More than 80 Churchgoers were murdered in Pakistan -100,000 Christians killed each year – An Appeal for Religious Freedom and Toleration.

Report of A Lecture Given to The Disraeli Society at Christ Church, the University of Oxford, October 2013.

At the very moment when the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby was taking place in Woolwich, the House of Lords had just begun a debate about religious violence in Pakistan.

Pakistan: Religious Violence
Read full debate at:

Question for Short Debate
2 pm May 22nd 2013

2.15 pm

Lord Alton of Liverpool:

My Lords, the combination of inadequate religious freedom protections and an entrenched climate of impunity has strengthened the position of the more violent groups in Pakistani society, described by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, which have long been allowed to promote their own interpretation of Islam, narrowing the space for difference. What begins as an anti-minority sentiment can later divide the majority.
The noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Desai, rightly referenced the alarming growth of anti-Shia violence in Pakistan. In 2012, at least 325 members of the Shia Muslim population were killed in targeted attacks. In this context, counterextremism discussions with Pakistan are clearly incomplete without measures intended to bolster the protection and promotion of religious freedom or belief. Pursuant to the Written Answer that the Minister gave me on 17 May, I would be keen to know when we will raise these questions with the new Government.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and anti-Ahmadi provisions remain key concerns. The blasphemy laws lack any definition of terms and ignore the question of intent. False accusations can be easily registered, as evidential requirements are inadequate. Dozens were charged in 2012 and at least 16 people remain on death row for blasphemy, while another 20 have been given life sentences. In 2010, Asia Bibi, a Christian from Punjab province, became the first woman in Pakistan’s history to be sentenced to death for blasphemy, and continues to languish in prison. Can the Minister tell us when we last raised her case with the authorities in Pakistan? The resolution of last year’s case against the Christian teenager Rimsha Masih was cited by Pakistan as an illustration that the situation is improving, but the subsequent blasphemy-related attacks on hundreds of Christian homes in Badami Bagh in Lahore in March this year suggests otherwise.
Access to justice is problematic for all vulnerable communities in Pakistan, including minorities. Perpetrators are rarely brought to justice, which means that minorities are often viewed as easy targets. Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, Shias, Sufis and Sikhs have all been badly affected, with Shia communities suffering by far the most casualties. Hate speech and the propagation of inflammatory messages is a standard precursor to religiously motivated violence, but it is rarely punished in Pakistan, despite the fact that relevant legislation already exists. Even government officials inciting violence have not been held accountable for their actions.
The police and members of the judiciary need to be made far more aware of human rights and the unacceptability of impunity. In the aftermath of the Badami Bagh violence, many commented that it would not have taken place if the perpetrators of previous mob incidents—Gojra in 2009, Sangla Hill in 2005, Shanti Nagar in 1997—had been adequately dealt with. Official investigation reports exist for at least the high-profile cases. Will the Minister be pressing the incoming Government to make these public, or indeed to shed light on the murder of the federal Minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, whose killers have never been identified? If the case of an assassinated Cabinet Minister remains unsolved, how can ordinary citizens have faith in the justice system and why should potential attackers fear the law?
Knowing that he was likely to be assassinated, Shahbaz Bhatti once said that he hoped his stand would send,
“a message of hope to the people living a life of disappointment, disillusionment and despair”,
adding that his life was dedicated to the “oppressed, downtrodden and marginalised” and to,
“struggle for human equality, social justice, religious freedom, and to uplift and empower the religious minorities’ communities”.
Will we be pressing for an end to impunity and the repeal of the anti-Ahmadi provisions in the constitution, which legitimise violence and social prejudice? What will we be saying about gender-based violence, the abduction, forced marriage and forcible conversion of Christian and Hindu women and girls, which has increased in frequency in the past couple of years, with perpetrators emboldened by the relatively low likelihood of conviction? We have heard about the increase in aid provision this year from £267 million to £446 million, with Pakistan about to become the largest recipient of UK aid. What are we going to do in using that aid to press for the removal of hate-driven material from schools and emphasising the importance of forming teachers who nurture respect and tolerance? Donors such as the UK need to be sure that they are not inadvertently funding materials that bolster messages of religious intolerance and violence in Pakistan.
In 1947, at the time of partition, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, gave a speech to the New Delhi Press Club, setting out the basis on which the new state of Pakistan was to be founded. In it, he forcefully defended the rights of minorities to be protected and to have their beliefs respected. He said:
“Minorities, to whichever community they may belong, will be safeguarded. Their religion, faith or belief will be secure. There will be no interference of any kind with their freedom of worship. They will have their protection with regard to their religion, faith, their life and their culture. They will be, in all respects, the citizens of Pakistan without any distinction of caste and creed”.
Pakistan’s new Government owe it to his memory, and to the memory of men such as Shahbaz Bhatti, and to girls such as Malala Yousufzai, the 15 year-old who was shot by the Taliban for pressing for the right of women to an education, and to the millions who bravely defied the Taliban to vote in recent elections in Pakistan, to make those sentiments a reality.
2.21 pm

