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ICC Note

The Muslim response to the Muhammad cartoons in Pakistan is completely hypocritical: the Muslims protest intolerance of their religion but have built intolerance of Christianity into their civic and legal systems.

AsiaNews (02/16/06) – Pakistan ’s Catholic Church condemns the Muhammad cartoons, calling them a “provocation”, but at the same time slams discriminatory laws and the intolerance that comes from politicians, the media and school textbooks. In the meantime, protests over the Muhammad cartoons continue with 50,000 people taking to the streets of Karachi today.

Violent confrontations have so far left five people dead and caused widespread damage to public and private buildings, including some owned by Christians.

In a press release, the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) called on the “international media to be more sensitive to the religious feelings of different groups. Every group has a right to live in an atmosphere that is free from religious prejudice and this requires a certain responsibility in exercising freedom of expression”.

Whilst expressing solidarity vis-à-vis Muslims who feel offended, the NCJP also deplored the recent violent protests that left many public and private properties in ruins. “It is the work of people who nurture intolerance in total disregard and abuse of religion,” the statement said.

After attacking diplomatic missions, protesters in fact stormed movie theatres and restaurant chains as well as Christian-owned buildings. On February 13, university students attacked Edward College , an educational facility run by Christian missionaries in a Peshawar , smashing its windows. Two days later, Church-run St Michael Convent School, St Elizabeth Girls College and the Mission Hospital also in Peshawar were attacked.

The NCJP press release, signed by Mgr Lawrence John Saldanha and Peter Jacob, respectively NCJP chairman and secretary general, calls on the Pakistani government to “make people aware of the consequences of the misleading concept of blasphemy” saying that “the language government officials and employees use constitutes an incitement to religious extremism.”

The statement goes further. “One cannot expect people not to practice what they learn,” it read. “Intolerance is found in textbooks, the media, and policies based on discriminatory laws” like the blasphemy law. “We must confront all this in order for our society to develop a culture of peace”.

In a final appeal to the government, the statement asked the authorities, “especially the relevant ministries, to undertake concerted efforts to weed out religious intolerance and inculcate social harmony and interfaith respect.”

For their part, Islamic parties have called for a nation-wide rally on March 3 when US President George W. Bush is scheduled to visit Islamabad .