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Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Religious cyber and civil war, and Christian desperation

One controversy that is starting to raise hackles within the Christian community is calls by some for a separate Christian state or province in the Punjab region, to try and get relief from their constant oppression and persecution.  This political hot potato has proponents of the idea condemning Christians in mainstream parties who oppose it as stooges of an establishment agenda - here, for instance.  Proponents say that a Christian province (not one in which Muslims are banned, but one where they live amongst Christians in peace) has merit - in this article, for instance, where it is also noted some Christian leaders are calling for the UN to grant refugee status to all Christians of Pakistan (about 20 million).  Whatever we may think about the merits or practicality of such calls, one thing is for sure, these are the manifestations of tangible Christian desperation - 2nd class citizens, discriminated against, murdered, raped, kidnapped, the properties and lands destroyed or stolen, prey to mobs of Muslim fanatics, vulnerable to false accusations and torture in any dispute, just because they are Christian.  This situation, and maybe the calls for a separate province may be behind a recent announcement by the Federal Government.  Paul Bhatti, brother of martyred minister Shahbaz Bhatti, has been pressing for greater minority representation in Pakistani political life, and the federal   government has just approved these plans, apparently with rises in reversed seats at provincial and federal levels, in line with local minority population levels.  Details are still to be worked out, however (and we all know who is in the details!...)

The background is the increasing dominance and influence of Islamicist groups, some of them banned as terrorist organisations.  Non-Islamic minorities are not the only ones affected, with Shia's facing what they call a state-backed genocide in Balochistan, according to a BBC report.    (The death rate in sectarian violence is soaring, with Shia's and Hazara communities being primary targets - over 400 have been killed in the last 4 years.)  Whatever the truth about state complicity (the Shias say the government knows full well all the bases of the terrorists who openly boast about their attacks), it is crystal clear - and has been for a long time - that terrorist and extremist groups have a massively disproportionate and degrading, not to mention destabilizing effect on Pakistani society.  Evidence is rife.  For instance, a Muslim mob recently invaded a police station and beat to death a mentally ill man accused of blasphemy.  (This seems to be thesame case we recently reported about a man burnt alive - apparently he was beaten to death and then his corpse was set on fire. The name of the man, an alleged Sufi 'vagabond', is unknown and his family hasn't come forward, possibly out of fear of the consequences for family members of those accused of blasphemy - a fact which is telling in itself).  The repeated instant closing down of attempts to reform the perverse and much abused blasphemy laws is further evidence of extremist domination, as recounted in a recent article entitled 'Exit God, enter madness', showing that many of Pakistan's Muslims share these concerns.  The article ended with the prayer of a distraught Muslim 'May Allah save Islam from Pakistan.'  Although, many of us would swap a couple of the words over....

In addition, one sign of possible (very tenuous) hope for the future of Pakistan is a recent 'Pew survey' which showed that the Taliban are least popular where they are most active.  They are most hated in the Khyber province, where much of their activity actually happens.  Their popularity is higher where their population is not as affected.  If that holds true, the downside is that for the Taliban to become unpopular more widely, the other areas would have to 'enjoy' their rule.  Interestingly, the survey also showed that those who were more 'ritualistic' in their faith - those who prayed 5 times a day - where more likely to have negative views of the Taliban.  Make of that what you will......

(There have also been some recent efforts among moderate Muslims to raise the issue of minority discrimination, with calls for the 'moderate majority to take charge'.  At about the same time 'progressive lawyers and social activists launched the 'Forum for Secular Pakistan'.  We shall see whether it can have any impact.  You can read their founding declaration here)

In short, there is basically a (fairly) low-level religious civil war going on in Pakistan.  No wonder vulnerable Christians want out, some kind of safe haven.

Another evidence of Islamicist influence is the increasingly oppressive and dictatorial decisions of the 'Inter Ministerial Committee', an elusive and seemingly unaccountable body that regulates Pakistan's cyberspace, that seems to be waging a war on some minority group websites.  This article is sketchy about details, and BPCA has asked for more information, but it seems that there is a regressive trend in the body's decisions.  First it targeted content deemed blasphemous content, then national security related information, then religious minority, and now it seems to be targeting web content 'pertaining to minorities in Pakistan'.  If we hear more, we will keep you posted.  And if you have examples or more detailed information, please contact us by leaving a comment with your email address below (don't worry, we won't publish your email addresses).

For further information about the background to the demand made for a separate province, see here.  The context is that the groups are raising the issue, if their primary demands for better treatment of Christians (and other minorities) are not met.  Some of the primary demands are officially policy, others are proving controversial even within the Christian community.   

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