March 23rd, 2012
Member of Parliament Mr. Joe Daniel
(Don Valley East, Toronto)
La Promenade Building, Suite 850
House of Common
SUBJECT: VISIT TO PAKISTAN
Dear Mr. Daniel,
I have recently read an article printed in The Urdu Times newspaper dated Wednesday February 22nd 2012, which stated your perception of Pakistan on your recent enlightening trip to the country. The article is titled, “Member of Parliament Joe Daniel visit’s Pakistan and meets with political and religious leaders.”
Contrary to popular beliefs and opinions of the general public about Pakistan as a troublesome young country of many political turmoil and constant commotion, often stirred up by discriminatory discourses; you described your first visit to Pakistan from India as an educational period, during which you learned that the country is in fact far more peaceful and diplomatic than what is conceived by those on the outside. Mr. Daniel, your experience is described in the article as positively enlightening. Your observation during the short three-day stay in the country’s capitol Islamabad and Lahore, is supported by many political and religious leaders with whom you met including Dr. Paul Bhatti.
I am sure you are aware that Pakistan is the sixth largest country in the world, with a population of 177 million as of 2011. The capitol city of Islamabad is home to 600,000, has the highest literacy rate in the country at 87%, and an unemployment rate of 15%, despite being the most smallest of the top ten populated cities in the country. These rates are staggering considering that the top twenty metropolitan cities in the country represent only 20% of Pakistan’s population, and more than 50% of Pakistanis reside in towns of 5,000 people or more (according to a 2008 research article published in the Guardian – London, UK), where education and political involvement is scarce. These towns and villages materialize an authentic consensus of what is it is to be Pakistani. The lifestyle, experiences and political struggles (amongst many others) of more than half of a country are absent from the contributing factors which make up your perception of Pakistan as a whole. Certainly, a part of something cannot accurately represent its whole (and mostly certainly not in 3-days).
My intentions are not to criticize the duration or substance of your visit to my beloved homeland. Neither are my intentions to bombard you with irrelevant information about the demographics of Pakistan, in fact, these statistics are more relevant than you can imagine, thus, my intentions are to draw your attention to much of the unrepresented reality to which you have not been exposed during your visit.
Mr. Daniel, in its 60-years of existence as a sovereign nation, Pakistan has grown not only in population, but also in political oppression, sexism, and most commonly ignored, religious discrimination. The prejudice undertone that began in the noticeable absence of democracy has been dangerously spread to the detriment of many minority groups, as well as innocent lives. I am aware that my earlier proposition, that “a part of something cannot represent its whole” can also be applied to the point I am drawing your attention to. Nevertheless, my only objective is to make you aware of how your statements, published in the Urdu times article, can inadvertently have a severe negative impact on Pakistani minorities. As a non-Muslim Pakistani, and senior Pastor of a Christian Church for over 30-years, I know all too well about the struggles of my people and others like us, whose voices have been suppressed by violence and social discrimination by result of political irrelevance for “non-conformist” Pakistanis.
Urdu times is an Urdu newspaper, a language that you do not speak, read or write. According the article written about you, you are an Indian Christian from Kerla. This article in Urdu times contains a picture of you with Mr. Peter Bhatti, Alam-a-Inayat Ali Shakir Inayat. Alam-a-Inayat Ali Shakir Inayat himself is living in Canada under political asylum. Being a Christian I am certain that you are familiar with the following Bible verse:
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.” Isaiah 5 v 20-21
Please allow me to enlighten you on a diverse perspective of Pakistan:
In Pakistan, Christians are constantly having to go to jail because they have allegedly offended Islam. As the aid organization for persecuted Christians, Open Doors, observes, an argument or the refusal of a Christian to convert to Islam often unleashes the charge of blasphemy. As a rule, Christians cannot expect a fair trial. In addition, such cases unleash harsh reactions in society against the Christian community. Judges are putting them under such pressure that accused Christians have only slim prospects for a fair trial are even a speedy exoneration.
Christians are seen as second-class citizens in Pakistan anyway and are consistently discriminated against. The Islamic country ranks tenth place on the Index of International Persecution. Open Doors is asking for prayer for a young mother and a 26-year-old Christian who are currently under threat of condemnation for blasphemy.
Many Pakistani Christians have been falsely accused under the Blasphemy Law, or Law 295.
Law 295a, blaspheming Islam, and Law 295b, blaspheming the Qur’an, are criminal offenses. Law 295c makes blaspheming Mohammed a crime punishable by death. Courtrooms packed with militants have often pressured judges into returning a guilty verdict or continuing trials indefinitely. Christians are regularly barred from jobs or face troubles from their employers and co-workers. Christian merchants are often harassed.
In November 2010, a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, was sentenced to death on charges of blasphemy. She is the first Pakistani woman ever to receive a death sentence for blasphemy. Her life has been threatened by many, with a Muslim cleric putting a price on her head.
