23.9.13

That Church they bombed in Peshawar




Sunday mass. Two suicide bombers. 80 Christians killed. The Taliban strikes. Again.

My friend B is a devout Christian. She chose her mother's faith; her father is a Muslim, her husband was a Catholic. They travelled to many countries and she has several options, but after his death she was inexplicably drawn to her land of origin.

Her home is filled with iconography. Paintings of the Virgin Mother, Crosses, a stained glass propped against the window. And then there are rugs from the north, bedspreads from Sindh. She dresses mostly in western clothes, not unlike some Muslims in cities like Karachi or Lahore. Despite her secure life, she certainly feels the pressure of being the other, especially when she is out of her cocoon.

She and others like her are professionals. Life is easy for them at the level of survival. In contrast, many are cleaning staff, and besides poverty there is social discrimination against them. For a country that boasts about being Islamic, where such hierarchies are not permitted, Pakistan's feudal structure ensures that menial tasks are looked down upon. As a consequence, even those who have done well are referred to as 'chura', although as in any society some will have to perform what become traditional tasks.

The twin blasts at the All Saints Church in Peshawar, the north-west region in Pakistan, have been described as "the deadliest ever assault on one of the country’s long-persecuted minorities".

This is true, at least as far as killings on this scale are concerned. But, is it enough to say the Taliban did it and let the matter rest?

What has the Pakistani government done? It has the execrable Blasphemy Law for those who criticise the Prophet or Islam. It reveals so much insecurity. However, it has deeper reasoning. It helps the political establishment to target anyone. More Muslims have been arrested on blasphemy charges, so it is a clear indication that this is just an extreme form of censorship.

Any society that cannot respect and protect its minorities is inherently flawed. While it is commendable that the media in Pakistan often takes up such causes, openly going against the government, a small group of liberals tend to get their glory from criticising the Taliban, but not the ruling elite. The buck should stop at the elite doorstep.

How can anyone prevent deranged minds who do not value their own lives to talk reason? The Taliban's Jundullah wing claimed responsibility for the bombings: "All non-Muslims in Pakistan are our target, and they will remain our target as long as America fails to stop drone strikes in our country." They are using this as an excuse.

The Christians targeted on Sunday are Pakistani in thought, in language, in dress, and there is little to tell them apart from the rest (although one would be hard-pressed to have any uniformity among the rest too). They are not helping American drones, if that is even something to factor in. In fact, it is the rich Muslims who are more Americanised.

There is no logic in the Taliban argument, if one goes by the number of villagers they have killed belonging to their own tribe.

Politicians are already playing games over dead bodies. They are condemning with fervour — condemning one another rather than the lack of security, the discriminatory laws.

Unless this is done, the Taliban will be seen to be working as a wing of the government. The loss is that of the Pakistani people, the invisible majority from all faiths who get noticed only when their cries are heard and they protest as coffins stand mute witness.

© Farzana Versey

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Image of protests after the attacks - CNN