From Asif Aqeel:
Many Muslims sympathised with victims, but still new blasphemy cases
Masih's belongings in Michael Town, Karachi, after they were taken from his home and set on fire.
Two months ago, on September 22, two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside All Saints Church in Peshawar when congregants were leaving the church after the Sunday communion.
The incident was a landmark in the history of Pakistani Christians. To condemn this largest attack on the Christian community – in terms of loss of life – Christians from across the country held protest rallies, claiming that, as a recognised minority, the government fails to protect Christians.
Reactions from the Muslim majority to those protests were mixed, which might signify how Christians are on the whole perceived in Pakistani society. In the light of UK Foreign Office Minister Baroness Warsi’s speech in Washington DC ten days ago, World Watch Monitor has looked back over the period since the Peshawar bombs. A climate of much sympathy has nevertheless been punctured by several charges of blasphemy against Christians for actions in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.
A large number of Muslims expressed sympathy with the beleaguered Christian community (estimated at about 2 per cent of the population). For example, Dr. Taimur Rehman, an assistant professor of political science at Lahore University of Management Sciences, formed a human chain outside a Catholic church in Lahore to condemn the Peshawar blasts, and to express solidarity with the Christian community. In several areas, Muslims joined Christians in their protests, while in others (Iqbal Town in Rawalpindi, Yahounabad in Lahore, and Michael Town in Karachi) protests were met with ridicule and strong resistance.
However, despite the sympathetic majority, four blasphemy cases against Christians were registered in less than a month, four times higher than the monthly average recorded over the last two years.
In all these blasphemy charge cases, no direct evidence was available against those accused.
However, some suspect the rhetoric around the church bombings influenced a few disaffected Pakistanis, who, seeing Christians as suitable targets, took up blasphemy charges against them.
“The Christians are the enemies of Islam and Pakistan. Therefore, we have targeted them and we will continue our attacks on non-Muslims on Pakistani land,” said a representative from Jundul Hafsa, a subsidiary of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, which claimed responsibility for the Peshawar attack.
The group said the church attacks were to avenge “US drone strikes on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda operatives in the Pakistani tribal belt”.
“We carried out the suicide bombings at Peshawar church and will continue to strike foreigners and non-Muslims until the American drone attacks stop,” Ahmadullah Marwat, a spokesman for the group, told a foreign news agency by phone.