Pakistan, North America's most obvious "frenemy," best illustrates why religious persecution is a problem transcending national boundaries. Freedom of conscience, the essence of religious liberty, is a foundation for all other human rights.
A national community that refuses to even accept, let alone defend, those who believe differently is likely to become a source of intolerance, hatred, and violence -- which may end up directed well beyond its own country's boundaries. A government unwilling to protect individuals worshiping and serving their creator, both singly and collectively, is not likely to respect the life, dignity, and freedom of its citizens, and even less so people from other nations. Such a regime certainly will find itself ill-equipped to confront the very extremist forces it has previously, even if inadvertently, encouraged.
The ongoing disintegration of Pakistani society was dramatically illustrated by the assassinations of Punjab governor Salman Taseer in January and Religious Minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti in March. Salman Taseer was a Muslim who opposed the religious parties and denounced Pakistan's blasphemy law. Shahbaz Bhatti, known internationally, also opposed the blasphemy laws and said he was "speaking for the oppressed, marginalized and persecuted Christians and other minorities." Although a few brave Pakistanis embraced the two men in death, many more, including in Taseer's own ruling Pakistan People's Party, stayed silent while extremists praised the murderers.
In such an environment, it should surprise no one to find official support for al-Qaeda and other terrorists. While civilian members of the Pakistani government may have had no idea about Osama bin Laden's presence on Pakistani soil, it beggars belief that members of the military and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency did not know, and did not aid him. A poll last year found that some 60 percent of Pakistanis viewed America as an enemy. Rank-and-file military attitudes seem little different.
In Pakistan, the social environment is toxic. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom reported that "Pakistan continues to be responsible for systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief." The Commission pointed to the blasphemy laws which, along with "other religiously discriminatory legislation, such as the anti-Ahmadi laws, have created an atmosphere of violent extremism and vigilantism."
The State Department's assessment of religious liberty is equally blunt. Noted State: "Security forces and other government agencies did not adequately prevent or address societal abuse against minorities. Discriminatory legislation and the government's failure or delay in addressing religious hostility by societal actors fostered religious intolerance, acts of violence, and intimidation against religious minorities."
Both the Commission and State emphasize the blasphemy laws as a particular problem. Not uncommon around the world, the laws have become a particularly threatening tool of persecution against non-Muslims in Pakistan.
In a detailed study released last year, Freedom House concluded: "Although many other countries have laws against blasphemy, the situation in Pakistan is unique in its severity and its particular effects on religious minorities." The extremist Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party has even proposed banning the Bible as "blasphemous."
The majority of those prosecuted for blasphemy are Muslim, but the law is disproportionately deployed against Christians, who also often find themselves targets of vigilante violence. At least 35 Christians charged with blasphemy have been murdered since 1986. Many others have endured brutal rapes and beatings, while churches, homes and businesses have been ransacked, looted and burned.
Unfortunately, even before the Taseer and Bhatti murders, the situation in Pakistan was deteriorating. Last November the State Department declared: "the number and severity of reported high-profile cases against minorities increased" and "organized violence against minorities increased." Thousands languish on death row in filthy and overcrowded jails - prison rights group Reprieve says Pakistan has the largest number of people on death row in the world. Arthur Wilson, a Pakistani Christian, has been counseling prisoners in Pakistan's overcrowded jails for 25 years said "there are a few Muslim prisoners who accommodate, maintain relations and drink and eat with Christian prisoners, Otherwise the general trend is that Christian prisoners must be kept separately."
Lawyer Moazzam Aslam Bhatti, who works in Faisalabad, has told the international Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), that Christian prisoners in Pakistani jails are subject to particularly severe discrimination. He said Christians were marginalized and disadvantaged everywhere in Pakistani society, but their situation in the prisons is particularly precarious.
Along with the Dominican Fathers who provide prison pastoral care in Faisalabad diocese, Mr. Bhatti regularly visits Christian prisoners and provides legal aid.
Those in jail in the city include shopkeeper Mr. Imran Masih who was sentenced to life imprisonment in January 2010 under the country's Blasphemy Laws for allegedly burning pages of the Qur'an. Mr. Masih denied the charge.
Mr. Bhatti said it was alarming to note that many people jailed for minor offences could have been released if they had been able to pay the fines imposed on them.
Those affected also include children who are compelled to stay in prison together with their mothers. Christians are also disadvantaged in the distribution of food, clothing and medicines, as well as in their ability to practice their religion.
Mr. Daniel if you had the opportunity to visit the people who are imprisoned under the blasphemy law and saw for yourself what the true state of Pakistan is than perhaps your opinions would be dramatically different.
I pray to God that He blesses you with divine wisdom so that your eyes may be opened and that you may see and understand the persecution of Christians in Pakistan.
Rev. Alexander David.
New Covenant Church of Canada.
CC: Hon. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney
CC. To our Christian Community Leadership.