Bishop Dr. Timotheus Nasir from Pakistan has witnessed and wrote against the disgrace of the cross when a manufacturer from Sialkot put the sign of the cross on footballs to be kicked by players. He also wrote to protest when he witnessed students and professors walking over the cross that was carved on a ground in a university campus in Lahore, Pakistan, to disgrace Christians and Christianity. He has read and wrote about the easily available books that have been spreading the venom of hatred through misinformations. He knows the cases of the land-grabbers who have implicated Christians in blasphemy to grab their lands, and also about minor Christian and Hindu girls kidnapped, forced to marry and to become Muslims within a few days.
Bishop Dr. Nasir has used his pen in his own unique manner to enlighten the citizens who have been attempting to divide Pakistan and impede its unity and economic progress for the appeasement of their ego. Once in a while Bishop Nasir becomes sentimental and uses the art of debate and reasoning that he has learnt from his late father who won laurels as a debater and scholar. Bishop Nasir, trained also as a soldier in the military of Pakistan from where he retired as a major, has been defending his faith.
Bishop Nasir had to pay for the defence of his faith. The writings of Bishop Dr. Nasir are based on the ideology of justice, equality and human rights. With his pen he tries to demolish the walls of discrimination, including political when he announced his decision to run for the position of president of Pakistan in the forthcoming general elections of 2007. It was a historical decision because according to the constitution only Muslims can become president, prime minister and head of the armed forces of Pakistan. Bishop Nasir was going to use the non conquerable weapon of nonviolence. He deserves commendations from the advocates of democracy for his boldness to build a castle of peace and human dignity against the sky of fanaticism. He believes that if minorities have to survive in Pakistan, they must let the majority know that minorities have the ability, courage and determination to fight for their rights in a peaceful manner.
The concerns of Bishop Nasir irritated several citizens from the majority who do not want to share the platform of the freedom of expression with minorities. One of those citizens, a self-proclaimed scholar of the Bible, as Bishop Nasir likes to call him, has been challenging him for years. Bishop Nasir says that he always gave appropriate answers to his criticism of the Bible.
This faultfinder emerged again lately with two questions. One question relates to Pharaoh. He says Pharaoh was drowned in the sea while chasing the Jews. Another question is about the crucifixion of Jesus. He says that Christ did not have the cursed death on the cross. He widely challenged the Christian community of Pakistan to answer his two questions. Anyone who would prove that he was wrong would be given two million rupees.
Bishop Nasir answered also these questions. At one point, Bishop Nasir asked him three questions about the Koran for his personal knowledge and understanding of the Holy book of the Muslims. Instead of answering those questions, he intensified his campaign of mudslinging against Bishop Nasir and the Bible, particularly St. Paul, through emails and in his Urdu publication.
This citizen of Pakistan, is now taking Bishop Nasir to court demanding damages/ compensation of one hundred million rupees. The court in which he has filed the suit is located in the province of Sindh, thousands of miles from the residence of the Bishop. It is in the province that is known for more lawlessness, open violence and denial of human rights to minorities. At the same time, Bishop Nasir has been threatened with life by this person.
The matter becomes increasingly serious when court summons a high-ranking clergy of a church on the basis of complaints from an ordinary Pakistani who has already given threats on his life. In the past, courts have been forced to give verdicts the way fanatics wanted. Not only that, the judges who cared for justice have been killed, lawyers have been intimidated for taking those case of Christians, and even some have been shot.
Bribery in every section of the government is common. Several times in the past, courts in Pakistan have been partial to the majority. They have been also forced to give judgements in favour of perpetrators of violence in cases of blasphemy laws. Because this is a case of religious nature, the blasphemy laws that are against democracy, justice and equality, will be used or rather misused to win the sympathy of the judges and also the masses who are likely to demonstrate outside the court as it has happened in several cases. Or the Bishop is likely to be assassinated in the court room on the basis of blasphemy. It has been announced publicly by a chief justice that the cases of blasphemy need not be referred to court. Blasphemers should be killed on the spot. These remarks were made by Justice Nazir Akhtar, a judge of the Lahore High Court. He said that there was no need for legal proceedings for a blasphemer.
