Persecuting Pakistani Christians

I keep thinking about all the American Christians who canceled church on Christmas Day. Terry wrote about the Iraqi Christians who’ve done the same. Except in their case, it’s under threat of death.

I’m elated that Christmas is finally here after a lengthy Advent but I am so sad that Christians in Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, among other locations, aren’t able to worship freely. Or take the horrible news out of Nigeria yesterday. What Christians there wouldn’t do to have the freedom to worship in peace.

In any case, some holiday seasons see quite a few stories aiming to undermine some aspect of Christianity. We didn’t see much of that. Neither did we see much War on Christmas-type stuff (hurray!), particularly considering that there was ample opportunity.

Certainly the plight of global Christians this Christmas has not been covered well. But I did want to highlight a package from CNN that I personally found quite interesting.

The feature piece is actually a photo essay by Gary S. Chapman, titled “The persecution of Pakistan’s Christian minority.” Brett Roegiers explained the background to the piece:

In August 2009, an angry mob of extremist Muslims torched Christian homes in Gojra, Pakistan. At least seven people were shot to death or burned alive. A few days after the attacks, American photographer Gary S. Chapman visited the area with his wife, Vivian, to document the aftermath. “I want people to see my images and feel both discomfort and compassion at the same time,” he said recently. “I want them to try and see themselves in the situation I am witnessing.” The violence in Gojra was incited by rumors of the desecration of pages of the Quran at a Christian wedding, police said. An investigation determined the allegations were baseless.

His project began in 2005 when he photographed relief efforts after a massive earthquake killed 86,000. He learned about mistreatment of Christians then and there, including rape, lack of employment and education and beatings for drinking from Muslim water fountains:

At large gatherings, the Christians would sometimes hire armed guards for protection. Despite their hardships, Chapman says many remain optimistic. “I have been encouraged by the Christians of Pakistan that remain faithful, forever hopeful in the midst of real persecution,” he said. He has been to Pakistan four times now. During one trip, he visited a woman who had taken in several Christian children orphaned by the earthquake. Shortly after he left, an arsonist set fire to her home.

He ends by noting:

“After seeing the injustices in Pakistan, I’ve learned not to take my freedom for granted concerning my faith, livelihood, or even where I live,” Chapman said. “I am thankful for everything.”

His wife Vivian Padilla-Chapman wrote an accompanying essay from her perspective. She goes through some of the heartbreaking stories. She tells about a 32-year-old father of four who saved 70 women and children from violence and death by offering them safe harbor in his house while he kept rioters at bay with a shotgun from which he discharged rounds in the air for several hours. When the mob finally left, he had only two rounds remaining:

Another family just blocks away had no such protector. Seven people, including several children, were locked into their house and burned alive. Villagers said they could hear their screams.

I’m a Christian and familiar with Jesus’ words, “Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you,” but at that moment, those words seemed impossible. Honestly, I don’t know that I could sincerely love my enemies. I’m not sure that I could even pray for them.

Although Pakistan’s constitution guarantees religious freedom, blasphemy laws call for the death sentence of anyone who insults the prophet Muhammad or Islam. These laws are often used against Christians by jealous or disgruntled coworkers or neighbors. The incident that sparked the violence in Gojra stemmed from a rumor that a Christian had committed blasphemy at a wedding. It was never proven.

As the relief team took assessments for supplies, our interpreter, also a Christian, turned to me and said, “We see the destruction of their homes, but not the destruction of their lives. Jesus will never leave us or forsake us.”

Under the same circumstances, would I draw strength from that promise? Could I endure those kinds of struggles and hardships? I hope so.

The strong faith that undergirds this community is the kind of faith that I want to sustain me.

Reporters don’t just hear about terrible things, we’re encouraged to seek them out and report on them. When your beat involves religion, it can cause some mixed emotions. It’s interesting to me to read how these journalists react to what they’ve witnessed.

I’m no photojournalism expert, but I wanted to highlight the photo essay because of the simplicity and honesty in the pictures. Padilla-Chapman writes that her husband frequently does work for non-profit humanitarian groups. I expected to see photos that were manipulative or maudlin. They aren’t. They seem so accurate and honest.

Since I can’t use any of the Chapman photos to illustrate this post, I thought it might be worth remembering Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian mother of five facing a death sentence for allegedly blaspheming Mohammed. Punjab governor Salman Taseer and Federal Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti were both killed this past year for defending her and opposing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. A delegation overseeing her legal and material aid visited her on December 19 at the prison in Sheikpura where she’s being held in isolation. They say she’s not been allowed to bathe for more than two months, is unable to stand on her own, appeared confused and was afraid to accept the water they offered her to drink. But she told them she has forgiven those who accused her of blasphemy and only wants to return to her family.

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  • Dave

    The question that pierces my heart after such news is whether this vulnerability to murderous panic, eg at a rumor that a Q’uran was desecrated at a Christian wedding, is a Moslem meme or something basic in the human condition. I’m trying to imagine a rumor that would evoke the same response in Americans.

  • Bern

    Dave, Americans trample each other to buy shoes http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_AIR_JORDAN_CROWDS?SITE=NYNYP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT
    Is that a Christian meme?

