Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali is the former Bishop of Raiwind in Pakistan. He spoke to Newsday’s Andrew Peach.
Bishop Michael: There has been a pattern of for example, mob violence against Christian communities, churches and sometimes even individuals, but this really is plumbing the depths of evil, because this time the target has been children and mothers playing at the swings. I don’t know of a softer target than that. So yes, things seem very bad here, from that point of view.
Interviewer: So it’s part of a series of attacks of this sort – attacks on churches, on Christian villages, that kind of thing, but also in a broader context in Pakistan – Christians facing violence; blasphemy laws have been targeting Christians in change recently.
Bishop Michael: Yes, there are layers of persecution, so there is legal discrimination against Christians, I mean that is embedded in the law now, and that was brought about 25/30 years ago. Then there is social discrimination in employment, in housing opportunities and schooling. Then as you say, there has been this mob violence. That has been very serious, lots of people have been killed, institutions destroyed. And now more recently there has been this terrorist attack, again part of a series of attacks – you may remember some churches were attacked last year.
How this has come about, because I remember a time, I was a bishop here before I was a bishop in England, and Christians and Muslims and others lived together amicably, neighbors went to the same schools, and ate in the same restaurants.
This has been brought about by this process of radicalisation based on an ideology that is regarded as based on religion. And it is not for me to say how authentic that is, but that is for other people to say how distorted it is or how authentic, but that is what is causing these problems.
Interviewer: And Michael, if that is your analysis on why this is happening, what do you think could change things in terms of stopping the persecution of Christians in Pakistan?
Bishop Michael: Yes, I think that is a very good question. I think there are a number of things. I think we need to address the teaching of hatred that children are absorbing from schooldays in their textbooks, in religious schools, even by religious teachers sometimes in public gatherings. That has to be addressed urgently.
The other is that we need changes in the law so that equality under the law is guaranteed for all. One law for all must be a principle that is recognised. Fundamental freedoms, particularly freedom of expression, need to be safeguarded. And then of course there is the rampant misuse of the blasphemy laws. I have suggested again and again to successive governments how to deal with this, and I’ve had verbal agreement, ‘yes you know, it sounds a good idea we will do it,’ but in fact very little has been done. All those things which certainly improve the situation are of course the army and the security services are engaged, from their angle in curbing terrorist activity, and that is good, but I think these underlying causes also need to be addressed.
Listen to it all [Unofficial transcript by The Elves]