Mideast Nations Must Protect Minority Rights
By MATT GELLER
Several months ago, Yousaf Qureshi made international headlines after offering $6,000 to anyone who killed a Christian woman guilty of blasphemy. In recent days, he congratulated the murderers who assassinated Shahbaz Bhati, the minorities minister of Pakistan who spoke out against the country’s blasphemy laws. The government has done little to curb Qureshi’s incitements of violence.
“I can announce that we are coming to the street with 4,000 armed students,” he said, “What can the government do?”
Shahbaz Bhatti, the sole Christian cabinet member in majority-Muslim Pakistan, was shot multiple times by gunmen who surrounded his car as he left for work from his mother’s house, in a residential neighborhood. The attackers have yet to be caught, but fliers left at the scene indicate that Punjabi Taliban and al-Qaeda committed it.
Just prior to Bhatti’s assassination, his own bodyguard killed the governor of the province of Punjab, Salman Teer after declaring his support for the repeal of the country’s blasphemy laws as well as for recommending that Asia Bibi, a Christian woman facing death charges for insulting Islam, be pardoned.
Iraq is still reeling from the 2010 church massacre, in which Islamic extremists following church services killed 52 Iraqi Catholics. Catholics made up 2.89 percent of the population in 1980. As of 2010, that percentage is down to .89 percent. Attacks on Christians by Islamic militants have increased dramatically since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
In Egypt, the tensions between the Muslim majority and the Christian minority have been escalating since the deadly New Year’s eve bombing outside of a Coptic Christian church that killed 21 people. Most recently, clashes between Christians and Muslims in Cairo have resulted in 13 deaths and 140 injuries over a feud between a Christian and Muslim family.
In the last year, increases of attacks against Indonesian churches and Christians have increased markedly.
With the government seemingly unwilling or unable to stop the vigilante style violence, coupled with judiciary ineffectiveness to stand up for minority rights, conservative Muslims have taken this as silent approval to continue to stamp out what they consider blasphemous behavior.
Both Indonesia and Pakistan support legislature against the “defamation of religions” at the UN Human Rights Council. Each year, the Council votes on the resolution, which is proposed by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Congress, to address concerns about the rise of Islamophobia around the world.
However, it seems that this legislation needs to provide for all faiths and not just Islam. Both Indonesia and Pakistan have it in their constitutions that no one should be oppressed because of their personal faith, but as of yet, it would seem that both governments are not doing enough to provide for the safety and security of its minorities.
These attacks against minorities come in stark contrast to the revolutions that have been occurring throughout the region. The world supports the Muslim world’s legitimate demands for freedom and equality, but if the Muslim world wants to progress, and move toward becoming more democratic and free, they need to do much more to protect other groups’ rights to freedom and safety.
In the Middle East, and the Muslim world as a whole, the Christian minority has been declining since at least the 1980s. The only country with a growing Christian population is Israel, the region’s only Jewish majority state.
In a world with increasing religious tolerance, the time is long overdue for this region to recognize the rights of the minorities within their borders.