Friday, November 19, 2010

Iraqi Govt to Protect Christian Minority

Post 14

A few days ago, I read an encouraging news item about the Iraqi government promising to repatriate Iraqi Christians who have fled their country because of persecution and discrimination. The report was something similar to that in the previous post about Pakistan. Statistics tell us that Iraqi is emptying of Christians, who have lived there as minorities since the beginning of Christian history. I read the following report from the UK-based Barnabas Aid for November 14, 2010:--

Praise God for encouraging news from an Iraqi ambassador to a European state, who said that his government is committed to assisting Iraqi Christians who have fled their homeland because of the anti-Christian violence. He said that the government will assist Christians who return to Iraq with jobs, money and land to build houses. He also affirmed the possibility of creating a semi-autonomous region for Christians, similar to what Kurds in Iraq have, should the Christians with it. Pray that the Iraqi government will have the will and the ability to carry out these pledges and protect Christians from Islamic militants.

That is indeed an encouraging report. However, since Barnabas does not reveal the identity of the man nor the country to which he is assigned, it seems they must have felt it necessary to hide the identity of this ambassador, which makes me wonder whether he truly spoke the mind of his political masters. It was at least an official acknowledgement that Christians are fleeing his country and that his country is producing Christian refugees. But was he sincere? Did he represent official policy?

I ask such questions because I also read a story today that totally contradicts the above promise. A short report in today’s Province, a Vancouver daily (Nov. 11/2010), tells of continuing attacks on Christians:--

Baghad—A string of anti-Christian bombings has cost six more lives in the wake of a Baghdad church bloodbath, sowing panic in Iraq’s 2000-year-old minority on Wednesday, many of whom now want to flee. “Since Tuesday evening, there have been 13 bombs and two mortar attacks on homes and shops of Christians,” a Defense Ministry official said. The attacks come less than two weeks after 44 Christian worshippers, two priests and seven security personnel died in the seizure of the Baghdad church by Islamist gunmen and the ensuring shootout.

Some readers may argue that you need to give the government time to implement its new policy. You need to realize that Barnabas reports always come some months after the matter reported. There’s been time to implement the ambassador’s promise.

As in the case of Pakistan, we keep hoping….

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pakistan Govt. to Recognize and Protect Christians

Post 13

Pakistan is a Muslim country with a very small percentage of Christians. At one time, it was held up as an example of healthy inter-religious interaction and its legal system was considered an example for other multi-religious nations. But so was Sudan! During the time Nigeria was preparing for independence (1960), a group of Nigerian and British specialists were sent to these two countries to observe how they managed their inter-religious situation. Today, neither of these two nations are thought of as shining examples of religious tolerance, if you don't mind a slight understatement! We are all aware of Sudan's atrocious and cruel wars. Many people are not so aware of the high level of anti-Christian discrimination practiced by the Muslim people of Pakistan. I tended to think it was the Muslim citizens who were guilty of this religious outrage, rather than the legal system. However, recently a newly-appointed Minister for Minority Affairs--not sure I have the correct label here--, a Muslim himself, admitted to the prevailing legal discrimination against Christians and promised to correct the situation.

Apart from a final "P.S.," the rest of this post consists of an article by Sheraz Khurram Khan in which he reports on the new dynamic Minister Shahbaz Bhatti is trying to introduce. Now that article was published in February, 2009, a year and a half ago. I invite readers familiar with the Pakistani situation to write in and tell us about whether any real improvements have been made and experienced by Christians. Here's Sheraz Khan:--

"NCCP awards Pakistan Government Minister Shahbaz Bhatti."

The award was presented to Mr. Bhatti in a ceremony the representative body of all churches and missions in Pakistan held in his honor.

The reception was largely attended by Church leaders from the various denominations including Archbishop of Lahore Lawrence Saldanha, Mr. Victor Azariah Secretary NCCP, Dr. Arthur James, the Principal of the Gujranwala Theological Seminary, Colonel Yousaf, Salvation Army, Sister Pillar, Principal of the Convent of Jesus & Mary, Azera Shuja, Advocate, Lahore High Court, and other eminent people from the Christian community, who admired Shahbaz Bhatti's level of "dedication and appreciated his unfaltering commitment to attain equal rights for religious minorities in Pakistan."

"In the fields of health and education the services of Christian community are meritorious and in the social sector too Christians have been second to none," said Bhatti.

