Włodzimierz Rędzioch talks with Fr. Andrzej Halemba from the Association Help to the Church in Need

WŁODZIMIERZ RĘDZIOCH: What is the present situation of the Christians in Pakistan?

FR. ANDRZEJ HALEMBA: - For years, the situation of the Christians in this country has been getting worse. Its reason is rising Islamic fundamentalism connected with Wahhabism ideology and an enormous pressure of the Talibans on the political class and judiciary system. Unfortunately, recently extremism has reached the deepness of the society which is very dangerous, as self-governments are also organized from the bottom up – only exchange of text messages is needed to organize an attack on a person accused of blasphemy. This all happens so quickly that often local authorities are not able to prevent self-judgments or slandering the accused. And in most cases, accusations of this type have a political or criminal base (desire to grab the property of the Christians, revenge for an alleged slander, removing competitors). A few years ago radicalism concerned Islamic leaders (the Wahhabists, the Salafites), who promoted a course of ‘purification of Islam and return to roots, now fanaticism starts penetrating into the society. Politicians in government became hostages of fundamentalists and Islamic terrorists. It is similar with the judiciary system – if a judge gives a verdict contradictory with expectations of the radical activists, becomes the aim of attacks or even accusations of blasphemy. In this way the judiciary system is paralyzed.
In such a situation the future of minority groups in Pakistan, including the Christians, becomes uncertain. People from these groups are the most humiliated and earn the least, doing such jobs as production of bricks or cleaning. But what is the worst is the fact that they have not got a chance for social promotion – this is a big problem of Christian societies in Islamic countries. Therefore, one the one hand, we should care about maintaining faith by the Christians, but on the other hand – we must help them in getting educated and gaining a social position, as only then they will be able to defend their rights.

- In Pakistan there is a law about blasphemy, the so-called blasphemy law which envisages even death penalty for an alleged insult of Mahomet or Koran. Unfortunately, as Priest mentioned, this law is often overused and used for personal vendettas. Why, despite pressure of the world public opinion, don’t the authorities dare to abolish it?

- Because everyone is scared. Politicians are trying to avoid this issue. The extremists think that questioning ‘blasphemy law’ is a blasphemy, that is, it should be punished with death. The judge who gave the verdict that it was possible to discuss this law, had to leave the country with his family, as there was a risk that he would be murdered by fanatic Islamists.

- So, it can be said that Islamic extremists managed to terrorize the Pakistan society. Is it an irreversible process?

- I think that this process can be reversed as the society begins to be tired with this situation. Those who have used radicalization of the society so far for political purposes, became hostages of fanatics themselves. The problem is that the authorities are corrupt and they also have a lot of outer problems, such as neighbourhood of unstable Afghanistan or a conflict with India about a part of Cashmere.

- For the world the symbol of Pakistan persecutions of the Christians and injustice of law about blasphemy is Asia Bibi. Are there many such cases?

- The world public opinion heard about Asia Bibi, but there are a lot of such cases (a few hundred which concern not only the Christians) – we know all of them, although they were not popularized. The Catholic Church is so brave that it deals with all kinds of accusations of an alleged blasphemy, mainly when it concerns the Catholics. In Pakistan there is a local commission ‘Justice and Peace’ which monitors the situation, sends lawyers, helps the accused and the imprisoned.

- Shouldn’t democratic countries have a bigger influence on the authorities in Pakistan, in order to improve the situation of respecting human rights in this country?

- Pakistan is in the sphere of influences of the West, in various military coalitions and not only, it also starts playing a bigger economic and political-military role. So, democratic countries should use contacts with the authorities of Pakistan in order to demand rights for religious minorities and abolish the law about blasphemy.
However, I would like to emphasize that ‘blasphemy law’ was not created in vacuum. It entails aiming at carrying out ethnic and religious purge, and this is the result of education system, whose purpose is eliminating ‘different’ Muslims. In school books it is written that one cannot trust the Christians who are also accused of being enemies of Allah. And somebody who is an enemy of Allah is in the Muslim’s eyes the worst creature in the world.
And Pakistan – after being separated from India – was created as a country which was to respect all religions where all citizens were to have equal rights.

- In our times we are observing two historical phenomena: on the one hand Muslim countries are becoming more confessional and religiously homogenous (in succession of persecutions and eliminations of the Christians and other minorities, which are forced to emigration), and, on the other hand – in most countries of the West, in which our Christian roots are negated, there is a secularization process and pushing religion aside to the private sphere. But Muslim immigrants are arriving at the West where there is apostasy of the Christians; the immigrants do not want to resign from their religious identity, but, on the contrary – they want to impose it on the whole world. What does Priest think about these processes?

- That is true that we are dealing with radicalization of Islam all over the world. The process of religion radicalization is a consequence of its revival or a crisis. If there is a deep crisis of religion, there is radicalization of some groups trying to reverse the process of decadency. It is happening now, in our eyes. We are also dealing with ’milenaristic’ Islam which refers to the Islamic idea of the end of the world. Some Muslims think that now there is the time and it is necessary to participate in the process, in order to provide oneself with an Islamic paradise and enjoy the accompany of Mahomet and hurys (hurys is a beautiful virgin in an Islamic paradise, who is to be one of prizes for redeemed believers). I think that radicalization of Islam proves its big crisis, and this is an inner crisis which is not caused by outer factors. The Islamic society is more and more divided (at present there are about 260 groups differing from one another with interpretation of the Koran and Sharia), and various fractions are fighting with one another for death and life – it is best seen on the example of Syria, where over 100 Islamic groups are fighting with one another and with the army of Baszar al-Asada.

- And what will Priest say about the mass migration of the Muslims to Europe?

- We must say openly that Europe is dying demographically and needs migrants. The problem is that more and more groups of people are arriving here, who do not want to get ‘European’ but are bringing their own culture and religion which they consider as more significant than the European one. So, there is a real danger that as the Roman Empire was ‘absorbed’ by illiterate and non-civilized peoples, also Europe, which cut itself off from its roots, does not appreciate family, limits number of children, may become subject to other cultures and civilizations.
There is another aspect of the issue. In Europe there has already been a lot of the Muslims: in Germany there are 4 million of them, in France – also 4 million, in England – 3 million, in Italy – 1.7 million. These people look at our civilization with contempt at most, despite our welfare, technology and freedom. What we consider as positive aspects of our civilization, they treat as signs of decadency, corruption, weakness, what is more – blasphemy. Therefore, not only do they consider us as non-believers but also as enemies of Allah. And somebody who is an enemy of Allah, in their opinion does not deserve being called a human.
Therefore, our civilization is endangered. Especially that attempts of creating a multi-culture society, without understanding this type of mentality, are doomed to failure -now Germany and France admit it. Reaction to isalmization of societies is establishing extremist groups, including the neofascist ones which look at every emigrant in a hostile way.
But I would like to add that in the current confrontation with Islam, I perceive also a kind of positive aspect – the mass migration of the Muslims forced everybody to discuss the European identity and the role of religion in our societies. People start asking themselves questions: what does it mean that I am a Christian? What results from the fact that he is a Muslim? What can I accept from his religion? I think that in this confrontation Christianity will be stronger and will revive. To prove it, I would like quote the fact that in France a group which identifies itself with the Catholic Church the most and supports it are young people between the age of 15 and 25.


„Niedziela” 8/2016

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
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