Sunday, 1 May 2011

Pakistani Christians discover the appeal of secularism

Two people were killed and at least 16 wounded in a series of bomb attacks on the homes of minority Christians in the Iraqi capital Baghdad. During the Christmas festival, six people were killed in attacks on two Christian churches in north-eastern Nigeria and six were wounded by a bomb in a Roman Catholic Church on the island of Jolo in the Philippines.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the 27 EU ministers had agreed to "go back and reflect" on how, in the course of backing religious freedoms and tolerance, the bloc could "make sure we recognise individual communities of whatever religion who find themselves being harassed or worse".

Diplomats have accused Lady Ashton of evading a truthful representation of the problem in an effort to appease Muslim sensibilities and a "clash of civilisations" after Egypt reacted furiously to a request from Pope Benedict XVI for better protection for the country's Christian minority.

Pakistani Christians discover the appeal of secularism
The Pakistan Catholic Bishops' Conference has suddenly discovered the benefits of secularism.

In a statement issued in Lahore, the Bishops said: "We strongly condemn target killings and judicial ruling on journalists, especially in cases against political workers. We support the political process without any armed or religious interference. It is imperative to separate religion from state matters."

The pope has urged a repeal of the blasphemy laws, but more than 40,000 people recently rallied in Lahore for their retention.

"Many Christians are fearful of a Muslim backlash after the pope's appeal," said Father Abid Habib, president of the Major Superiors Leadership Conference of Pakistan, as banners glorifying Qadri (Governor Salmaan Taseer's bodyguard and murderer) still flutter in the roads of Punjab province.

Under the blasphemy laws, life imprisonment is the maximum sentence for an insult to the Qur'an, while the death penalty is automatic for anyone convicted of insulting Prophet Muhammad. Church leaders have long charged, and indeed it is widely acknowledged, that the blasphemy laws are being abused for personal gain and to harass non-Muslims. NGOs record 1,392 people were killed in blasphemy laws-related violence.

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: "It is amazing that the Catholic bishops in Pakistan only discover the benefits of secularism when they are the persecuted minority. Perhaps the bishops should send a message to the pope that it is good not just in Pakistan for religion to be kept separate from the state and civil life. Perhaps the bishops should remind him that his own penchant for interference in politics also brings disadvantage to some people. And while he's condemning blasphemy law, perhaps he could mention to the Irish government that it needs to repeal its own blasphemy law, not a medieval relic, or even a remnant of British imperialism, but recently introduced without a murmur of dissent from the Vatican."

Mr Sanderson said that secularism could provide a bulwark against state-sanctioned religious warfare, but it shouldn't be used selectively, as the Catholic Church is now attempting to do, primarily to protect its own interests and that of other Christians.

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