Pakistan, a country created to protect the British Raj’s Muslim minority, has over the decades become a country where no minority – Muslim or non-Muslim – is safe. After almost two decades a Pakistani has been chosen as a cardinal by The Holy See and not only is there hardly any discussion of this, but the beleaguered Pakistani Christian minority continues to face consistent harassment and pressure.
Pakistan’s first cardinal in 24 hours, Karachi Cardinal-designate Joseph Coutts, warned of “gradual erosion” of religious freedom in Pakistan because the government has been unable to control the vigilantism of religious extremists. Pakistan’s last cardinal was Joseph Cordeiro died in 1994.
Speaking about Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy law, at the conclusion of a symposium “Defending International Religious Freedom: Partnership and Action” in Rome, the Cardinal said “It’s causing a lot of problems right now. People are being killed … just because of an accusation. Our government is not strong enough to control the kind of extremism that has developed in the country. It is enough to accuse someone of blasphemy … and you’re finished.”
The Cardinal stated that in Pakistan it is not only Christians who face unfair accusations of breaking the country’s blasphemy law, but also Ahmadi and Shia Muslims. “We are suffering as Christians, but our Muslim brethren are also suffering.”
According to a story in The National Catholic Reporter, “Coutts said the violence is carried out by those with “extremist thinking largely based on emotions.” He shared one example of a threat he received after he was invited by Muslim friends to visit their madrassa around Christmastime one year. He said that some days later he and some of the Muslims received hand-written notes, warning them: “Stop all this rubbish or we’ll pull out your tongues.” “What can you do with people like this?” he asked. “This is the reality. I think we’ve got to look for the answers but I don’t know the answers.”