Thursday, 3 March 2011

The murder of Shabaz Bhatti

The murder of Shabaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Minister for Minority Affairs, is another worrying sign of the rising tide of religious sectarianism in Pakistan.

Shabaz Bhatti was the last remaining Christian Minister in the Pakistani government. He was murdered because of his opposition to the country's blasphemy laws.

As I wrote at the time of the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, also murdered for his opposition to the blasphemy laws: 'these laws are often used to as a means to persecute religious minorities and restrict freedom of speech. It is right they should be revoked or revised'.

The Pakistani government needs to be stand up to religious bigotry and hatred. Instead they are retreating in the face of it.

We cannot separate this growth in religious fanaticism from the destabilising impact of the war in Afghanistan.  Writing in the Observer a few months ago, Imran Khan described how the ‘war on terror’ is “destroying Pakistan”, with the drone attacks fuelling “incredible anti-American sentiment”. He was writing before the latest twist in the tale, with ruthless CIA agents now apparently free to kill on Pakistani streets. If anti-western feeling was running high before, one can only imagine what it is like now.

It is a dangerously toxic atmosphere, and is fertile ground for religious fanatics who believe this is a war against Islam and Muslim identity. With every escalation of the so-called ‘war on terror’, the West is strengthening the appeal of these extremists and weakening the position of Pakistani Muslims who want only to live in peace with their fellow citizens.