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Some participants hold up signs with their messages: 23% to 3% strikes a chord. Where have Pakistan's minorities gone?
British Pakistani Christian Association sign protesting the blasphemy law and calling for victims to be given asylum
With the situation of Asia Bibi highlighting the extreme marginalization of the small Christian minority in Pakistan many Pakistani Christians feel this invisibility extends to their new homes in western countries. Politicians who were noticeably silence, refused or have delayed in speaking up on behalf of Asia Bibi are now being asked some hard questions that they would rather not answer.
The silence of politicians of Pakistani origins like the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Canadian Member of Parliament Iqra Khalid, most famous for her M-103 Islamophobia motion in the House of Commons, screams particular and seemingly intentional neglect to their compatriots from Pakistani minorities. This does not make any reasonable sense to the general population either, and has raised the ire of both human rights activists, including Peter Tatchell and Pak-Christians who want justice for Asia Bibi and are decidedly fatigued with being invisible.
A young woman who was born in Canada to Pakistani-Christian parents organized a rally for supporters of Asia Bibi in conjunction with the BPCA, calling for Asia Bibi to be given asylum in Canada on November 9th protesters could be heard chanting: "Give Asia Asylum!" outside MP Iqra Khalid's constituency office.
Later an unrelated evening event was well attended by a cross-section of people from the Pakistani Christians Churches from Greater Toronto area and blended both political action and prayer. Numerous churches were represented by clergy and congregants who attended in support of the cause. Many dignitaries, and politicians were present to hear the communities concerns raised as prayers offered to God on behalf of Asia Bibi and others fleeing distressing consequences of the blasphemy laws. Peter Bhatti the brother of slain former Federal Minister for Minorities was present at the meeting.
Many Pak-Canadian Christians have felt ignored and marginalized by PM Trudeau's government and feel his policies have contributed to their continued marginalization in Canada. There has been a longstanding reluctance for the Liberal Party in Canada to categorically condemn the blasphemy laws (they say only that they need reform) and they entertained and passed a motion submitted by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, who is Pakistani-Muslim, that gave some special status making it a particular type of discrimination for people to speak against Islam, which was alarming for those who have been victims of religious discrimination and more severe persecution by Muslims in their countries of origin given that they came to Canada to get away from such attitudes.
The rally organizer noted:
"...It's the perfect time to point out the hypocrisy of Iqra Khalid. Asia's case is a blatant example of religious discrimination and prejudice.
"Iqra Khalid, the creator of Motion 103 that calls on the Canadian government to quell religious discrimination and prejudice, is silent. As she usually is when Muslims are on the giving end of this issue."
Pakistani Christians know the depth of grief and the generational trauma of their shared experience. As the second generation of foreign-born Pak-Christians find their voice they have the expectation that they will be heard in western countries and be able to tell their stories without being bullied into silent submission like they collectively were back in their parent's homeland.
BPCA Representative Keri-Lynn Gibbs particularly brought forward the abuses against Christians in Pakistani, especially those who have been accused of blasphemy, the stranded asylum seekers in third countries such as Thailand, and the fact that the blasphemy laws hurt all Pakistanis. (click here)
Ms Gibbs spoke of the generational trauma of Pak-Christians at the rally and noted that the marginalisation of religious minorities continues to be something that they face from the dominant group even in Canada.
"I see it in the comments that are made to them in the mother tongue and there is bullying that happens right in the classroom that educators need to deal with."
One young Pak-Christian woman also shared an experience from when she was 9 years old about how after telling her close childhood friend that she did not fast during Ramadan she was rejected by her. When the young Pakistani girl realized that she was not Muslim she quickly let go of her hand, throwing it back as if it was dirty and told her she could not be friends with a kaffir. She said of that experience:
"Someone intentionally taught her to hate, children don't just act like that on their own. There was a time that all Pakistanis who were new got along and helped each other when they came to Canada, but after the first mosque was built in my city the imams started teaching attendees at the mosques to not associate with kaffir (derogatory term for non-Muslims)."
