's speech Alex said a prayer for a restoration of peace in Pakistan, a new leader to fill the vacuum left by the demise of Shahbaz Bhatti and for succour for the family and friends of the deceased humanitarian

Various speakers spoke of the great endeavour of Shahbaz Bhatti and his commitment to all people irrespective of faith.

The candlelight event was sombre but full of a great love for mankind.

The event was tinged with sadness for the loss of a national hero.

After Wilson spoke of the great deeds of Shahbaz Bhatti the group shared a moment of quiet reflection as they thought of Pakistan, Minister Bhatti and his associates and the need for a cultural reform.

The set up of the event was simple but most appropriate. This was not a time for large banners but simple imagery and a time to console one another.

A very diverse group attended the event and it was essential that this message of unity and peaces cascaded through all people.

Young people are the future and if this group is anything to judge by, then we are in safe hands.

Wilson spoke of the passion and compassion of Shahbaz Bhatti. he remembered that although they had differences of opinion it was always easy to talk with a man who had a natural endearing charm. Wilson challenged students before him to take up the mantle and to use their lives as an opportunity to bring peace to the increasing instability in Pakistan. In closing he described how the comprehensive condemnation of the killing of Shahbaz Bhatti from all faiths, has created a vehicle for real change and has definitely given many groups a stronger resolve to see through the equality and justice campaign through to a successful outcome. Wilson believed that Minister Bhatti's martyrdom for Pakistan has established a new voice for all persecuted Pakistanis not just minorities and that although he has now departed his work will forever be remembered and that his place as one of Pakistan's most progressive statesmen has been cemented in the annals of the nations history.

Alex and Wilson had to leave before the end as Wilson was called to speak at the House of Lords, before a memorial and tribute organised by Lord Nazir Ahmed.

Wilson read out a fitting quote from the late great Shahbaz Bhatti:

“I only want a place at the feet of Jesus. I want my life, my character. My actions to speak for me and say that I am a follower of Christ”

Candles and lighters were readily available the organisers made sure no hitch could ruin the event.

People helped each other light candles in a symbolic gesture of unity a consequence of the blustery wind - God works in mysterious ways but always for good!

People braved the cold weather to stand for justice and peace and to commemorate the life of a hero - unity was a strong theme of the vigil.

Two Christians came to the event as a consequence of our invitation. Deepak Mahtani a member of the South Asian Forum prayed for Alex and Wilson as they left for the house of Lords. Such solidarity is what we need, if we are to win the war against oppression that manifests itself in Pakistan.

Visitors listened intently throughout the vigil.

Many were saddened to hear about the tragic way in which Shahbaz Bhatti lost his life.

Expressions of sorrow at a great loss could be seen in the faces of all those in attendance.

Standing united against oppressive culture that has hijacked the lives of innocent Pakistani's, people mourned the loss of one of Pakistan's most prominent sons.

The organisers wrote the following press release:

"On 8th March 2011 NUPSA and the SOAS Pakistan Society, in collaboration, held a peace vigil at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Russell Square, London, to highlight the plight of victims of terrorism and minorities in Pakistan; especially in light of the recent assassination of Pakistani Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti. A diverse group of individuals (Pakistanis and non-Pakistanis) attended the vigil and paid tribute to the late minister. Speeches were conducted for creating religious harmony across Pakistan. Speakers included representatives from NUPSA, SOAS Pakistan Society and the British Pakistani Christians Association. Usman Zafar, Vice-President of the SOAS Pakistan Society spoke about the need for tolerance and respect for all citizens of Pakistan, and commented that media, political parties and other organisations should act responsibly and not for personal benefit, overcoming the intolerance issue by looking at the bigger picture and not indulge in hate mongering activities for short-term gain. Furthermore, he also said that the dehumanization of minorities should be stopped immediately as it creates hatred amongst the people of Pakistan. The spokesmen from NUPSA highlighted the impact of terrorism and intolerance on all sections of the society - be they Muslim or not. They stressed the need to overhaul the education system at both primary and secondary levels so as to ensure that the values of respect, equality and tolerance can be imparted to pupils at a young age. They also requested the Government of Pakistan to work towards improving religious harmony and unity between all sects across Pakistan, as per the Quaid’s dream, by assisting and strengthening inter-faith forums and platforms. Seperately, Mr. Wilson Choudhry from BPCA highlighted the need for tolerance and harmony in Pakistan including equal rights to all minorities of Pakistan. Candles were lighted with attendees reflecting on the issue with resolve for the future."

Images are provided by Zoha Waseem.

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