The Anatomy of an Attack on Christians in Pakistan

A quarrel between friends and perhaps the politics of a local industry apparently combine with Pakistan’s blasphemy laws to create a fresh conflagration

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K.M. Chaudary / AP

A Pakistani Christian woman holding her son stands among the rubble of their home damaged by an angry Muslim mob in Lahore, Pakistan, on March 10, 2013

Did the attack occur just because he and his neighbors are Christians? Kala Jee Allah Ditta is crouching on the remains of his home in the Pakistani community of Badami Bagh, near Lahore’s landmark railway station. All that remains of the boundary wall is a jagged edge at each end. Broken masonry is strewn around him, along with broken doors and crumpled sheets of metal. The small, three-room home he shared with six other relatives is deeply charred. The flames melted the blades of the ceiling fan, leaving the mounting device dangling awkwardly on its own. Below, broken bits of cups and plates are strewn across the floor. In a corner, a faint curl of smoke still rises from a pile of broken wood.

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The scene is depressingly reminiscent of an earlier tragedy. In 2009, a group of masked gunmen went door-to-door setting fire to homes and churches in a similar clustered and overcrowded colony of small, red brick Christian homes in the town of Gojra, which like Badami Bagh is in the Pakistani province of Punjab. They poured chemicals over 45 homes and three churches before setting them ablaze. The smell lingered for days — the same smell that remains pungent in Badami Bagh.

Then, as now, the attack was sparked by rumors of blasphemy — the bane of Pakistani politics and jurisprudence in recent years. Both times, the police failed to protect the Christians, or even stood aside. The sole mercy for the Christian residents of Badami Bagh is that they were able to get away the night before. In Gojra, nine people were killed. The Badami Bagh incident, however, has its own set of local complications — including, it seems, the politics of a local steel-traders’ elections. Beset on several fronts, the Christians also fear that there may be forces trying to force them out in order to grab their property.

On Friday night, Kala Jee and the other residents in the area were told to flee. “The police came and told us to go away,” he says. “A big, angry crowd had gathered on the main road. They had sticks and chains with them. We left and spent the next two nights with families that lived elsewhere.” Once the community had been emptied of its residents, the crowd returned the next day, Saturday, looting, destroying and torching some 150 homes and at least two churches. On Sunday, the residents returned to survey the ruin.

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According to the Christians, the conflagration was sparked, some days earlier, with a quarrel between two old friends. Sahwan Masih was a 26-year-old Christian who was popular in his area for his billiard table. During the day, he worked nearby, as sanitation worker for the municipal authority. “When he would finish work at 3 or 4 in the afternoon,” says his younger brother, Sabir, “he and his friend Imran would sit together and drink together.” Imran, a Muslim known in the area as both Mohammed Imran and Shahid Imran, had a barbershop on the main road, just opposite Masih’s home.

Last Wednesday, according to Sabir and others, as the two friends sipped some hooch brewed locally, the conversation apparently turned toward each other’s religions. It isn’t clear what was said. Accounts within the community differ. “Imran called Sahwan a choora,” says Amir Gill, a pastor and local resident who says he witnessed the argument. The word is a pejorative used to insult members of Punjab’s Christian community, who suffer from as much a caste prejudice as a religious one. In Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous and wealthiest province, most of the Christians are evangelical converts, formerly low-caste Hindus who were branded as “dirty” by Pakistani bigots. Many are able to find work only as sanitation workers, menial jobs reserved for those at the bottom of the social ladder.

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The residents in the area don’t know what Masih said exactly in reply. Gill, who works in a government department during the day and serves his evangelical local community in the evening, said he heard Masih saying something about “getting back at Imran and his Muslims.” Word of the exchange seems to have traveled through the local area over the next couple of days. A friend of Imran’s known as Chico Shafiq then apparently attempted to avenge the alleged insult. He took large dagger, residents say, and waited outside Masih’s home, demanding he come out.

It was at this time that the local steel-trading community allegedly got involved. The Badami Bagh area is famous for its many steel mills. Sprawling compounds produce endless steel beams and rods that are then stacked high on the back of brightly painted trucks and delivered to construction sites across Punjab. The local bosses of the area are having election. Vast billboards with unsmiling mustachioed men running for president and other posts bear down from most buildings’ walls in the area.

