Pakistan: Islamic radicals want a “purely muslim” country
For the occasion of Aide à l’Eglise en Détresse’s (Help to the Church in Distress – AED) 2014 Report on “Religious freedom in the world” Paul Bhatti, former counselor of the First Minister for National Harmony, in charge of the religious minorities in Pakistan, visited the University of Freiburg (Switzerland) on November 5. In a 95% Muslim country, the Christian (2% of the population), Ahmadi, Sikh and Hindu minorities are considered by the extremists as a “threat to the nation”. They desire, confided Paul Bhatti to the press agency Apic, a “purely Muslim” Pakistan, and the Christians are the first target, since the fundamentalists assimilate them to the Western world.
On March 2, 2011, the Muslim extremists assassinated his younger brother, Shahbaz Bhatti, then Minister of Religious Minorities in the federal Pakistani government. A convinced Catholic, Shahbaz Bhatti was the target of fanatics opposed to the struggle he had been leading for years in favor of religious minorities, and against the discrimination and anti-blasphemy laws of which they were often the victims. Although practicing as a surgeon in Venetia (Italy), Paul Bhatti, at the request of the president of Pakistan, took up in March 2011 the work of his brother, who had founded the movement All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), committed to defending minorities. “I was counselor to the First Minister for National Harmony until April 2013, but after the electoral defeat of the Pakistani People’s Party (PPP), I lost my job,” explained Dr. Bhatti, who is once again living in Italy, but remains president of the APMA.
“In Pakistan,” he insisted, “all the minorities are suffering from the general situation in the country: the political, social and economic instability strikes them first, for they are weak and on the outskirts.” “The Christians, mostly illiterate, are the poorest of the poor, the weakest of the weak. They have no access to good jobs, for they often are not qualified. Their precarious economic and social situation makes them easy targets for the extremists.” According to the Constitution, he continued, the Christians should, like all other citizens, be protected by justice. “But because of the country’s instability in all domains, justice is under the influence and pressure of the street riots, as in the case of Asia Bibi.”
This mother of five was condemned to death on the charge of blasphemy in 2009. After filing an appeal with the High Court of Lahore, Asia Bibi’s condemnation was confirmed on October 16, 2014. “I think that there is a chance she may be freed by the Supreme Court, for without the pressure from the street protests and the religious fundamentalists, the judges could make a more serene decision.”
Paul Bhatti believes that the key to Pakistan’s problems is to promote education, and to fight against illiteracy, poverty and intolerance among communities. And he explained to Eglises d’Asie, “as far as education is concerned, we need to target the most marginalized sectors of society, in order to save these children from illiteracy. It is a complex work, for it takes more than good schools: we have to help them build a professional project that will help them rise from poverty.”
“It is true,” explained Paul Bhatti on September 5, 2014, in La Croix, “that Salman Taseer, the Muslim governor of Penjab, was assassinated in January 2011 for taking up with my Catholic brother the defense of the Christians imprisoned because of the law against blasphemy.” A Muslim born into a family of intellectuals, a student at St. Anthony’s School in Lahore, where the Marist brothers teach a part of the Pakistani elite, educated in England, Salman Taseer became a prosperous businessman and got an early start in politics. An activist for the PPP (Pakistani People’s Party) as early as the 1960’s, a member of the Bhutto clan, he did not hesitate to confront Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N (Pakistani Muslim League – Nawaz), (in 1988, he took a beating from Nawaz Sharif’s henchmen). (see EDA #543)
Paul Bhatti confided to Eglises d’Asie on May 26, 2012: “To defend Asia Bibi, you must always keep in mind that there are many others like her, who have the same difficulties, and whose prison conditions are even worse. And yet, no one cares about them. If Asia Bibi were to be freed, there would be another Asia Bibi a week later! What I mean is that a lot of organizations are using Asia Bibi’s case, showing her husband and children in order to raise funds, but are doing nothing concrete to change the situation in Pakistan. Whether we accept it or not, in today’s Pakistan, people can no longer stand foreign interventions. They consider them as an inacceptable intrusion upon their business and do not want any lessons from the West or to be told what they should do or think. In this context, the Pakistani Christians have a high price to pay, for because of their religious affiliation, they are assimilated to the West. (…) In order to make myself clear, I add that the issue is not at all Asia Bibi as a person. When she found herself accused of blasphemy, it was my brother who took care of her and her family; he sheltered her husband and children in his home and gave them a living; he then rallied the governor of Pendjab, Salman Taseer, so that he, too would work on her case.”
Fortunately, however, international efforts to save Asia Bibi’s life are continuing, with the encouragement of her husband, Ashiq Masih, whose touching message was published by Le Figaro on November 17: “We are now taking action for our final appeal before the Pakistan Supreme Court, that we must file before December 4. But above all, we know that the best way would be to obtain presidential pardon. We are convinced that Asia Bibi will not be hung if only the venerable president of Pakistan, Mammoon Hussain, grants her pardon. (…) Thanks to a handful of friends here who are protecting us at the risk of their own lives, myself and our five children can survive, but we have to be very careful, for we are Asia Bibi’s husband and children and some wish for our death as well.
“Thanks to Anne-Isabelle Tollet (French journalist, and co-author with Asia Bibi of her testimony on the case: “Blasphemy”, Oh! Editions, Ed. Note), who became our sister four years ago and with whom we have spoken very often, we have news of all those who have rallied for us around the world. It is so important for us. It helps us to hang on. Every time I visit Asia Bibi, I tell her about them. Sometimes, it brings back her courage.”
(sources: apic/aed/lacroix/eda – DICI no.305 dated Nov. 21, 2014)
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