Not long before Easter the UN Human Rights Council, belying its stated purpose of protecting human rights, passed a resolution banning criticism of religion, specifically criticism of Islam. The resolution, sponsored by Pakistan on behalf of the 57-member Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), though couched in "human rights" language with references to "diversity" and "stereotyping", is a thinly-disguised attempt to legitimise anti-blasphemy laws that theocratic Muslim regimes use to stifle dissent and persecute religious minorities.
Western nations and secular NGOs opposed the resolution, stressing that the concept of "defamation of religion" has no basis in domestic or international law and "would alter the very meaning of human rights, which protect individuals from harm, but not beliefs from critical inquiry."
One of those targeted by the OIC resolution is Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, who was born and raised in Pakistan and was the Anglican Bishop of Raiwind. Fifteen years ago he was appointed Bishop of Rochester in the UK and sits in the House of Lords. He has repeatedly warned about the dangers of Islamic Sharia law, but his warnings fell on deaf ears because Archbishop Rowan Williams, Primate of the Anglican Church, has called for limited application of Sharia in Britain.
Archbishop Williams has a history of ambiguous, if not muddled, pronouncements, but one wonders what he knows of the implications of Sharia for women, Christians, Jews, "infidels" and apostates who convert from Islam to another faith.
Recently Bishop Nazir-Ali (who has received death threats) resigned as Bishop of Rochester so he could devote his time to alleviating the plight of Christians suffering religious persecution. He wrote about Pakistan in The Telegraph (15 April):
"One of the most significant failures of President Musharraf's time in office was the Council of Madrassas' [religious schools] refusal to co-operate with the government's program of curriculum reform. This cannot be allowed to continue. An integrated education strategy is as important as a security one: generations of the poor cannot be allowed to become fodder for Al- Qaeda and the Taliban. A revision of textbooks is also needed to root out teachings of hate against Christianity, Judaism, India and the West.
"And while some of the harsh Islamic laws that affect women and religious minorities have been modified, others are still on the statute book. The notorious 'Blasphemy Law' prescribes a mandatory death penalty for insulting the Prophet of Islam. It has been used to terrorise religious minorities and to curb even modest freedoms of expression and of belief ...".
Unfortunately, the current Government of Pakistan has not only failed to curb the Madrassas but also ceded large areas of Pakistan in the Swat valley and the North West Frontier Province to be ruled by local Islamist parties applying Sharia law. This imposition of Sharia is having a devastating effect on the morale of Christians and on moderate elements who support minority rights.
Fear of terrorism
I quote from an article in the Pakistan Christian Post (12 April) with the heading, "Easter observed under tight security in Pakistan". I have made only minimal changes to the grammar because the article as written has a particular poignancy.
"Easter eve of 2009 in Pakistan was witnessed entirely differently from previous years when churches and Christian colonies were bathed in electric floodlights or decorated. The midnight services of Easter in Peshawar and Nowshera were thinly attended while in Swat valley there were no prayer gatherings. The Islamabad and Rawalpindi churches were heavily guarded by police and Christians without any vehicle or other available transportation hesitated to get out of their homes and preferred to stay away from worship places.
"The Dhok Ilahi Bux, a major residential area of Rawalpindi Christians for centuries, was deep in darkness and homes were not decorated by electric lights. The Christian colonies in Islamabad were also deserted and the streets were not filled like previous years. The Catholic and Church of Pakistan cathedrals in Lahore were turned into forts by the presence of law enforcement deployment on [account of] fear of terrorist attacks. The same scenes were witnessed in Multan, RahimYar Khan and Bahawalpur cities of western Punjab where Christians prayed under fear ...
"The national newspapers published from Karachi, Hyderabad, Quetta, Lahore, Multan, Rawalpindi and Peshawar did not publish any messages, on April 12, from the President, Prime Minister or Federal Minister for Minorities because such messages were not released this year. The speaker of the National Assembly of Pakistan was the only VIP to congratulate Christians on the feast of Easter 2009. The Federal Minority Minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, who belongs to a Christian community, also did not bother to release any message or offer help for poor Christians to celebrate Easter.
"There were not any processions of Christ the King during the month of Lent which had been organized for decades. The Easter of 2009 passed by in silence and fear without family visits and dancing in the streets of Christian colonies throughout Pakistan."
Pray for Christians in Pakistan where Easter lights were dim, reflecting the "dhimmi" status inflicted on non-Muslims under Sharia.
Babette Francis was born in India and spent time in Muslim-majority provinces before the partition of the sub-continent into India and Pakistan. His Grace, Lawrence Saldanha, the Catholic Archbishop of Lahore, is a distant cousin.