GOJRA, Pakistan, Aug. 2 — They do not want to bury the Christians. They want the nation to see them.
By nightfall Sunday, hundreds of residents of the Christian enclave here stood in defiant vigil around seven particleboard coffins neatly aligned on the train tracks that run through town. They had demands: Until the government investigates the killings and finds those responsible, they will not remove the bodies.
Police waited warily in the street. A man on a loudspeaker bellowed the villagers’ sentiments, which included anger at provincial authorities for not stopping the killings.
“Death to the Punjab government!”
A spasm of religious violence came to this rural town in the shape of an angry Muslim mob Saturday morning. The Muslims marched to avenge what they believed was the desecration of a Koran one week earlier. When it was over, dozens of houses were torched and Faith Bible Pentecostal Church lay in ruins. Two villagers were shot dead, residents said. Five others, including two children, burned alive.
Killing has become commonplace in Pakistan. But this attack startled the country both for its ferocity and for its stark message to religious minorities. Many saw the violence as further evidence of the growing power of the Taliban and allied Islamist militant groups in Punjab province, home to about half of Pakistan’s population.
“They have made up their minds to crush Christianity. They always call us dogs of America, agents of America,” said Romar Sardar, an English teacher from the area. “There has been no protection by the police. Nothing.”
The conflict apparently began with a wedding. On the evening of July 25, a wedding procession for a Christian couple passed through the nearby village of Korian, according to a police report. Revelers danced and threw money in the air, as is local custom. In the morning, a resident told police he had picked up scraps of paper on the ground and found Arabic writing. “We examined them, and it was the pages from the holy Koran,” the man said in the report.
Four days later, the accused, a member of the wedding party named Talib Masih, faced a meeting of local elders, who demanded that he be punished. Instead of repenting, the report said, he denied the desecration, and as a result, “the whole Muslim population was enraged.” The house burning began that night and then quieted down until Saturday morning.
That day, Riaz Masih, 68, a retired teacher, grew increasingly worried as a crowd gathered, chanting anti-Christian slogans and cursing Americans. He locked his house and rushed with his wife and children to the home of a Muslim friend nearby. The crowd, some wearing black veils and carrying guns, turned down Masih’s narrow brick alley near the train tracks and into the Christian Colony, according to several witnesses. Residents and marchers threw rocks at each other, and gunfire broke out. Using what residents described as gasoline and other flammable chemicals, the mob torched Masih’s house.
“We have nothing left,” he said, standing in the charred remains of his living room, his daughter’s empty jewelry box at his feet. “We are trying to face this in the name of Jesus Christ. The Bible says you cannot take revenge.”
On Sunday, the scenes of wreckage and dismay played out in house after house. Residents tossed burned blankets and clothing, broken televisions, and charred beds into heaps on the street. Fruit seller Iqbal Masih, 49, stepped over his mangled carts on his patio and tried to assess what was left of his daughter’s dowry. The armoire, a refrigerator, the bedding were burned; the $675 for furniture had disappeared.
“I am out of my mind. I can’t look,” he said. “They have subjected us to severe cruelties. May God show them the right path.”
At least four of the dead came from a single house. As the mob approached, a bullet struck Hamid Masih, a builder, in the head as he stood in his doorway, said his son, Min Has. Has heaved his father onto a motorcycle and drove him to a hospital, while the rest of the family members crowded in a back bedroom. The house began burning, and smoked billowed into the rooms. At least three other relatives, including 5- and 8-year-old siblings, died in the flames, according to residents. “There was fire everywhere, and it was impossible for them to get out,” Has said.
“I know one thing. They want to destroy Christians,” said Atiq Masih, 22, a janitor who was shot in the right knee. “They were attacking everything.”
Christians, who make up about 2 percent of the Punjab population, have been targeted in other recent cases. In June, a mob attacked Christian homes in the Kasur district of Punjab for allegedly dishonoring the prophet Mohammed. In Pakistan, which has strict laws against blasphemy, people can be imprisoned for life or put to death for insulting Islam.
Residents in Gojra said that this was the first incident of its kind in the town and that Christians and Muslims have long lived alongside one another without serious problems. They blamed Muslim clerics for inciting anger over the Koran incident in mosque sermons and accused the Taliban and the militant group Sipah-e-Sahaba of involvement in the attack.
“The provincial government is not accepting that a large part of Punjab is suffering from religious intolerance due to the Taliban and religious outfits,” said Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the National Commission for Justice and Peace, which issues an annual report on religious minorities in Pakistan. “They have been very negligent. This conflict was brewing for three days, and they were not receptive. They were not taking it seriously.”
Pakistan’s president and prime minister have called for investigations into the violence. By Sunday, police and paramilitary troops had taken up positions in the town. Provincial authorities said they have already made arrests and registered cases against 800 people. Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti denied that any Koran had been desecrated.
Police in Gojra said the violence Saturday was beyond their control.
“It happened all of a sudden. The police that were here were too few in number to stop it,” said policeman Kashif Sadiq. “It’s not fair to assume they let this happen intentionally.”
The so-called Islamic world is in crisis because many see enemies all over the place, be it democracy, Westernization, liberalism, socialism, and so forth. While alternative faiths are frowned upon, therefore, Christian and Buddhist missionaries must be aware for merely talking about your faith can mean either prison or death. Yet the real threat to Muslims and minority Muslim groups within various different nations is their fellow co-religionists, so why are outsiders hated so much when the real threat is Islam itself?
After all, since 1970 approximately 5 million Muslims have been killed by fellow Muslims, however, one mention of Israel, and we hear about the Muslim unity card. However, the real “Muslim unity card” is a non-starter and this applies to the very foundations of Islam itself because the majority of early Muslim caliphs were killed by Muslims. Therefore, the current situation is similar to the past because it is based on internal tensions and mutual hatreds which run deep.