These remarks by a judge appeared in the national print media of Pakistan, including the Urdu dailies Insaf and Khabrain of August 28, 2000. Even otherwise, according to the blasphemy laws, there is only one punishment for blasphemers and that is death.
The impact of the blasphemy laws, and the remarks of Justice Nazar Akhtar can even be felt rather more strongly. Among the latest, one can include the case of Abdul Satar, a blasphemy accused. Though escorted by police for his court hearing, he was brutally murdered before Muzafar Garh district court with knives. It happened on June 20 in 2006 in Multan. Bishop Nasir without any escort is likely to be a much easier target.
Letters have been mailed from several sources to lawmaker and other important persons, including the president of Pakistan Mr. Musharraf. The establishment is silent. To expect any action from President Musharraf, a person who himself has been a victim of assaults by fanatics and who is busy in keeping his position safe in the nation and abroad, will not help someone from any minority group. In a society in which government and day-to-day life have been dominated by religious values, no one has time to take any action and those who have, will not stir the mud of fanaticism for fear. It appears that it is going to be a norm for the majority, who are already strong, to use also the judiciary against anyone who would try to educate those who spread the venom of ignorance against their religion.
Anti peace activists have been trying to bring more misery to the nation that has already been miserable due to the ethnic, linguistic and other fanatic ailments. These forces do not mind killing children, destroying churches, Hindu temples and their own mosques and bombing their own people in the darkness of their sectarian bigotries. Bishop Nasir has been in this dangerous situation just for defending his faith in the light of the United Nations Declarations of Human Rights. There is nothing wrong to take a person to court. But when that person receives threats on his life and when there are precedents of that nature and when antidemocratic forces are rampant and religious zealots are ready to kill anyone in the name of their creed, the matter becomes serious.
Moreover, it is not a bishop of one church that is being summoned in court by a misguided person who has the backing of other misguided persons. It is a matter of prestige of the minorities and particularly of Christians that a clergy of that rank is being treated as a criminal for defending his faith.
This is the time for the establishment of Pakistan, particularly President Musharaff, to stop this drama of high school kids that is being played on the stage of fanaticism. The country would receive more bad name from abroad. The citizens need personal safety, more jobs, more schools for their children, more and better equipped hospitals and better facilities for the elders and disabled citizens. There are several other problems, including terrorism, to be tackled. Citizens of Pakistan do not need opium. If the establishment of Pakistan is really interested in fomenting harmony in the country for the sake of prosperity and strength, such divisive forces should be formally charged on the basis of sedition because they are working against the interest of the state. These anti peace forces stand in the way of Pakistan to enter the twenty-first century as a democratic nation of freedoms.
It is a matter of concern for peace-loving citizens that the media of Pakistan is silent on this issue. Freedom is the child of the committed media that protects human rights and the rule of law. In order to keep democracy alive, it is important to keep the watchdog,
media, alive and free. Where there is no healthy democracy, there is hardly any prosperity. And where there is no prosperity, the best brains try to settle abroad where their skills and hard work are appreciated and rewarded. It is due to the importance for the survival of democracy that the press is often called the fourth branch of the government.
Media in Pakistan has never been interested in ethnic episodes for one reason or the other, though journalists and offices of newspapers have been often ransacked even for writing about the majority. Media is the backbone of democracy. It acts as watchdogs to find errors and corruption. Where there is no freedom of the press, democracy cannot flourish. And where there is no democracy, there are riots, guerilla warfare and open persecution of minorities. Democracy is a way to live and let live.
This fourth estate, the watchdog, needs the air of freedom and impartiality to function properly. It needs the atmosphere of freedom of expression that has been guaranteed by the Declaration of Human Rights that are based on law of nature, such as the law of gravitation.