  • Evan

    Bern,

    While the crazy consumerism of the holidays is ridiculous, I don’t think you’re talking about similar things. We’re talking about a group gathering to specifically cause harm vs petty fighting over goods. If you want something similar, look toward some of the violence against Arabic people that happened in the US right after 9/11 though I suspect you’ll be hard pressed to find it on the scale of what’s been happening in the Muslim world.

  • Bern

    Evan, point taken. IMHO, however, it is quite a leap to assume that the severity of the inhumanity demonstrated by the deliberate burning of churches is attributalbe to the religion of the perpetrators. Persecution, torture, and the killing of religious and ethnic minorities is no more a Muslim meme in this century than it was a Christian one in the Middle Ages (and before, and after). Again, IMHO, the perpetual violence of the majority against the minority, tolerated and abetted by the ruling elites and their enforcers is ageless and timeless and regardless of religion belief. It’s called, I do believe, sin.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Friends,
    Let’s keep discussion focused on journalism.

  • sari

    Dave,

    You asked: “The question that pierces my heart after such news is whether this vulnerability to murderous panic, eg at a rumor that a Q’uran was desecrated at a Christian wedding, is a Moslem meme or something basic in the human condition. I’m trying to imagine a rumor that would evoke the same response in Americans.”

    I’d love to see a journalist tackle the comparative angle, because this is exactly the kind of thing which incited pogroms against Jews in Eastern Europe and lynchings of African-Americans (during my lifetime) in the Deep South. Historical circumstances, socioeconomics, the role of the clergy in inciting violence, religious rationale–all should be examined as potential contributing factors.

  • Jerry

    sari raises a good point. Any story such as this must be fit into the context of how minorities are treated all over the world. Discrimination and persecution can be subtle, as is typical in the US today, or lethal as in the stories Mollie brought up.

    Fanaticism, egotism (I KNOW I’m right), ignorance etc all play a part. And the media should reflect the root and proximate causes of stories like this.

    It’s also important to reflect the difference between societies where at least in theory the rights of minorities are recognized as civilized behavior and those where minorities are at best tolerated.

  • Julia

    And then there’s the situations where a minority, but controlling colonial class were the perpetrators of violence against a weaker majority of indigenous people.

    Some of that was perpetrated with religion as an excuse, too.

  • John M

    The existence of minority religious groups in a majority Muslim country is a source of shame for many Muslims. If you grasp the honor/shame matrix and what causes each, you’ve got the key that unlocks the door to understanding the Muslim world. Journalists, please heed this well.

    -John

  • http://www.juliaduin.com Julia Duin

    Let’s not get too academic here. What other minority worldwide is getting killed, tortured, burned, beaten and persecuted as are Christians in Muslim majority countries? The Baha’is in Iran and the Uiygars in western China are the only ones that come to mind but even those groups aren’t experiencing anything close to what’s going on in Pakistan, Nigeria, Malaysia, Indonesia, etc., towards Christians.
    One story I’d like to see is something on the silence of most of the western Christian world about this. The pope speaks out whenever Catholics are involved but where are America’s leading Protestants? Why aren’t evangelicals doing what American Jews did in the 1970s re Russian refuseniks? Back then, every synagogue had a sign posted reminding congregants of their persecuted brethren.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Julia–good points. Only one quibble. The pope has spoken out in behalf of all persecuted Christians–not just Catholics. One example: “To Muslim religious leaders I renew my heartfelt appeal that their CHRISTIAN fellow-citizens be able to live in security.” Also, he has spoken out against Pakistan’s blasphemy law that is used to persecute all Christians. Also, Pope Benedict infuriated the Egyptian govrnment when he spoke out on behalf of the Copts there (The Copts are not in communion with Rome.)

  • Daniel

    I’m thinking of the panics where Chinese workers were attacked in California. In reaction to Dave’s comments: There were many attacks against native Americans characterizing the 1800′s.

  • sari

    Julia Duin,

    The media should report, dispassionately, any occurrence of violent persecution: facts sans emotion.

    In answer to your question, it was Christian Serbs who massacred Muslim Bosniaks a mere twenty years ago. Ethnic cleansing. It was church in collusion with state that instigated a series of pogroms throughout Eastern and Central Europe at the turn of the last century, which left thousands of Jews dead for the crime of being born the wrong religion. It was churches that protested Hitler’s euthanasia program in Germany but remained silent, with very few exceptions, on the subject of the final solution. Setting aside the issue of whether or not they knew about the death camps, they knew that the Jews and other target populations were dispossessed, ghettoized, frequently shot over some real or imagined slight, deprived of their livelihoods, and publicly tortured.

    What was wrong then is wrong now, and it *should* be reported, but lets refrain from rewriting history.

  • John Pack Lambert

    Sari,
    The Boniacs were not Muslims, they were ethnic Muslims. Also the killing was never as one sided as you make it sound. The Christianity of the Serbs after 40 years as a communist country is less clear than you make it sound.

    Anyway, the “Christian” Serbs were involved in slaughtering the “Christian” Croats, and vice versa, as well.