Shahbaz Bhatti - Pakistan's outstanding Minister for Minorities murdered two years ago.

Shahbaz Bhatti – Pakistan’s outstanding Minister for Minorities murdered two years ago.


Listen to Ooberfuse “His Blood Cries Out” – in memory of Shahbaz Bhatti:

Egypt – A Second Revolution?

Last week saw the second anniversary of the seismic events which led to the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak.

It also saw the beginning of a second Egyptian revolution – which many fear could lead to a full scale civil war, plunging Egypt into the fratricide which has so disfigured neighbouring Sudan and which has erupted in Syria.

Is this the beginning of a second Egyptian revolution?

Is this the beginning of a second Egyptian revolution?

Mursi has been dubbed Mursilini - after the Italian dictator.

Mursi has been dubbed Mursilini – after the Italian dictator.

60 have died in the violence, many more injured and others held by the security forces

60 have died in the violence, many more injured and others held by the security forces

3 Coptic Churches were burnt down last week

3 Coptic Churches were burnt down last week

Egypt's new Constitution discriminates against Christians, women, Shias, Buddhists, Bahais and secularists.

Egypt’s new Constitution discriminates against Christians, women, Shias, Buddhists, Bahais and secularists.

Having seen their ideals and dreams left lying amongst their abandoned banners thousands of demonstrators have returned to Cairo’s Tahrir Square, attempting to rekindle their dream of a modern Egypt and a tolerant democracy.

But many other factors are also in the dangerous mix and eruption of widespread violence and discontent – with sixty left dead over five days. A State of Emergency has been declared in several Egyptian cities with the chaos triggering disastrous economic consequences – a collapsing currency and confidence. Sweeping and draconian powers have been given to the police to detain citizens for up to 30 days without any judicial review and to hold trials before special courts.

Economic collapse is the last thing Egypt needs. 87% of the Gross Domestic product is debt; 65% of the population cannot read or write; around half the population live on the poverty line; and 30% of young people are unemployed. If ever you wanted proof that the devil makes mischief for idle hands it can be seen on Egypt’s streets – and if ever there was a time for a government which understood economics and social justice this is surely that time.

Instead, with this melt down of Egyptian society we may well be on course for a military coup.
Offering a taste of the pretext which the army would give for seizing power, General Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, Chief Commander of the Egyptian Armed Forces and Defence Minister issued a dire warning that “Egypt is at risk of collapse”.

As the army, the Muslim Brotherhood, the security forces and the Opposition all reposition themselves, what has brought Egypt to the brink of civil war?

The key is the sense of betrayal felt by many Egyptians as they watch radical Islamic Salafists increasing their grip on President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government. Demonstrators have begun to refer to Morsi as “Morsilini” – a play on the name of Italy’s fascist dictator.