"In the Armed Forces of Pakistan outstanding performances and exceptional levels of professionalism have been attained by Christian officers," he maintained.

He said previous governments had neglected the rights of religious minorities, discriminatory laws were imposed in the past and under the rigidity of these draconian laws the minorities have suffered tremendously.

He said that safeguarding minorities' rights was the present government's top priority. The government, he claimed, is committed to the vision of Qaid-i-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, to empower the religious minorities and is working towards their uplift.

The Minister went on to say that the government has announced a 5% job quota for religious minorities.

He told the audience that religious festivals of minorities will be celebrated on a national level.

"Minority prisoners will be provided with separate place for worship within the jails," he went on to say.

"All laws that discriminate against minorities especially the blasphemy laws, under which numerous minority members have wrongly been implicated would be reviewed in consultation with minority representatives, religious clerics and scholars."

Mr. Bhatti said that these laws have hampered the efforts of interfaith harmony and national unity and he stated that the blasphemy laws have been misused by the extremists to victimize the minorities.

The Federal Minister said that the bill has been drafted for minority representation in the Senate and increase of reserved seats in the National and Provincial Assemblies, which will soon be tabled in parliament.

Commenting on the current security situation of the country, Bhatti stressed that "terrorism can be defeated through tolerance, national unity and interfaith harmony."

The Federal Minister for Minorities said he has devoted his entire life for the oppressed and marginalized religious minorities of Pakistan and is committed to raise a voice for the voiceless and does not seek any personal benefits or privileges.

His only objective is to bring "justice and equality to the downtrodden suffering minorities of Pakistan."

The Archbishop of Lahore said he appreciated the efforts of the Federal Minister and praised his "courageous and bold stand" on minority issues.

He said that the Churches and Christian community stand by him in his efforts to uplift and empower the minorities of Pakistan. He also mentioned that the discriminatory laws were creating disharmony in the country.

Mr. Victor Azraiah said that minorities have always served the country whole heartedly but in return they have always been neglected. He stated that some of the countries top leadership has been produced by Christian institutions.

He appreciated the Federal Minister's efforts for the rights of Minorities and assured him complete support of all the churches and Christian community of Pakistan. He emphasized the need for Christian representation in the Senate.

Azra Shujaat, advocate, said that the Federal Minister as Chairman APMA has been advocating the cases of victims of the discriminatory laws and has always stood by the oppressed and marginalized, he appreciated his commitment dedication.

===========End Article

PS--Vancouver's daily, The Province, reported on Nov. 12, 2010, that a Pakistani court in Punjab has just "sentenced to death a Christian mother of five for blasphemy, the first such conviction of a woman. As the story goes, Asia Bibi "went to fetch water and Muslim women labourers objected, saying that as non-Muslim, she shouldn't touch the water bowl. From there the incident somehow convoluted into a blasphemy charge. Hmm.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Muslim Canadian Congress and Secularism

Post 12

This current discussion started some posts ago and has dwelt on the issue of violence. The discussion continues in this post, but violence now takes a back seat.

I mentioned in Post 11 that there is a contradiction in MCC’s rejection of violence and its embrace of secularism. It uses a secular perspective to reject violence. This stance stands in sharp contradiction to that of millions of other Muslims. I have written an 8-volume work on Christian-Muslim relations in Nigeria, where violence has erupted time and again against secularism. Nigeria is by no means the only country where this is the case. It is more common among Muslims throughout the world to regard secularism as their enemy than as an inspiration for tolerance and non-violence.

This is not to say that all Muslims opposed to secularism are violent. I, a Christian, am also opposed to secularism, but I am not violent and do not intend ever to engage in it. The same is true by far for most anti-secularist Muslims, though it may be fair to say that all militant Muslims are anti-secularist, with perhaps a few unusual exceptions. That MCC is at odds with that other Canadian national Muslim organization, Canadian Islamic Congress, does not surprise me, even though at this point I am not sure of the exact nature of their friction. I do need to look into that one of these days.

So, the stance of MCC contradicts that of the world’s Muslim majority.

There is an additional contradiction in the stance of MCC. They are a Canadian organization that has adopted a liberal and secular stance in the Canadian context. They want to contribute to that context in a positive way, an admirable goal that can only be lauded. Their embrace of the alleged Canadian secular ethos is part of that programme. That’s the way to get accepted by the Canadian establishment. A Muslim organization embracing such values is sure to get plenty of kudos from the Canadian populace and media. Wonderful!