Somehow, the blasphemy allegation turned into a campaign issue, the residents say, because the accusation always has popular resonance — and little opposition. In Pakistan, few dare counter allegations of blasphemy for fear of being denounced as blasphemers themselves. “On Friday, the candidates announced a strike after Friday prayers,” says Gill. The crowd was a mix, Gill and other residents say, of Muslim worshippers emptying out of a local mosque, a gang of boys and supporters of the candidates standing for the steel-traders’ elections. “Sever the head of the blasphemer” was one of the slogans they were chanting, says Gill. The police in the area staved off the attacks the first night. But they offered little resistance on Saturday morning, when another strike was called and the door-to-door attacks began through an emptied Badami Bagh.

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In chilling photographs taken during the assault, a group of teenage boys is seen attacking the homes in the Christian colony. In some of the shots, they pose defiantly for the camera, some wearing triumphant grins and holding aloft sticks, as a bright fire blazes behind them. In other photographs, they can be seen splashing chemicals from bottles and containers onto already raging flames. The flammable chemicals, says Sajjad Mushtaq, 25, another local resident, appear to have come from the local steel mills. Another resident produces two blackened plastic bottles that apparently contained chemicals that were hurled into his home. Last Christmas, adds Mushtaq, a gang apparently made up of the most of the same teenage boys went to the colony to taunt and threaten residents celebrating the holiday.

Outside Masih’s home on the main road, a crowd of Christian protesters has formed. They demand that he be released. The police say they have taken him into “protective custody,” but few Christians accused of blasphemy ever manage to secure a release. “I want my son back, please bring my son back,” wails Zahida Parveen, Masih’s mother. The combination of pressure from angry mobs, threats from local clerics and a paralyzing fear among politicians and judges means an individual can be charged with blasphemy on little or no evidence — a charge that carries the death penalty.

Elsewhere in Lahore on Sunday, members of the Christian community, calling attention to their latest tragedy, blocked two main roads. They are emulating Pakistan’s Shi‘ite population, who earlier took to the streets after three major attacks this year. One banner reads: “Who Will Protect Us?” In what is becoming one of the bloodiest years for Pakistan’s long-suffering religious minorities, no one seems to have an answer.

17 comments
UdaiSingh
UdaiSingh

Pakistan army killed, raped, maimed & plundered lakhs of Bangladesi's unarmed civilians mostly fellow muslims.

Now Pak has turned on Ahmadias, Hazaras, Sikhs, Hindus, Christians and finally Shias- the game just continues.

My surprised was directed at the USA who loved to be milked by Pak at every opportunity.

USA supported  Bangladesh genocide and financed & armed Pak forces in the process due to assumed wisdom of Henry Kissinger.

They continued to allow themselves to be milked by Pak for Russian presence in Afghanistan, for Pak being military ally, then to use Pak roads to reach Afghanistan, then to befriend ISI to control Taliban, now they have to finance Pak to now to run over by Jihadis, not to implode, is there no limit to American foolishness.

Pak is good at milking US for which I fully credit Pak.

It is US stupid urge to   finances self destruction that amuses me.



munaeem.mallick
munaeem.mallick

"forces trying to force them out in order to grab their property.

This is the main reason. Check out the high-profile blasphemy cases, you will know what are the reasons.

niknik
niknik like.author.displayName 1 Like

Hey Guys - Get it straight, Muslims cannot live with anybody else, wherever they are majority, the % of minorities reduce (take any country for an example) and their % of population always increase wherever they are minority (take any country for this example too).... Just be careful of followers of this religion, if you want to protect yourself, take the minorities of muslim countries and send the muslims back to their own countries (where they can practice freely their religion, put scarves, enslave their women and abuse their children.

munaeem.mallick
munaeem.mallick

@niknik Three Muslims countries have been destroyed recently by the USA and western powers.

MiamiMan
MiamiMan

@munaeem.mallick @niknik Don't know which the 3rd country is, but Iraq and Afghanistan are still there and still led by Muslims. This is a silly debate though. This is 2013, not 1320...

florenciastonew
florenciastonew like.author.displayName 1 Like

My mothers neighbour is working part time and averaging $9000 a month. I'm a single mum and just got my first paycheck for $6546! I still can't believe it.  I tried it out cause I got really desperate and now I couldn't be happier. Heres what I do, Great60.comTAKE A LOOK


EditorRupeeNews
EditorRupeeNews

Thank you for a brilliant expose. There is an update. We are surprised that you missed the important update:

The attack has to be condemned and mere words are not enough.

There is a huge upraor in Pakistan about this, and everyone down from the Prime Minister to the President to political and media personnel as well as civic society has condemned this naked barbarism.