Their anger is particularly directed at Egypt’s new constitution which institutionalises discrimination against women, minorities and secularists. One of those who drafted it, Sheikh Yasser Borhamy proudly announced that the new constitution would usher in wholly unprecedented controls and “place restrictions on freedom of thought, expression and creativity.”

It is a paradox that the Mulsim Brotherhood is a strong and well organised movement but is a weak a wholly ineffectual government. Adding paradox upon paradox, it is Morsi who, having precipitated the cataclysmic fissures which have brought Egypt to this sorry pass, is now calling for dialogue.
And does he not have the eyes to see that all over the world vibrant, thriving, societies function and succeed precisely because of their diversity and tolerance not because of the suppression of freedom of thought, expression or creativity?

Bishop Kyrillos William, Administrator of the Coptic Catholic Patriarchate of Alexandria, says that the new constitution threatens human rights: “We were waiting for a constitution that represents the whole of Egypt, but instead we have one that only represents one group of people.”

Bishop William joined Bishop Joannes Zakaria of Luxor and Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina of Giza in warning against the constitution and voiced concern about its impact on women. It will force non-Muslim women to wear Islamic headscarves and allow women who are “sexually mature” to marry – a clause to legitimise the arranged marriages of young teenage girls. A young Coptic woman said :“I can no longer stand the insults and the spitting in my face because I don’t wear hijab. I have become a stranger in my own country.”

The new constitution implicitly allows child labour and Shiite Muslims, Baha’is, Buddhists and others are not even recognised as existing.

This further entrenches the unrecognised state of war which exists between Shia and Sunni Muslims and which is being played out across North Africa and the Middle East. If unchecked, that inter-Muslim war will manifest itself in Europe too.

Egypt and Iran represent those two opposing positions and Egypt is in real danger of becoming a mirror image of Iran.

The tightening of Sharia Law, the imposition of restrictions on the media and the judiciary and the curtailing of many civil liberties would put Egypt on course for Iranian style theocratic dictatorship. As in Iran, the radicals have begun an all out assault on secular values and on the Christian minority. Last week alone, Egypt’s ancient Coptic Christian community, who comprise around 10% of the population, saw three of its churches attacked and burnt and homes and shops destroyed.

Around 1,000 Islamists were reported to have attacked the predominantly Christian village of el-Marashda in Upper Egypt. The Christian families were ordered not to leave their homes – although, in a hopeful sign, the village Imam expressed his solidarity with the Christian community and called on Muslims to protect their Christian neighbours.

The West has been hopelessly indifferent to the plight of the minorities in the region and wide-eyed and naive in characterising the Arab Spring as a relentless march towards democracy and pluralism. Notwithstanding David Cameron’s remarks in Libya Last week, from Iraq to Syria, the Lebanon to the Gulf, the reality has been a horror story for the besieged Christian communities.

For years the west has turned a blind eye. It has sold arms and courted the dictators and regimes who govern countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia while showing complete indifference to their violations of human rights. In Syria, the UK is aiding and abetting groups who have targeted Christians – in one grotesque incident beheading a Christian man and feeding him to the dogs. Will this be an improvement on Assad?

And what is life like in those countries which are now ruled by Islamists?

Last week in Iran, the prosecutor for the mullahs’ regime in Sari announced the amputation of the fingers of a person charged with robbery. Two days earlier, in Shiraz, they publicly amputated the fingers of a 29 year old man. Ali Alghasi, Shiraz public prosecutor, called the amputations a “serious warning” to all who “cause insecurity”. He emphasized the importance of: “decisiveness and intolerance”. But amputations are only a part of the story in a country which specialises in crushing dissent and fomenting an atmosphere of fear.

Earlier in the week, State media reported that a 27 year old prisoner was publicly hanged in Kerman along with two prisoners in Ilam and Shahroud, one prisoner in Khorramdarreh and three prisoners in Qazvin – all of whom were executed.

As Egypt’s Morsilini tries to emulate Iran, and a second revolution unfolds, the West should be very wary of the company it keeps and not rush to legitimise regimes whose values are inimical to our own.