Underscoring the seeming neglect from politicians of Pakistani of origins to advocate for the concerns of Pakistani religious minorities as a matter of policy, the organizer further posted:
"The call to action for Iqra Khalid: is recognize minority persecution in Pakistan."
"Give Asia Asylum" was held on 9 November in Mississauga and British Pakistani Christian Association was there to stand with the Pak-Canadian community. Keri-Lynn Gibbs said:
"The weather was bone-chilling and driving in freezing rain was not advisable but people rallied and stood with signs outside Iqra Khalid's office, that read: "Give Asia Asylum!"; "Iqra, is Asia Bibi Islamophobic?"; and "23 to 3%!" which emphasizes the steep decline of religious minorities since Pakistan's independence.
"The Pakistani High Commissioner to Canada is on the record as saying, 'There is no religious persecution in Pakistan,' but the 23 to 3 % decline in religious minorities would indicate otherwise."
Christine Blatchford of Canadian publication the National Post also wrote in August of the long "bewildering silence by Canadian politicians" in the current government on the Asia Bibi case back in August. (click here)
This irony of the long silence was not lost on her given that Canada has had a legendary reputation after fellow blasphemy victim Rimsha Masih, a young disabled girl, and her family were granted asylum by the Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and evacuated from Pakistan.
When Ms Blatchford wrote of the "bewildering silence by Canadian politicians" (click here) she, however, did not mean Salma Ataullahjan, Canada’s first senator of Pakistani and Pashtun descent who is also a practicing Muslim. Senator Ataullahjan raised concerns about Asia Bibi with senior Pakistani officials as far back as 2010 and then travelled with then Multicultural Minister Jason Kenney to the funeral of martyr, Pakistani Minister of Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, who was also assassinated for speaking up for Asia Bibi.
Along these lines, a statement by Immigration Critic Michelle Rempel last week reminded the Canadian government of these actions, flanked by her colleagues made on behalf of the Conservative Caucus, when they asked the Canada's government to give Asia Bibi asylum.(click here) After being pressed in the House of Commons by MP Garnett Genuis a brief statement indicating that the Canadian government was "in talks with likeminded allies". While in France, PM Trudeau has said that Canada is now in talks with Pakistan about possible asylum, but this overture was not immediate.
There are some Sunni Muslims (the majority in Pakistan) who are gravely concerned about the human rights of minorities in the region; however even they who want to set forth a positive example for others within their religion are marginalised for telling the truth in an attempt to silence them. When sympathetic Muslims are interviewed by westerner reporters, who do not understand the historical background or how the situation has worsened for Pak-Christians over time, these reporters appear to minimalise the concerns of their interview subjects.
A clear example of this minimalising attitude is seen in an interview on BBC Hardtalk located with the Pak-Canadian human rights activist, Raheel Raza of Muslims Facing Tomorrow where the interviewer questions her understanding of the range of practices in her own religion, shockingly even going so far as to infer she was encouraging negative perceptions of Islam instead of what she was trying to do: look at the situation honestly in its historical context and create a bridge for peace. (click here)
Raheel Raza's treatment as an advocate for them even though she is Muslim underscores the marginalization of Pakistani religious minorities worldwide. (Click here) to hear the interview and her other media interviews.
Christie Blatford noted the close relationship of Prime Minister Trudeau to the Aga Khan, and Liberal Pak-Canadian MP Iqra Khalid who raised the Islamophobia Motion in the House of Commons. Both politicians by whom Pakistani-Canadian Christians feel considerably neglected and habitually ignored, despite Mr Trudeau's mantra that Canada is a safe and welcoming place for everyone.
Keri Lynn-Gibbs with Peter Bhatti (Brother of Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti)
Keri-Lynn Gibbs, BPCA Representative in Canada observed:
"Pakistani Christians often do feel invisible in Canadian society, at a recent social engagement that I was at a Pak-Canadian woman described how she was greeted with a special Islamic holiday greeting and replied both by thanking them for the kind greeting and telling them, 'I am Christian,' only to be welcomed by shocked and confused expressions."