  • sari

    My point was that within the last century Christians have participated in exactly the same kinds of behavior that is now being directed towards them. An unbiased media reports facts, not opinions; those should be reserved for the Op-Ed page. So, yes, incidents directed against Christians by reason of their religion should be reported. But, no, we should not assume that all or even most Christians, past and present, have behaved appropriately towards members of other faiths, because it’s just not true. History, not the revised version that states that the Inquisition and Holocaust didn’t happen, shows that Christians targeted non-Christians by virtue of *their* non-Christianity and persecuted them in exactly the same way (or worse). And when speaking about Middle Eastern and African cultures, we speak of long tribal memories, not melting pots.

    Murdering Christians for alleged slights to the Quran sounds awfully reminiscent of church-sponsored pogroms incited by accusations of Jews slaughtering Christian children and drinking their blood. Neither is true (the latter for sure; Torah prohibits us from cannibalism and drinking blood), but the perpetrators need an excuse to incite violence and justify their actions.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Friends,
    Let’s keep comments focused on journalism.
    This comment thread itself shows how poorly it’s been reported that Christians continue to be the most persecuted religious group in the world. In fact, it’s hardly ever reported, much less reported well.

    One notable exception might be this Toronto Star story that ran this month:

    In a report to a conference on Christian persecution hosted by the European Parliament last month, the U.S. Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life put it this way: while Muslims and Jews worldwide and Baha’is in Iran certainly suffer too, Christians were “harassed” by government factors in 102 countries and by social factors, such as mob rule, in 101 countries.

    “Altogether, Christians faced some form of harassment in two-thirds of all countries,” or 133 nations, the report said. Muslims also face “substantial” harassment, the Pew report found, but in fewer countries.

    Christians face harassment in more countries “than any other religious group,” a Pew Forum spokesperson told the Star.

    Put in sharper focus, “at least” 75 per cent of all religious persecution in the world is directed against Christians, the conference was told.

    The euphemistic term “harassment” encompasses vigilante and terrorist attacks against Christians in more than a dozen Muslim countries. In Sudan, an estimated 1.5 million Christians have been murdered by the Islamic Janjaweed militia, including some who were crucified. In Nigeria, 12 states have introduced sharia law. Thousands of Christians were killed in the ensuing violence.

    In Saudi Arabia, the only faith permitted by law is Islam. Christians are regularly imprisoned and tortured on trumped-up charges of drinking alcohol, blaspheming or owning religious artifacts.

    In Egypt, Coptic Christians are still reeling from a church attack last January in which eight worshippers were killed. “The situation is deteriorating and is very tense,” Sam Fanous, a leader of Toronto’s Coptic community, told the Star from Cairo. He said that after Friday Muslim prayers, streets fill with anti-Coptic protests.

    In historically tolerant Indonesia, Islamic militias have bombed churches in majority Christian regions and killed or forcibly converted thousands.

  • sari

    Mollie,

    I think it would be helpful for people to read the Pew Study. Here is a link to the first section:

    http://pewforum.org/Government/Rising-Restrictions-on-Religion%285%29.aspx

    “This section of the report looks at the harassment and attempted intimidation of particular religious groups. It is based on specific, publicly reported acts motivated by religious hatred or bias. It is important to note, however, that these data do not measure the severity of the harassment or intimidation, so it is not possible to say whether one religious group is harassed to a greater or lesser extent than other religious or ethnic minorities.”

    and

    “Harassment of Christians, Muslims and Jews was highest in the Middle East-North Africa. Although this is a predominantly Muslim region, followers of Islam were harassed in an even higher percentage of countries in the region than were Jews or Christians. ”

    Elsewhere the folks at Pew state that this is a compilation of data, answers to specific questions, with no attempt made to determine what drives behavior.

    I think I’d like to see an unedited transcript of the conference before drawing any conclusions. The numbers presented don’t seem to match the published Pew report, and the emphasis is different.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Does this refer to harassment of Moslems by Christians, or to inter-Moslem harassment? (Particularly Ahmadiyya.)

  • Just visiting

    Will:

    The passage “followers of Islam were harassed in an even higher percentage of countries in the region than were Jews or Christians” seems to explicitly indicate that, in the region of Middle East and North Africa, Muslims are harassed in even more countries in that region than Christians or Jews. “Muslims being harassed” is the sort of harassment being described, not that of Christians or Jews.

    As noted, what this means is open to discussion. There are very few sizable Jewish populations in the region outside of Israel, for instance, and excluding migrant labourers in the Gulf the number of countries with substantial indigenous Christian populations (Egypt, Israel, Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq) is short. This measure of harassment could simply indicate that (say) Jews in Libya don’t complain of harassment because there aren’t any there.

    There’s no reason think that that the persecution being complained about is that of the Ahmadiyya, and not only because that sect is concentrated in South and Southeast East to the exclusion of the Middle East and North Africa. The persecution of Sunni Muslims in Iran, and of Shi’ite Muslims in Sunni-majority countries (Saudi Arabia and Bahrain chief among them) is well-documented, to say nothing of the complexities of Iraq.


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