The Kurds are a prime example because the majority of Kurdish people follow the Islamic faith, most are Sunni. Despite this, the Kurds, irrespective if Sunni or Shia, face persecution in modern day Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. The Kurds, ironically, have much greater freedoms in mainly Christian Armenia where a minority reside or throughout the European Union where many have fled because of persecution in the Middle East.
Therefore, the Kurds, the biggest stateless people in the world are marginalized and persecuted by fellow Muslims throughout the Middle East where they reside. Yet Muslims in the Middle East often speak-out for the Palestinian cause, however, the very same people often remain silent about the Kurdish cause. Therefore, it is clear that double standards are at play and Israel is a very easy scapegoat.
After all, look at recent history and the reality of the modern world. For since 1970 at least 5 million Muslims have been killed by their co-religionists on the grounds of Sunni-Shia divisions, ethnic tensions, political tensions, and other issues.
This applies to the Iran-Iraq war; the persecution of African Muslims in Darfur by the Arab Muslim dominated government in Khartoum; Kurdish persecution in Iran, Iraq, and Turkey (deaths have been a lot lower in Syria but persecution does take place); Pakistan-Bangladesh war; Algeria, Somalia, Syria (1982); Tajikistan; Yemen; and other nations. Also, roughly 150,000 Shia Muslims have been killed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, by Sunni Islamic fanatics.
Despite this reality we have world leaders like President Obama of America appealing to the so-called Muslim world for a fresh start. Yet surely an internal fresh start is needed first, however, it seems most unlikely because the spiral of hatred runs very deep.
Therefore, do Shia Muslims in America, France, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and other mainly non-Muslim nations reside in fear? Of course the answer is no. Yet Shia Muslims have been targeted in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and other nations, by Sunni Islamic zealots. Meanwhile in Saudi Arabia it is clear that Shia Muslims are second-class citizens because the Sunni elite do not believe in religious equality.
Then if we look at one Muslim branch, the Ahmadiyya’s, and the Bahai’s which is an offshoot from Islam (but an independent religion), it becomes apparent that internal Islamic hatred and persecution is strong. After all, the Bahai community in Iran and the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan, suffer enormous persecution.
Therefore, many Bahai’s and Ahmadiyya’s have fled both Iran and Pakistan respectively, but if either fled to Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia, or other conservative Muslim nations, then they would suffer persecution once more. Given this, many Bahai’s and Ahmadiyya’s have fled to mainly non-Muslim nations because they have much greater freedom.
Then if we focus on al-Qaeda (al-Qaida) and Osama Bin Laden and fellow Sunni Islamic zealots, then we see a similar pattern. For when al-Qaeda emerged in Afghanistan they took their deadly sectarian ways with them and Shia Muslims were murdered in cold blood by forces loyal to al-Qaeda. The same happened when al-Qaeda entered the Iraqi civil war because once more they slaughtered Shia Muslims at will and moderate Sunni Muslim leaders were also killed by Sunni Muslim fanatics who had been brainwashed.
Given this, it is clear that Muslim unity is not only a sham but it is based on lies and sadly many elements within the mass media are ignoring this reality. Yet if Israel kills Palestinians in self-defence or during a military operation, then the usual mantra of Muslim brotherhood and Muslim persecution is raised.
However, the real reality is very different because the vast majority of Muslims who are killed throughout the world are killed by their co-religionists.
Therefore, the biggest persecutor of Muslims in the modern world is being done by their own co-religionists. At the same time, the deniers of democracy, religious freedom, female emancipation, and other important issues, are Muslim elites in many Muslim majority nations.
Also, it is abundantly clear that America and other nations are not anti-Muslim. After all, you have had three wars in Europe involving Muslims and Orthodox Christians in recent times. This applies to Cyprus, Bosnia, and Kosovo (Serbia), and every time America supported Islam against Orthodox Christianity. Just like America supported Indonesia despite countless massacres of Timorese people in the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s.
However, when the Arab dominated regime in Khartoum, Sudan, was killing millions of mainly African Christians and Animists in southern Sudan did mainly Muslim nations enter Sudan to stop the bloodshed. Of course they did not and many African slaves in Sudan were sold internally but the outcry was very silent in the so-called Muslim world.
Despite everything, the President of America, Obama, is offering an “olive branch” but surely it should be the other way around. For in America people have the right to follow any religion they want or to have no religion. Yet in the land of Mecca and Medina (Saudi Arabia) you are not allowed to have one single Christian church, Buddhist temple, Hindu temple, or any other non-Muslim place of worship.
Therefore, what is the real agenda? Is it that Saudi Arabia can do whatever it likes because of their massive amounts of oil reserves? For this nation is spreading radical Sunni Islam to Afghanistan, Chechnya (Russian Federation), Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, and many other nations, without any fear. Or is it that political correctness means we have to be pro-Islamic to show how nice we are, therefore, minority Muslim branches, Christians and other non-Muslims are allowed to be “lambs to the slaughter of Islam?” Or is it a mixture of both or collective amnesia?
Maybe I will always be in lament because Israel is the easy scapegoat and of course many Muslims appear to believe that they are victims. However, the real truth couldn’t be further away because the biggest threat to minority Muslim groups and to the freedom of Muslims, is being done in the name of Islam by either radical zealots or despotic rulers who invoke Sharia Islamic law in order to preserve their respective power bases.
The mass media should take a long look at itself and start to question the so-called House of Islam, Arab unity, Muslim brotherhood, and so forth. For Arab unity ignores both Arab disunity and the many non-Arab groups who reside in Arab dominated nations. While the House of Islam was divided within a short time of the death of Mohammed and Muslim brotherhood is based on unreality.