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Christians don't need utopia in Pakistan

Minorities must achieve equality within society, not without

Christians don't need utopia in Pakistan
Christians protest in Lahore
Silent Thinker, Lahore

July 3, 2012

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A major reason for the popularity of Saint Thomas More was his book Utopia, which spoke of the perfect society. The book has influenced readers across the centuries, inspiring many to seek a better and happier world, although admittedly along very different lines. Bakers, beer makers and record producers have also cashed in on the popularity of the term “utopia,” in an effort to depict an idealistic land free of turmoil. Problems arise, however, when people use the term in a literal and programmatic sense. Take for example the words of Joseph Francis, a Catholic human rights activist, who made a series of demands last week in resolving the crisis facing the country’s minority communities. “The government must form a separate province for minorities if it cannot end extremism, religious intolerance, discriminatory laws, denationalize missionary schools, misuse of blasphemy laws, give fair political representation to non-Muslims and abolish provisions of Islam as the state religion and conditions of only Muslims as president and prime minister,” Francis said. Few picked up on his comments, and only a small number of news agencies bothered to investigate. Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ National Commission for Justice and Peace described it in one news story as “a frustrating response” to genuine concerns. Francis’ ideal is reminiscent of Takistan (Urdu translation of “Biblical garden”) or Christland, coined by the late Archbishop Allama Daniel Tasleem. The founder of the Methodist Church in Pakistan had also demanded a separate area for Christians in 1997, located between the Ravi and Satluj rivers in Punjab province. The demand followed the first major anti-Christian violence in Shanti Nagar village in the state. Thousands of Muslims destroyed 785 houses, four churches and burned several head of cattle. Exiled Christian leader Nazir S. Bhatti in his book The Trial of the Pakistani Christian Nation wrote that he sought a similar solution in 1992, after which he became the target of harassment. Bhatti later clarified his position, saying that his party sought a separate Christian province within a federated Pakistan and not an independent Christian country or an exiled government of Christland or Takistan. As much as I respect these leaders for their heartfelt apprehensions, the notion of a segregated Christian utopia is unrealistic and impractical. A separate territory for Christians cannot exist, nor can it guarantee equal rights to minorities. Hindus are the largest minority group in Pakistan, but they have not tabled any such solution to the problem of religious discrimination. In a country with a long history of dictatorship and religious violence, there is no precedent for the creation of a new province. The closest example of this in the 65-year history of the country is the renaming of the Northern Province for ethnic Pashtuns. As well, there has been some progress toward the creation of Seraiki province for south Punjabis, but this was only along linguistic or ethnic lines, not on religious ones. Even if such a solution were to materialize out of the blue, the establishment of a separate religious province would backfire. It would be painting a bull’s-eye on the back of an already vulnerable community. Not only would it make Christians more vulnerable to discrimination and inequality, but it would also increase their seclusion and alienation from the mainstream. Low-income Christians who prefer living in ghettos are usually deprived of civic facilities. The disgraceful state of the roads in Youhanabad, the largest Christian enclave in Punjab province, is already a nuisance for residents. Another practical question is who would live in this utopian province? “We would be jumping into another crisis. We are now united against a common enemy, which is a positive thing. Later we would be fighting among ourselves, Father Bonnie Mendes, a renowned peace activist, told me recently. The priest summarizes the case quite well. The struggle for a perfect society is utopia itself. It is the passion of achieving equal rights that drives our community and can make it a refined nation, not the imposition of an artificial reality under the mythical flag of Takistan. Silent Thinker is the pseudonym of a Catholic commentator based in Lahore
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