I want the government of Pakistan to know that the worldwide Christian community is watching the case of the lawsuit by Mullah Illias Sattar against Bishop Timotheus Nasir very closely. Church bodies outside the Presbyterian Church have begun circulating news about this baseless lawsuit among their members, and the outrage of this lawsuit is already being addressed in the pulpits of churches of all denominations. The Vatican and the Worldwide Council of Churches, to include the Anglican Communion, are waiting to see if Pakistan will honor its constitution and its previous endorsement of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or whether the government will cave in to the Muslim extremists.
Pakistan is soon going to have to make a decision. It must decide if it is going to be a member of the international community in good standing, or if it is going to be an oppressive theocracy that deserves worldwide condemnation. Pope Benedict XVI has already called upon the Islamic states to treat Christians with the same respect that Christians accord Muslims in Western countries. The truth is that such reciprocity is missing, and Christians are going to be pushing for sanctions against Islamic states that continue to oppress religious minorities.
Our own organization is pushing for human rights to be the centerpiece of any aid or trade negotiation with an Islamic or Communist country. If, for example, an Islamic or Communist country wants aid from us or trade with us, that country had better be treating Christians and members of other religions well.
In 1948, Pakistan cast its vote in the United Nations to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Since that time, however, Christians have been arrested on spurious "blasphemy" chaarges. Now a mullah is trying to silence a prominent Presbyterian bishop through a lawsuit. The mere fact that such a lawsuit could be filed indicates that Pakistan still has a long way to go where religious freedom is concerned.
It does little good if Pakistan chases al Qaida terrorists in the northern territories while institutionalizing religious terrorism within its statures. Terrorism is terrorism, whether it is committed by hotheaded religious zealouts or by government ministries.
If the truth be told, neither Moses, nor Buddha, nor Jesus, nor Mohammed need protection from the insults by mortals if they are truly of God. It is beyond mere mortals to blaspheme a deity or chosen instrument of God. If such beings need the protection of "blasphemy" laws, then their status as revered religious figures should be stringently questioned.
If Christians and Muslims cannot talk about differences of religious opinion without Christians finding themselves in prison or facing 100 million rupee lawsuits, then something is drastically wrong with Pakistan`s laws. Such laws are not about religion, they are about preserving the political power of the mullahs. The mullahs want to maintain an climate of fear in which their pronouncements dare not be questioned, lest the questioner find himself in prison or stripped of all his worldly goods. What are these mullahs afraid of? They are afraid of losing power in a country where ideas may be freely exchanged.
I hope that the government of Pakistan is now aware that this lawsuit is being closely watched by Christian churches and agencies all over the world. If the government of Pakistan thinks it will continue to receive aid from the United States and other Western nations while continuing to allow the persecution of Christians, it had better reconsider its position. Institutionalized discrimination against Christians is wrong and immoral, and it must stop.
The best defense against terrorism is the free exchange of ideas. Organizations like al Qaida cannot exist in a country where ideas can be freely exchanged. No, they can only exist where the extremist views they espouse are unchallenged because of fear--as in Afghanistan during the Taliban era. If Pakistan were to reform its laws to truly recognize the Declaration of Human Rights, then organizations like al Qaida would evaporate virtually overnight. Such organizations and their evil agendas cannot survive the light of day--the open challenging of their extremist positions by rational minds. When there is a free exchange of ideas, those with agendas of hate are quickly branded as pariahs and are banished to the dustbin of history, along with Naziism and other movements based on hate.
President Musharraf, we fully expect you to guarantee the safety of Bishop Nasir and other Christian leaders.
Please remember, Mr. President, that Pakistan cannot be considered a true ally against terrorism as long as Christians continue to be victims of state-sanctioned religious terrorism. Either Pakistan is opposed to religious terrorism or it is not.
The way the government of Pakistan handles the lawsuit against Bishop Nasir will give us the answer we seek.