Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pakistan: the bitter fruits of a radicalised society

-- a call to pray for the Church in Pakistan

By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 201
Special to ASSIST News Service

Christian neighborhood vandalized
 over alleged blasphemy row in Lahore
AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- Sawan Masih (26) is a sanitation worker and Christian resident of Joseph Colony in Badami Bagh, Lahore. For some years now he has wrapped up his day by sharing a drink with his friend and neighbour Shahid Imran, a Muslim. They would sit together outside Shahid's barber shop drinking locally brewed hooch. Though their debates sometimes got heated, they would just sleep it off and start afresh the next day.

On the evening of 7 March, the men had one of their drink-fuelled arguments. This time, however, a good night's sleep failed to clear the slate. The next day, Shahid claimed Sawan had blasphemed during their spat.

Like a spark casually flicked in an incendiary tinderbox, the rumour exploded and spread like wildfire. As soon as Sawan heard what Shahid had done, he fled for his life. Later that evening, inflamed Muslims marched from a nearby mosque to the Masihs' home. To pacify the mob, the police took Sawan's father Chaman Masih into custody. While local Muslims ransacked the Masihs' home, members of the Sunni Tehreek-i-Taliban presented the police with two alleged witnesses who claimed to have heard Sawan's blasphemy. A blasphemy charge was registered, again primarily for the purpose of pacifying the mob. But registering a blasphemy complaint is hardly enough to douse a fire-storm of Islamic fury these days. With rumours circulating that worse was to come, the police advised the Christian community to flee, which they did.

The next day, Saturday 9 March, thousands of Muslims, mostly from the ethnic Pakhtun community, descended on the Christian colony with weapons and fuel to inflict collective punishment. Sources told Morning Star News that the provincial government led by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had ordered police not to hinder the protesters and 'let them vent their grief and anger'. With the colony vacated and the police immobilised, the Muslims went freely from door to door, plundering and ransacking..

 By 11:30am Joseph Colony was ablaze. By the time the fire brigade turned up at 3pm, at least 160 homes, 18 shops and two churches -- Assemblies of God and Roman Catholic -- had been looted and burnt. According to the City Superintendent of Police, up to 7000 people took part in the attack. Police are saying they have Sawan in 'protective custody'. Knowing what lies ahead, Sawan's mother is distraught. 'I want my son back,' she wails, 'please bring my son back.'

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan laments, 'The attack is y et another shameful incident against a vulnerable community and further confirmation of the slide toward extremism in society on the one hand and, on the other hand, the apathy and inaction that has become the norm among the police.' On Sunday 10 March Christians rallied in Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and Multan, expressing their fear, grief and anger over their deepening insecurity. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif told a private meeting in his home that the attack was in no way a service to Pakistan or Islam. What he really needs to do is get that message accepted in the thousands of hyper-radical mosques and madrassas spread across Punjab. Pakistan has a population of 185 million with Christians accounting for about 2.45 percent (Operation World 2010).

Decades of Saudi-sponsored Islamisation, Sunni radicalisation and impunity are producing bitter fruits: local Muslims prepared to kill and destroy their Christian neighbours. Shi'ite Muslims (30 percent, mostly ethnic Hazara) and Hindus (1.5 percent) are also experiencing esca lating systematic persecution. Pakistan is becoming increasingly intolerant and lawless as it lurches towards collapse and disintegration. When local civilians are prepared to eliminate their neighbours on ethnic, caste and/or religious grounds, then the environment is clearly genocidal.

intervene and secure justice for Sawan Masih, as well as security for his extended family and compensation for the Christian community of Joseph Colony.

draw the wounded and traumatised into his embrace, comforting and healing their broken hearts and providing all their needs. 'The Lord is my shepherd . . . He restores my soul. . . You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies . . .' (Psalm 23:1a,3a,5a ESV). THANK YOU Father that nobody was killed.

awaken those who have been turned into killers, bringing a profound conviction of sin upon all who wou ld be willing killers of their own neighbours.

bring a profound sense of shame on Pakistan, so pervasive it demands and enables deep, risky reform at the mosque and madrassa level; may this and a sense of failure and great danger prompt many to seek out a new and better way.
SEE ALSO: Deepening divide leaves Pakistan staring into the abyss
Pakistan's Supreme Court admits a blasphemy petition against Sherry Rehman, Pakistan's Ambassador to the USA.
By Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 7 March 2013.

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