1) The SHO, and DSP (police officers in charge of the area have been suspended) have been suspended for negligence of duty

2) Government compensation/grnt as an apology Rs Five Lakh per household has already been disbursed to the 150 households 

3) 110 folks (taken from media film footage) have been arrest and will be presented to the Anti-Terrorism Court on Wednesday

4) Reconstruction of the homes belonging to the 150 families has begun this week--to be completed within three-six months

5) Temporary shelters have been given to the affected population and mobile medical clinics are stationed in the area

6) The National Assembly of Pakistan has condemned this and asked the provincial government to take action

7) The Supreme Court of Pakistan has taken Suo Moto (himself) taken action and asked for a full inquiry and speedy justice to all

Man Pakistanis think that this sort of violence is not endemic to Pakistan society and is a spillover of the war from Afghanistan

Editor Rupee News


mbutt692
mbutt692

@EditorRupeeNews How long will you deny the Facts ?? Minorities have been persecuted in Pakistan for long time and it is getting worse every single day. Government is trying to cover it's failures. I am a Pakistani and condemn this Crime against humanity in the name of Islam. There are no excuses, A Cime is a Crime !!

RanyKhalloul
RanyKhalloul like.author.displayName 1 Like

well i can understand what u claim if these terror acts backed by the pakistani system and muslim mentality are occuring in a rare manner, but unfortunatly it is not. so all these condemnation and acts are non effecient. i wont ask the pakistani government to have death panelty on these who terrorize even though equality demands so, but i do expect it to respond with noticable and publicaly more freedom of faith, otherwise they are failures, islam is approved as savage and crimenal. no excuses are accepted

GautamVaid
GautamVaid like.author.displayName 1 Like

@EditorRupeeNews You seem to be representing the Pakistani government or something... Your country which lives on dole from the United States, is IMPLODING from within... Shiite Minorities, Christians and Hindus are all prosecuited, killed and driven out of the country. Once they are all out, even the majority Sunnis will start fighinng amongst themselves... Very soon Pakistan will be a baren land...

In the meantime, continue to live in denial and bury your head in sand... You will be dead soon anyways...

Just stop destroying India and  stop beheading our soldiers.

mrxexon
mrxexon like.author.displayName 1 Like

This act repeats itself all the time in Israel with attacks on Arabs from radical settlers. Where's the coverage of that?

Have some, http://www.imemc.org/index.php

We turn a blind eye to what's going on in Israel and condemn it in other countries and it's just not right.


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RanyKhalloul
RanyKhalloul

if there are elsewhere brutal acts that should encourage us to fight it everywhere. follow justice every where... otherwise what u r suggesting may encourage these guys in israel and else where to proceed with there acts. if the muslim societies keep categorized as violent and intolerant  because of what is going on inside these societeis starting from violence, dectatorship, and silence towards such acts... then no body will take them seriously

mrxexon
mrxexon

@RanyKhalloul  

 It's only a few bad apples that are spoiling it for everybody. But they hold positions of great power and are not easy to touch.

The best way to bring such people down is to educate the masses about what's being done in their name. A king is not a king without servants. When the people have had enough, they'll string these characters up themselves. Sometimes, when the people are oppressed,  it takes an outside force to tip things in their favor.

Be careful of thinking this is some kind of religious war. That's the face some desire you see. The reality is this is more about resources and old fashioned quests for power. 

Human problems. "God" has nothing to do with it.


x

mbutt692
mbutt692

@mrxexon All crimes against humanity should be condemned. What happens in Israel, does not justify the same crime elsewhere. Please, no terror in the name of Islam !!

mrxexon
mrxexon

@mbutt692 @mrxexon  

Yes it should. The problem is we have a media which highlights certain acts of Arab terror while looking the other way when Jews do it. It's verboten to speak of such things. 

 And those who do will soon feel the "anti-semite" hatchet go sailing by their head.


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quadibloc
quadibloc like.author.displayName 1 Like

Clearly, the climate of fear that exists in Pakistan has to be removed - and replaced with another climate of fear. Instead of people being afraid to denounce accusations of blasphemy, they should be positively terrified to do violence to anyone on account of an accusation of blasphemy. After 9/11, it is clear the risk this kind of fanatical mentality poses to us, and so we need to completely extirpate it. Since it's clear that most of the Muslims of Pakistan don't support these violent acts, they should be prepared to take the necessary steps to completely suppress such acts and their supporters.

Since it seems that the political process in Pakistan is getting in the way of even the repeal of the blasphemy laws, though, it may be necessary to concentrate the minds of Pakistani politicians by bringing them to understand that this is a matter of national survival - as eliminating violence or discrimination against non-Muslim minorities should also be the case for every other nation in the Islamic world.