COMMENT: Murder most foul —Shahid Saeed - Friday, March 04, 2011

Source :\03\04\story_4-3-2011_pg3_4

Abdicating responsibility and state power by agreeing to the demands of men of evil that block our streets to celebrate the murderer of a brave man who stood up for a poor Christian farmhand is what we have been doing. Of the politicians who stood up for Aasia Noreen, Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti are no more

“I am ready to die for a cause, I am living for my community...and I will die to defend their rights...I will prefer to die for my principles,” said Shahbaz Bhatti in a video floated on the internet, filmed apparently some four months ago.

When I was nine years old, like most other children I spent all the day with friends from the neighbourhood cycling and playing cricket. Faraz and Aneeq, brothers roughly my age, were prominent members of the small gang of friends and brilliant batsmen. One summer day, news broke out that they were Christians. I knew little about how to react and I remained a silent spectator as my group of so-called friends expelled them from the group, ultimately stopped talking to them altogether and finally isolated them in the small colony that we lived in. Their father was a serving Lieutenant Colonel in the Pakistan Army and their only crime was that they were Christians. Nine-year-old children already knew enough to hate friendly and happy-going people of other faiths based just on their religion. Little did I know that the country I was growing up in was far more discriminatory, contemptuous and jaundiced with bigotry and fanaticism. Two days ago, its land became even more bloody with the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti.

Pakistanis, often drowning in delusion and grandeur, boast our modernist and progressive credentials by claiming that unlike India we do not have a caste system. Sadly, that is a myth and utterly fallacious. Besides social inequality that drives wedges in our society, a form of apartheid exists on the basis of religion. Hindus in Pakistan are discriminated against and remain stuck in the worst of economic conditions, besides being forced into conversions. Ahmedis cannot even proclaim their religion openly and are murdered in broad daylight round the year. Jews just ran away from this country knowing what was in store for them. Christians, Pakistan’s second largest minority, are discriminated against and killed in the name of blasphemy laws. They are called “choorraas” (sweepers) and are subjected to the worst form of abuse. They are considered unclean and they are forced into jobs that Muslims feel are below their dignity. Janitor, cleaner and sanitary worker — that is what the Pakistani Christian has been told is his or her worth. A couple of years ago, the Capital Development Authority (CDA) had put up a banner on the Islamabad Expressway inviting the Christian biradari (community) to apply for janitorial jobs at the CDA, openly stating as if these were jobs reserved for them in a shameful, abominable and disgusting show of behaviour from the state itself. Pakistan’s Christians have given more to this country than this country has given to them. From Wing Commander Cecil Chaudhry (Sitara-e-Jurat, Tamgha-e-Jurat), who protected the airspace of this country, to Air Vice Marshall Michael John O’Brian, from the melodic Benjamin Sisters to the great human rights and peace activist Julius Salik, from A Nayyar whose melodious rendition of “Utho meri duniya” remains one of the best recitations of Iqbal, to Iqbal Masih, the young boy who broke the shackles of bonded labour and became a global symbol of hope, from Wing Commander Mervyn Middlecoat (Sitara-e-Jurat, Sitara-e-Basalat) to Ruth Pfau, Hilal-e-Pakistan, the legendary woman who has fought leprosy in this country, to Air Commodore W³adys³aw Józef Marian Turowicz — the man who headed SUPARCO in its days of glory and the father of our space and missile programme. The list goes on and includes great men like Bishop Anthony Lobo, Bishop John Joseph, Justice A R Corenlius, Air Vice Marshall Eric Hall (Hilal-i-Jurat, Sitar-e-Jurat), Joseph Francis, the great photo-journalist F E Chaudhary, GoC 23 Div Major General Noel Israel Khokar, and countless others besides the hundreds of great teachers who have, continue to, and will go on to further enlighten students at the historically magnificent missionary and convent schools in this country.

When a man convinced to kill innocents struck at the Islamic International University (IIU) in Islamabad, it was another Pakistani Christian who sacrificed his life to save many others. Pervez Masih blocked the path of the human bomb and sacrificed his life to save dozens, if not hundreds, of female students. A poor janitor, like many of his fellow community members, he had worked at the IIU for only a week. He made the ultimate sacrifice to protect his fellow Pakistanis and yet his community continues to be harassed, exploited, discriminated against, murdered and haunted by the memory of their loved ones consumed by the hydra-headed demon of extremism, militancy and fanaticism.

It has been 14 years since the massacre of Shantinagar and just two years ago Gojra’s Christian community saw their homes and churches burnt down by the forces of evil. Shahbaz Bhatti stood by them as he stood by Aasia Bibi.

How can we even begin to face the families of Mervyn Middlecoat? How can we even face Cecil Chaudhry? The family of Pervez Masih? Bishop John Joseph shot himself with a handgun to protest the blasphemy laws at the spot where a victim of the blasphemy laws, Ayub Masih, had been killed. Little has changed since his death in 1998 and perhaps little will. Our sins are too big to be absolved. Not even the most forgiving and compassionate of humans would pardon them.

Cowing down in front of extremism or being apologetic on their demands is what we have been doing. Abdicating responsibility and state power by agreeing to the demands of men of evil that block our streets to celebrate the murderer of a brave man who stood up for a poor Christian farmhand is what we have been doing. Of the politicians who stood up for Aasia Noreen, Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti are no more. Sherry Rehman is under virtual house arrest having been told by the Interior Minister that she better leave the country — and later he went on to express his desire to extra-judicially murder blasphemers in order to prove his credentials too.

We are so insecure as a nation that we undercount our minority populations in our census. We have become a country ruled by mobs, by angry men who preach hatred, bigotry, xenophobia and irrationality. We cannot coexist peacefully until these madmen are taken to task, legally, for spreading messages of hate. Rest assured, things are looking extremely bleak and Shahbaz Bhatti will be just another victim in our bloodstained history. Our all-consuming, self-righteous and fire-breathing media was back to regular programming within two hours of his coldblooded assassination. That is the level of respect and honour that a brave, patriotic and great Pakistani deserved from our 24-hour news channels. We shall continue to blame the Yanks, the Indians and every other force for our own machinations whilst our Christians, Hindus, Shias and Sunnis, men and women and even children are murdered in our land.

Rest in peace (RIP) Shahbaz Bhatti. This country did not deserve you or any of the great Christian citizens whom any other country would have boasted of as sons of the soil. I do not know where Faraz or Aneeq are today. I am ashamed of how I did not move — even though I genuinely felt bad about it and knew it was wrong — as they were repugnantly expelled from the playground for their faith. I have nothing but my sincere apologies to offer them. I should have been vocal about intolerance. I can do little to heal the wounds of Shahbaz Bhatti’s family and his community. I just hope this home of ours does not go up in flames soon.

The writer is interested in history and public policy. He can be reached at

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