Bishop Nasir at this point is deeply disappointed because of the one-sided action by the Sindh High Court of Karachi that has started a civil suit without sufficient reasons. On May 11, 2006, Bishop Nasir wrote to the Chief Justice of the Sindh High Court in Karachi that this person has been publishing derogatory articles in his own magazine against the Christian Faith, the Bible and Christian Community. He has been also using most filthy words against the Bishop and Holy Personage of Christians. Being a staunch believer in his faith, Bishop Nasir wrote that he had the right to rebuke anyone who would insult Christianity.
Bishop Nasir mentioned in the same letter that he is old and a heart patient. He had two major heart attacks. Considering his medical condition and age, it would not be safe for him to travel a distance of one thousand two hundred and fifty (1250) kilometres for court appearances. Moreover, he may be assassinated by the same person or his agents. He requests the court to withdraw the civil suit and an inquiry be ordered on the hateful activities of this person against Christianity. If his request cannot be accepted , he should be expelled from Pakistan.
Bishop Nasir adds that this action of court proves that there are hate, harassment, and persecutions of Christians in Pakistan. In his statement, Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti, chairman of All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, says that this hate-monger Ã¢â‚¬Å“may have finalized his plans to assassinate Bishop Nasir right in the court room. He has already made a threat on the life of Bishop Nasir.Ã¢â‚¬Â The editor of Pakistan Christian Post, online newspaper, Dr. Nazir Bhatti, is of the opinion that it is a conspiracy of the mullahs. Several others have condemned the court of Karachi.
Bishop Dr. Timotheus Nasir has decided to surrender his Pakistani citizenship on his first hearing in court on August 10, 2006 if he survives an assassination attempt. He believes that the court is aware of the fact that such cases are rooted in malice and can
linger on for years without any result. He adds that he has already been convicted on the complaint of a real Pakistani. He argues that followers of Christ are outsiders in their own country.
When Bishop Nasir says that minorities are outsiders in their own country, he echos the voice of a vast number of Pakistanis. The speakers and listeners at the conference of All Pakistan Minorities Alliance on April 21, 2006 at Holiday Inn in Islamabad erupted the lave of their anger for discriminations and persecution in different shapes, particularly in the shape of the blasphemy laws. At the conference, Bishop Manoo Romal Shah narrated a real incident of the beating of children by anti-cartoon demonstrators. The children of a mission school were moved to their homes for fear of being attacked. On the way, their vehicle was stopped and the children were beaten. He mentions a ten years old boy who was crying at his home with pains in his legs. He and his wife asked the boy the wrong he did to get into that condition. The ten years old boy replied that his only wrong was that he was born in a Pakistani Christian family. That reply left them in tears.
Mr. Stev Almas, a Urdu poet, from Winnipeg, Canada, attended that historical conference on a special invitation with his wife Josephine Almas. He says that media of Pakistan was adequately represented and was accorded a most respectful treatment by the management of the conference. Except one or two newspapers, the print media covered that historical conference in a few words whereas the incidents like bombing of a mosque would occupy the media for weeks. Under these circumstances when media in Pakistan is silent towards minorities, it is important for the enlightened people and the media abroad to awake the conscious of democracy to face these divisive forces before they develop into another cancer. This historical conference did not seem to have happened for Pakistani media in foreign countries. What does it prove is any bodyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s guess.
There is a segment of Christians that has started talking in terms of a homeland. This segment does not know where and how to proceed for lack of a charismatic leadership. They cannot be kept silent for a long time. It is the time to save Pakistan before it is divided again with the sword of intolerance. Bangladesh was the result of this sword. The same sword of intolerance is flashing in the case of Bishop Nasir.
Bishop Dr. Nasir, a highly educated Pakistani, is well known abroad for his scholarship and writings. He has attended universities and now heads a theological seminary in Pakistan. Moreover, his services to the nation as a soldier are significant. He edits a monthly, titled Kalam-e-Haq in Urdu language. Any attempt to assassinate Bishop Nasir is going to damage the already damaged reputation of Pakistan abroad, and would damage further the bridges for progress.
Ã‚Â©)Stephen Gill June 2006