However, the Canadian secular establishment really amounts to the establishment of one worldview called “secular” at the expense of other equally Canadian worldviews, especially if these other Canadian worldviews are of an overt religious nature. They may actually have deeper and longer roots in Canadian history, but the upstart liberal-secular establishment has managed to upstage it and assign it a small niche best described as comprising of church, family and the personal. As long as the groups with other worldviews agree to that assigned restrictive place, they are considered good boys and girls. But once they object to that assigned position, you will have the media on your neck and you run the great risk of having all the powers of human right commissions firing their canons of political correctness at you in ways that can legitimately be described as legal violence. You may even be described as, mother of all horrors, a vile stooge of American fundamentalism, surely the worst of all possible Canadian castigations!

MCC, by having adopted this establishment perspective, has in fact allied itself with a very intolerant worldview that may not shoot with the gun but with the weapons of scorn and political correctness that guide the dubious legal interpretations of human rights commissions. Though that establishment uses such great words like “liberal,” “tolerant,” etc., those words hardly catch the venomous spirit with which it operates.

I have let one of my cats out of the bag in this post. I have not defended my allegations, but I will do so as time allows in succeeding posts, though not necessarily in succession to each other. So, if you want to pursue my line of reasoning or have become curious about my Calvinistic-Kuyperian worldview, you’re just gonna have to stick with me for a while. Good luck—a very unCalvinistic parting!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Muslim Canadian Congress Denounces Violence

Post 11

Yes, more on violence. Are you getting tired? Well, this post is different from the previous ones. I am going to introduce you to a Canadian Muslim organization that opposes and condemns all manner of violence and terrorism. For the name, see title of this post. I will refer to it as MCC, with apologies to that other MCC, namely, world-wide renowned Mennonite Central Committee.

I introduce MCC with a few statements of their own so you know what they are about.

As Muslims we believe in a progressive, liberal, pluralistic, democratic, and secular society where everyone has the freedom of religion.

We believe in the separation of religion and state in all matters of public policy. We feel such a separation is a necessary pre-requisite to building democratic societies, where religious, ethnic, and racial minorities are accepted as equal citizens enjoying full dignity and human rights enunciated in the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We believe that fanaticism and extremism within the Muslim community is a major challenge to all of us. We stand opposed to the extremists and will present the more humane and tolerant face of our community.

I introduce MCC not because I agree with all of its philosophy. In fact, I don’t. But I want to let you know that Muslims speak up against violence and terrorism more than many of us realize. The Organization of Islamic Conferences (OIC), the world’s largest international body, speaks up against it frequently. I invite you to check out their statements on their own website or go to Volume 8-2 of my Studies in Christian-Muslim Relations and check out the OIC with the help of the Index. But MCC is more local; it is Canadian and proudly so. It has published many articles denouncing violence and terrorism in newspapers and in their own published documents. Please verify this by going to their website.

Below follows a sample of titles of their published documents that will give you a good flavour of how strongly they reject violence and terrorism in all shapes and forms. Here we go:

“MCC Condemns Islamic Extremism”

“Muslims Should Speak out”

“Don’t Be Silenced by Extremists”

“MCC Condemns Burning of Churches in Nigeria and Pakistan”

“No Need for Force, Violence”

“MCC Condemns Bombing in Bumbay as Crime….”

“Muslims Must Denounce Terror Forcefully”

“MCC Condemns Islamic Extremism”

“Muslims Must Speak Out”

“MCC Condemns London Bombing as Barbaric and Cowardly”

I encourage you to go and read at least some of them. If you’ve laboured under the impression that Muslims do not condemn these activities, reading this material should disabuse you of this false impression. You might still argue that Muslims don’t do enough of it. Even MCC President Farsana Hassan has admitted as much: “The near absence of such movements is hurting Muslims more. Their silence in not denouncing acts of terrors as forcefully as they should is consequently exacerbating Islamophobia.” However, I am sure you will find more if you do some surfing on the internet.

Fair is fair. Just thought you would want to have your attention drawn to MCC and their work. It’s just too bad that it is secular Muslims who publish such anti-violent declarations, for there is a built-in contradiction between their embrace of secularism and denunciation of violence. I will address that in the next blog.