Dear President Musharraf,
As an American and a Christian, I am a member of two groups that Osama bin Laden and his ideological kin have vowed to kill at every opportunity. Your stand with the United States against the war on terrorism is theref
I would like to see greater ties between the United States and Pakistan. However, there are things going on in your country that prevent a closer relationship, and I am writing this letter to ask you to address those things.
The matter of greatest concern to me is the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in your country. Just last month the U.S. State Department listed Pakistan-once again-as one of those countries whose governments have failed to protect Christians and others from religious violence. You, President Musharraf, are the head of your government. As an American and a Christian, I do not understand why you allow the state sanctioned persecution of Christians and others to continue.
In 1948 Pakistan was one of those nations voting for passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the United Nations. Article 18 of the Declaration recognizes the right of all people to freely choose and practice their religion. Yet Pakistan reneged on its pledge to protect religious freedom with the passage of blasphemy laws in the 1980s. These blasphemy laws, which have no more standards of proof than the witchcraft laws of medieval Europe, are used by the Muslim majority to oppress the Christian minority, as well as minority sect Muslims and those practicing other religions. Such laws are an affront to all people who love truth and justice.
Parvez Masih is the victim of these blasphemy laws. Once a schoolmaster for a very successful Christian school, he has been imprisoned for more than two years in Sialkot on a charge of "insulting the Prophet." The only penalty prescribed by Section 295c of the blasphemy law is death. Parvez Masih is one of 55 - 60 Christians charged every year under these oppressive laws.
My Muslim friends tell me that the Prophet Mohammed was insulted on more than one occasion during his lifetime. At no time did he ever call for the death or imprisonment of his tormentors. The blasphemy laws, then, are not about preserving the honor of the Prophet, but about control. The Christian population lives in constant dread of being accused of blasphemy, for they know they can be carted off to prison, often to rot there indefinitely, without even a trial being granted. Like the witchcraft laws, the blasphemy laws are used to destroy the life of anyone a person in power doesn't like.
President Musharraf, the Muslim extremists in your country have tried to assassinate you twice in one week, so you surely know that no accommodation can be made with fanaticism. You have not disturbed the blasphemy laws, although you could declare them unconstitutional or in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with the stroke of a pen. My question for you President Musharraf is this: What are you waiting for?
As much as Americans and Christians appreciate your support in the war on terrorism, we can never fully embrace you until you end the oppression of our fellow Christians and other religious minorities. Even if you should capture Osama bin Laden and hand him over to us, we can never accept you as a true friend and ally until Parvez Masih and others like him are released from prison and allowed to live their lives in peace.
I am sure that you realize by now that there is no middle ground for you. You will either repeal the blasphemy laws, or you will be held at arms length by the West. Already you know that you cannot satisfy the fanatics and extremists. You know that even if you made Pakistan a purely Muslim state, the leaders of the various extremist factions would still be gunning for you as they fought among themselves for supremacy. No, President Musharraf-you have already crossed the Rubicon-there is no going back. Your only hope now lies with alliances with the West.
Those alliances will ultimately depend on whether or not you embrace the ideals of freedom and democracy. Perhaps you have already witnessed the cold shoulder that Americans have turned toward the Saudis-not only do Americans have problems with the complete lack of religious freedom in Saudi Arabia, but we have learned that the Saudi government has been a source of funding for groups with ties to terror. The Saudis have learned, to their dismay, that it's a long, hard road to winning back the trust of the American people.
The question for Americans will be this: do we give our full support to you, or do we leave you hanging and prepare to pick up the pieces after you are deposed? If you want that full support, you must repeal the blasphemy laws and release all religious prisoners. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
President Musharraf, you stand at a crossroads in history. You will either be recorded by history as a great leader who committed his country to truth and justice, or you will be forgotten as just another failed appeaser who never learned that you cannot compromise with fanatics and terrorists. I pray that you choose the former course.
It may be, of course, that if you commit Pakistan to honor its original vote for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, extremist elements may find a way to assassinate you. However, when it comes time to meet your Maker, as that time comes for all of us, I would rather meet Him as someone who died while fighting for a just cause, rather than as someone who had no cause at all.
I pray, President Musharraf, that our Lord will give you strength to endure until the end, so that you will be remembered as a great and courageous leader. You have already taken a number of great and courageous steps-please take just a few more, so that you are fully on the side of truth and justice!
James R. Reese, KGCTJ
Grand Prior of the United States
Priory of the Holy Angels
Scottish Knights Templar