Christians under Siege in Pakistan
List of Church Attacks Grows Longer: The Big Picture
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(December 18, 2006) The Washington-DC based human rights group, International Christian Concern (ICC) www.www.persecution.org has learned that a drunken mob of Muslims attacked a Christian congregation in Lahore Pakistan on November 12 with guns and clubs. While no one was seriously injured, it highlights the constant hatred and persecution that Christians live under in Pakistan.
This recent attack on a Church of the Nazarene on November 12 reveals the woefully inadequate security cover provided to religious minorities places of worship. ICC records that this is the eighth known attack on a Pakistani church in 2006 alone.
Hate Crimes against Christians
Vandalism against a church in Pakistan generates much more fear than vandalism of a church in the United States. Attacking a church in Pakistan would be like painting KKK on an African-American church in the Southern USA during the 1960s. A wave of fear and insecurity grips the already marginalized Christian community every time a church building is vandalized, stoned, or burned. Attacks on Churches undermine the confidence of Pakistani Christians, lower their morale, suppress their creativity and make them feel incredibly insecure in their own homeland. Many stop going to Churches for an extended period of time, afraid that they themselves will be abused, stoned, or burned.
The Christians who attend the Church of the Nazarene are the poorest members of Pakistani society, as is typical of the majority of Christians in Pakistan. The Muslims who were attacking them, on the other hand, come from wealthy farming families. Most of the Christians are brick-makers who do not even get Sunday off, and so must meet for church in the evening after work.
Ironically, while several Pakistani Christians have been taken to court in false blasphemy cases by their accusers, the sacrilege of churches profaned by mobs in broad daylight fail to even get the polices attention. In order to rectify this injustice, Pakistani officials need to mete out punishment for these church attackers commensurate with their crimes.
Rhetoric by the authorities following such incidents only has a cosmetic effect. A single church attack, regardless of its place of occurrence, produces ripples of fear that affect the entire Christian community in Pakistan.
What if Christians Sought Revenge Like the Muslims Do?
The marked difference between how the religious leaders of both sides respond when they feel under attack is thus incredibly striking. Hard-line Pakistani Muslim religious leaders inflame their followers after any alleged incident of desecration of a mosque, physical depictions of their prophet, or anything else they perceive as an insult to Islam.
Pakistani Christian clergymen, on the other hand, have always been cautious and sensible even when Muslim fury results in the torching of churches, as in the case of Sangla Hill tragedy. In the case of the attack on the Church of the Nazarene above, one observer stated that the Muslims had every intention to use the firearms but because the Christians didnt respond angrily, the situation did not get worse.
This is one of the most significant differences between Islam and Christianity. The Christians ability to respond to persecution with calm and poise shows a clear confidence in something out of this world. The Muslims desperation in reacting with rage to every perceived insult reveals a massive insecurity complex, showing that Islam has no clear assurance of a truly Supreme and Just God.
Imagine what would happen if Christians responded in-kind every time they felt as if they were under attack. In Pakistans case, the country would have suffered a colossal loss if the Christian leadership, in a tit-for-tat move, had instigated Pakistani Christians to attack mosques following any incident that saw attack on a church or churches.
It is the very absence of mass protest demonstrations, sit-ins or not resorting to other means of protest by the Christian community that sends a signal loud and clear to the authorities to put in place stringent security measures for the churches in the country.
Instead, the attacks on the eight churches this year and those in the past is causing the patience of Pakistani Christians to wear thin. If the government takes no action to protect churches, we fear that Christians may eventually take to the streets en masse to express their frustration.
In fact, the government has provided more security for churches in the past and in some of the larger cities. Churches located in remote areas of the country, however, still remain susceptible to attacks by the Muslim mobs. The government ought to expand its protection to all churches.
Pakistani Media Can Help Heal or Further Hurt Pakistan
Another sector of Pakistans society that has a great deal of influence over how Christians are treated is the Pakistani media. Currently, if a mosque is torched in a certain part of world the Muslim writers from the Pakistani-language (Urdu) print media use the word Shaheed (martyr) for it while they avoid using the same word while referring to the torching of a Church. This distinction by the Urdu media writers communicates that a church is less sacred than a mosque.
In addition, while the conversion of Pakistani star batsman, Yousaf Yohanna, from Christianity to Islam was given overwhelming coverage by the print and electronic media of the country, the news of persecution against Pakistani Christians and other oppressed minorities communities rarely get a passing glance.
That even media people give religious minorities prejudicial treatment is distressing. They should instead work to allay the sense of alienation religious minorities feel.
In order to heal the hurt sentiments of Pakistani Christians in the wake of attacks on their places of worship, the print media of the country should conduct special forums for inter-faith dialogue. Likewise, the electronic media could air programs on the theme of inter-faith harmony by hosting leading Muslim and Christian scholars in a bid to defuse tension as well as to urge people of all faiths in Pakistan to live in peace and harmony.
A Way Forward?
The Pakistani government needs to implement a forceful security plan to protect churches in Pakistan. The issue must be debated both in the National Assembly (Lower House of Parliament) and the Senate (Upper House of Parliament).
A Christian MP needs to take the initiative and introduce a motion condemning the attacks and sacrilege of churches in Pakistan in National Assembly. Moderate Muslim religious leaders could condemn incidents of injustice against weaker segments of society, but they often fail to do so.
Much of the religious hatred that has been spread by the fanatic Muslim religious leaders could be wiped out from the minds of otherwise friendly and peace loving Muslims by the way of conducting Christian-Muslim dialogues. Some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the country are working for the cause of inter-faith harmony in the country, but there is still much to be done.
Churches attacked in Pakistan 2006 so far
Feb 3 Kawanlit village Punjab province Catholic Church
Feb 17 Kasur Punjab province Catholic Church
Feb 19 Sukkur Sindh province, St. Mary and Saviour’s Church of Pakistan
Feb 28 Sargodha Noori gate Basti United Presbyterian Church
March 30 Mian Channu province church Apostolic faith mission Pentecostal
August 7 Mominpura Thiaki village Awami Church Punjab
November 12 Talab Sarai village Nazarene Church