The silence from the Pakistani community in Britain is deafening. A few lone voices are admirably speaking up condemning persecution of Christians abroad, but there appears to be no over-whelming united voice. Apart from a few independent organizations and individuals, not much has been said on the issue. Of course, there are plenty outraged against the slaughter of Rohingya and maltreatment of Palestinians, and quite rightly so, but even then much of it is ill-informed condemnation due to a closeness perceived through the conduit of religious affiliation only. However, British Muslims of Pakistani origin are in the main silent around the plight of those people with whom they probably share the most. More needs to be done in the British Pakistani community, to bolster the community standing as a single and united voice whole-heartedly condemning the persecution of minorities, in the country to which many still remain culturally, socially and historically linked.
The past decade has seen an upsurge in attacks on various sects and non-conformist religious denominations in Pakistan, from Peshawar to Karachi. Non-Muslims have suffered a great deal, particularly Christian communities all over Pakistan. Church blasts, blasphemy charges left, right and centre and rape of Christian women and young girls is never out of the news. This time of year is a poignant reminder that Christian minorities in Muslim lands have just celebrated Christmas in the malevolent shadow of increasing alienation and persecution.
The International media is rightly highlighting the plight of Christians in the Greater Middle East. The communities in Asia are the target of reprisals in heightened instability and civil war, whether as a result of the Arab Spring turned sour, or due to the aftermath of Western intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan. In both contexts the Islamists’ mind-set has hardened and dictated the popular narrative in those countries; that revenge must be sought on all those perceived to be allied to the West. Christian minorities are first in the firing line and wrongly painted as an extension of Western imperialism in their midst, but they are also an easy target where loose laws and inequities can allow a land-dispute to turn quite easily into a blasphemy charge and death sentence. Muslims in the UK are quite rightly pointing out that Christians are People of the Book and reiterating the regular peaceful rhetoric. However, something more needs to be done, beyond appeasing stances of faith which serve only to console one’s personal religious conscience rather than the needs of the wider human community.
Every Muslim land has its own history, its own set of peculiar experiences in relation to its minorities. The Muslim Christian experience is not homogeneous across the Muslim world. British Pakistanis are well placed to speak with authority on the plight of Muslim Christian relations in Pakistan. It appears that there are a different set of dynamics in relations, say, between Christian and Muslim in the Middle East, than there are between Christian and Muslim Pakistanis. For instance, Christian and Muslim Palestinians can sit round a table together to share food, share festivities; Pakistani Christians and Pakistani Muslims generally do not share this mutual respect. Coptic Christians are being persecuted in Egypt yet there are snapshots of hope from these communities who have lived together peaceably for centuries, who can appear in solidarity together on British television, or in each other’s religious places of worship – regarding each other as fellow Egyptians and more importantly humans first and foremost.
Pakistan has some despicable and entrenched views on Christians, engrained long before 9/11. Pakistan’s history with Christians is linked to British colonial rule that saw large sections of the poorest in society offered hope and opportunity as a result of conversion. Despite this opportunity to increase social standing, current views on the Christian population are probably some of the most abysmal views anywhere in the world. Discrimination is deeply entrenched against brown Christians – who are perceived to be converts from low caste Hinduism who tried to escape the Dalit stigma. Convert though they may have, the Untouchable status has stuck for Christians – converts from Hinduism to Islam however escaped the stigma, although many remnants of the caste system remain entrenched. At the time of Partition, for example, Christians were forcibly retained in the city of Karachi to ensure there was someone to at least do the undesirable jobs, such as to clean the sewers, rubbish collection, road sweeping and general dogsbody – theirs by default. A Common word of insult in the Urdu language is “dirty (Christian) sweeper”. However pockets of rebellion against the status quo are beginning to emerge within Pakistan, and we are seeing independent movements trying to turn the tide. Increasingly, public acts of kindness and humanity are being displayed, for example, human chains being formed by Muslims and Christians around Christian places of worship. There is also a growing momentum of vocal protest by Muslims in Pakistan whether in print, or on social media sites where people can openly condemn the violence in their midst, expressing their solidarity with minorities of all creeds.
Traditionally the hierarchy and position of Christians is never discussed let alone challenged within Pakistan or its communities abroad. Many having migrated abroad and finding themselves a minority in a Christian land, have realised that their predicament is far from that of the minorities they left behind; roles are not reversed and they are not expected to clean the sewers – although they may do so if they so choose to – retaining full rights with dignity intact! In contrast, Muslims in Christians lands are treated humanely, given equal opportunity, and so that is why Prince Charles was quite right in recently encouraging British Muslims to take stock of their positions within a more global framework and thus be more vocal in condemning injustice faced by minority Christians in Muslim lands.
The new generation of British Muslims of Pakistani heritage may have cast off this mind-set and declared that it is a malpractice alien to true Islam, but disassociation is no longer enough – like it or not many of us are linked through ground realities, and through blood ties – by default rather than design, we represent the British Pakistani mood in Britain – hence our silence speaks volumes. British Muslims of Pakistani origin (predominantly a religious minority themselves in Britain) can actively condemn the psychological and physical persecution of Christians in Pakistan by being more vocal, lobbying MPs, petitioning and using their privileged platform of free speech. Individuals and some charitable groups have started to do this, by providing religious as well as increasingly secular platforms for people of Pakistani origin of all denominations to unite and condemn persecution. A charity that provides updates on the Christian community’s plight is BPCA headed by Wilson Choudhury. It is doing tremendous work on reporting and informing on religious persecution. Their campaigns and up-to-date newsfeeds can be found at http://www.britishpakistanichristians.co.uk and http://britishpakistanichristian.blogspot.co.uk.
Although support is emerging, British Christian Pakistanis need the full backing of the rest of the British Pakistani community to be truly effective. Religious affiliation should not come in the way of standing united against brutality and injustice. We share an affinity: food, culture, music, clothes, a locality, a history. British Pakistanis of whatever persuasion, need to express their solidarity and amplify their condemnation of the predicament faced by Pakistan’s minorities – and all those persecuted anywhere for that matter – with the same vehemence usually reserved for the Rohingya or the Palestinian.