Recently a journalist from Canada's public broadcasting company the CBC, Isra Kasana wrote a reflective opinion piece about The dangers of self ghettoization, where he discussed problems Pakistanis from his Muslim community and also the Sikh community have had integrating into Canadian life, and encouraged them to live in more diverse settings.
It was a nice, well-meaning article; however once again Pakistani Christians were seemingly treated like an invisible community or some sort of anomaly to be marginalized to the sidelines in Canadian society.
One charitable reader, Marilyn Benjamin, whose opinion was asked about the article guessed:
"It is true that Pakistani Christians tend to spend time with a variety of people, so maybe he just has not observed this problem in our community? Perhaps he didn't think we warranted any criticism on this issue?
"Maybe he is only talking about his personal experience or he has no Pakistani Christian friends?"
Another reviewer of the article sighed:
"Reading this article it does seem as if we don't exist. The writer could have at least noted why he didn't mention us. The CBC should be more inclusive."
In Great Britain as the fight for Asia Bibi's freedom continues, human rights and LGBTQI activist Peter Tatchell who is well-known for his work supporting humanitarian efforts around the world, including the persecution of Muslims in countries where they are a minority, tweeted:
"Critics say I'm a racist for tagging @Sadiq Khan in my tweet about #AsiaBibi. Sadiq is one of Pakistani heritage & recently met with leaders there. He has contacts & influence in Pakistan, so him speaking out could help save Asia's life. He'd be a more effective politician than a white politician."
In an other tweet, he further explained:
"I am not holding British-Pakistanis or Muslims responsible for the plight of Asia Bibi I am simply asking them to help her."
"If they speak out, their voices will have more impact. They can help save her life."
Mr Tatchell's logic seems very much in line with that of the rally organizer's reason for her demonstration as they do not understand how the untenable situation for Pakistani Christians can be completely ignored by the Pakistani Muslim diaspora leaders in western nations.
Pakistani Christians simply want the persecution of Christians by the great majority of Pakistani Muslim diaspora recognized and longstanding neglect by her own government dealt with. The willingness to discuss giving asylum to Asia Bibi is start; however it reflects the human rights lobby for one woman and not the generally expressed attitude towards their community on an ongoing basis.
The bemused and bewildered disposition of Mr Tatchell is clear in that he really does not seem to understand why anyone, but especially those from Asia Bibi's same ethnicity would not want to help save her life. Rather than considering him racist for asking the question, it might be better said that he expected the best of humanity from British-Pakistanis and not the rude backlash that he faced.
Wilson Chowdhry said:
"It is not racism to point out Sadiq Khan's neglect to speak up for a woman that he very well could have helped. As a British-Pakistani I find these awkward and desperate jabs at silencing calls for accountability by calling it 'racism' rather bizarre to say the least.
"It is also not racism to pass comment on the understanding that if you are from a particular culture you may be better equipped to handle objections or get things done.
"I am also sure that more moderate Muslims worldwide, who likely appreciate the freedoms and benefits of democracy, would have appreciated some show of solidarity with religious minorities or an indication that not everyone in their community wished Asia Bibi ill, after the hordes screaming for her hanging showed the very visceral hatred they sincerely feel.
"But perhaps he like so many are too afraid to speak up for human rights when the victims are targeted by Islamist extremists...
"Mr Khan's fears may have been well warranted, after all over 163, 000 British-Pakistani Muslims liked a Facebook page calling to make an assassin a saint! (click here)
"Brave Pakistani leaders like Salmaan Taseer get gunned down for speaking up for Asia Bibi! However progressive Muslims in the UK have been supportive of her case and should we not lend ourselves to hope for the future?
"British Pakistani Christians have been the targets of hate attacks by others of Pakistani origin. We are glad to receive the support of anyone willing to speak up for us. It takes a lot of courage to stand with us and not everyone has the intestinal fortitude to do so.
"Pakistani-Christian diaspora are also targets of racism, but the kaffirophobia (hatred of non-Muslims) from within their ethnicity is often left unchecked and ignored by the nations in which they land."
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