The non-mystifyingly inadequate Christian response to the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti - blog by Gurdur

 




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The non-mystifyingly inadequate Christian response to the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti
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Posted 04-Mar-2011 at 03:42 AM (03:42) by Gurdur
Updated 04-Mar-2011 at 05:21 PM (17:21) by Gurdur

There is a worryingly inadequate Christian response to the murder of the Pakistani Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, but I think it's unfortunately clear why that response is inadequate, and I shall discuss that here, though I am basically confining myself to discussing British Christians here. Please read this explanatory blog post first if you haven't already read it. And if you think I am being too heavy on Christians, wait till tomorrow when I get stuck into atheists. Because as an atheist I am going then to be ever so undiplomatic. The one single atheist response I have seen that has been anywhere within lightyears of being adequate (apart from my own response) has been Christopher Hitchens on the Raymond Davis affair and Taseer (it seems to have been written before the Bhatti murder, though it only just came out).. I'm sure eventually Josh Rosenau will blog well on it all too, but he's an agnostic rather than an atheist. The Muslim response is complex; on one hand, a whole lot of Muslim moderates risked their own lives to protest yesterday and today, loudly, in the streets, in plain sight.

Other Muslims in Pakistan actually counter-demonstrated, they actually called for a Caliphate, and therefore approved of the murder of Bhatti. Some media in Pakistan started peddling absurd conspiracy theories about foreign involvement in a desperate and totally dishonest attempt to avoid responsibility. Meanwhile, Muslims outside Pakistan seem to have completely ignored the situation there; a bit out of preoccupation with the events in Libya, Egypt and so on, and more than a bit out of embarrassment; I've noticed a strong desire on the part of vocal Muslims to want to evade the bad bits (such as the assault on Lara Logan) and only emphasize the good bits (such as the success - so far - in Egypt and Tunisia). There's also the problem that the Pakistanis are not Arabs, so not all that much of a fellow feeling there.

But back to the Christians, and just why their response is inadequate. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York immediately issued a statement condemning the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti; but when I search the Church of England official news site, there is no mention of Salmaan Taseer. The murder of (Muslim) Salmaan Taseer (murdered for defending a hapless, persecuted Christian woman, Asia Bibi) preceded the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, and led to it. In other words, the murder of Taseer - a provincial governor - and the utterly pathetic response by the Pakistani Prime Minister, government and society at large to that murder, most likely emboldened the extremists to then take a crack at a national government minister.

Then there is the large Pakistani-in-origin community in Britain, and some problems that occasionally surface; extremism, xenophobic misogyny, homophobia, and so on. Of course, the British can and do sometimes have these problems too, but that is no reason then to ignore such problems -- whether British or British Pakistani.

So the murder of Taseer was damned important - and something the archbishops of the Church of England should have been making one huge almighty row about. Did they? Did anyone notice? A search of the entire Anglican Communion website fails to show one single reference to Taseer. It wasn't as if warnings of what that murder meant for the future didn't exist, or even as if warnings before that did not exist. The former Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali had a piece in the Guardian back in November, 2010, warning about the situation in Pakistan following the beginning of the persecution against Asia Bibi. So, excuse me, where are the publicizations of the problem? The support for Pakistani moderates? The calls to act with international sanctions against the Pakistani state should it continue in its complicity with extremism and its nascent apartheid?

On the British Christian blogger side, Peter Ould put up a tribute to Bhatti (as a martyr); just a big pity that a Google search of Peter Ould's blog-site shows no reference to Taseer at all.

Fine, the global Chinese Christian news service "The Gospel Herald" managed a tribute to Bhatti, and had previously managed a tribute to Taseer. So it's possible. And MadPriest (Rev'd Jonathan Hagger) of the blog Of Course I Could Be Wrong managed an extremely decent couple of tributes to the Taseer family, when it all happened.

On the Catholic side, this time the Pope was actually out in front of many others; he had made an immediate and strong statement following the murder of Taseer. Good. But the Catholic Herald (CH) of Britain did a tribute to Bhatti, while only managing a very weak reference to Taseer (and another very weak one), and that only prompted by the Pope's statement. Again, because Bhatti was a Catholic, he gathered much more attention from the CH than Taseer; and in this week's CH issue, columnist William Oddie spent his time nastily and wrongly attacking President Obama of the USA, of all people, and bitching about the secularism of the EU, rather than concerning himself with anything more true and significant. Another columnist, Francis Phillips, continues in her usual vein to recommend Hell, condemnation, obedience, and some (to me) trivialites concerning how to take the Eucharist. No mention of anything significant.

Ruth Gledhill's blog on The Times (Ruth Gledhill is an Anglican Chistian, as well as being responsible for much of coverage of religion on The Times; warning, behind a paywall!) has a long piece up on how Pakistani Christians now feel 'absolutely unsafe'; it's hardly only the Christians. Persecution actually started way before against the Ahmadis, then even against the Sufis of Lahore. I can't find much about Taseer at all on Ruth Gledhill's blog, but at least the main part of The Times itself has a fair bit on Taseer.

Obviously it is very difficult to give an accurate snapshot of the Christian landscape; but I think these examples suffice to represent something that I as an outsider notice time and time again. I of course recognise many British Christian bloggers won't have had the time, or felt secure/knowledgeable enough, to blog on Taseer, so I've kept myself to those who mention Bhatti in a big way. Another factor might be many bloggers wish to avoid seeming to be racist in criticising Pakistan; but it's time to expect each nation to behave like adults, and Pakistan can be held to the same expectation as South Africa. If colour-based apartheid was immoral in South Africa, as indeed it was, belief-based apartheid is wrong in Pakistan. If the violence of the old-regime South Africa was wrong, then the violence against minorities and moderates in Pakistan is wrong.

On the official British government side, William Hague, Foreign Secretary, managed to be "appalled" at the murder of Bhatti, but since he had also been officially "appalled" at the murder of Taseer, one wonders if he and the Foreign Office couldn't come up with some dosh to afford better speech-writers.

On the American side, the blogger Jim West - whose blog gets the most traffic of all the bibliobloggers and perhaps the most traffic of all American Christian blogs, only managed a rather pathetic post, "In Pakistan Being a Christian Can Get You Killed". Well, goodness, so can being a moderate Muslim get you killed in Pakistan. Or being an atheist. He couldn't be bothered with any sort of tribute to the Muslim Taseer; the sound of personal and American national self-centeredness is strong in West's blog overall.

Meanwhile, moderate Pakistani Muslims who speak out in defence of Christians, atheists and minorities in Pakistan continue to be under threat and risk their lives being outspoken against fundamentalism; it's worthwhile remembering the threat may not be necessarily confined to Pakistan -- Imran Farooq, a founding member of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), was murdered in London in September 2010.

Look. The Jews have the concept of Righteous Gentiles. It really is time Christians very much made it their business to always and clearly have a similar concept for non-Christians, and to actually honour non-Christians who work and die in the cause of freedom, like Taseer. It's not too much to expect.

More than that: if you want to see people like Asia Bibi able to live in peace and security in Pakistan, you as a Christian will have to build coalitions with non-Christians - Muslims, Jews, and, god forbid, even atheists. After all, Asia Bibi means something as a person to you, yes? Not just a convenient symbol. Every tiny bit from each person all helps in the long-term struggle against extremism and authoritarianism.



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