Pakistan’s true Christian martyr

FATHER RAYMOND J. DE SOUZA

The jihadist war against Christians, religious liberty, democracy, the rule of law and human decency continues.

Shahbaz Bhatti
1968-2011

On Wednesday in Islamabad, Islamist assassins killed Shahbaz Bhatti, the Minister of Minorities in Pakistan's national government.

Mr. Bhatti was the only Christian member of the federal Cabinet, with responsibility for advancing the cause of Pakistan's religious minorities. In an increasingly Islamified Pakistan, that mission begins with preventing Christians from being killed, either by freelance jihadis or by the state itself.

By the state? Yes, at least in principle if not in practice. Pakistan's blasphemy laws make it a capital crime to insult Islam. It takes little imagination to envision how such laws can be used to terrorize Christians. Apostasy – which includes the desire of a Muslim to convert to another religion – also is a capital crime. Religious minorities, including both Christians and Sikhs, have protested the laws for years, to no effect.

Defenders of the Pakistani regime point out that no actual executions have taken place, with the courts usually dismissing or commuting the sentences in blasphemy cases. Yet that is little comfort to Pakistan's Christian minority, who live under the spectre of execution should someone decide to make an issue of their not being Muslim.

Last year, Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, was sentenced to death for blasphemy. International condemnation, including a direct denunciation of the sentence by Pope Benedict, drew attention to the case, and has put the blasphemy laws under scrutiny. Pakistan's government is terrified about having to take a position, and no doubt hopes the courts will provide a way out – meaning that she will just be clapped away in some prison for a time, rather than being killed.

Meanwhile, the governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, Salman Taseer, did speak out against the blasphemy laws. For his courage, he was assassinated by his own bodyguards less than two months ago; the killers were subsequently paraded in the streets in rapturous celebration. Asia Bibi is actually safer on death row than governors and Cabinet ministers on the street, where the jihadists rule.

It was in November 2008 that Mr. Bhatti was appointed minister of minorities, with full cabinet rank. As his predecessors in the portfolio held only junior ranks, it was considered a step forward in the recognition of the rights of minorities. Mr. Bhatti, a Catholic, drew international admiration for his boldness in defending religious liberty and denouncing the blasphemy laws. He was recognized by Freedom House, which gave him its International Religious Freedom Award. Less than a month ago, he visited Ottawa, and Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, a passionate advocate of religious liberty, honoured him at a special reception.

Later that same week, he was confirmed in his position after a Pakistani Cabinet shuffle. It was thought a good sign that the government resisted Islamist pressure and kept Mr. Bhatti on. The Islamists found another way. A government can resist pressure; a man cannot resist a hail of gunfire.

Fewer than 5% of Pakistan's 180 million people are not Muslim. They hold no influence, wield no power. Yet to the Islamist mindset, even 95% is not enough; there is no room for anyone else.

Fewer than 5% of Pakistan's 180 million people are not Muslim. They hold no influence, wield no power. Yet to the Islamist mindset, even 95% is not enough; there is no room for anyone else. In Pakistan, the jihadist idea has taken root that there is no room in "Muslim lands" for others, save for whatever space is available beneath the land, six feet under.

"I thank God for giving me this opportunity to continue my struggle for the oppressed minorities in Pakistan," Mr. Bhatti told the Catholic news service, Asia News, a few weeks ago. "Christians and other minorities are citizens of Pakistan [and] have the same rights as any other citizen, because our ancestors sacrificed their lives for this country."

The sacrifice continues. As for the country, perhaps the sacrifice will bear fruit, though the prospects are bleak.

Shahbaz Batti did not die for his country as much as he died for his faith. He was a public servant, leader of a political party, member of parliament and cabinet minister. He was killed because he dared to be all those things while being a Catholic. Now he has another title, of greater value than all the others: martyr.

The blood of the martyrs, the early Church fathers said, is the seed of the Church. Perhaps that will one day be true in Pakistan. For now, the blood of the martyrs cries out to heaven.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Father Raymond J. de Souza, "Pakistan’s true Christian martyr." National Post, (Canada) March 3, 2011.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.

THE AUTHOR

Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2011 National Post




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