I am writing to you on behalf of the Pakistani Christian community to draw your attention to the desperate plight of Christians which is inching closer to the level of genocide. For at least the last two generations, Christians have been increasingly badly treated in Pakistan. The state education system, let alone the Mosque schools, portray Christians and other minorities in a bad and dehumanizing light, a problem not addressed despite the fact that British and other Western nation’s tax money and aid goes to support literacy campaigns without addressing these wider and deeply concerning issues in the education system in Pakistan. Christians are widely seen as ‘chooras’, a term roughly equivalent to ‘dirty nigger’, and their women and girls seen as prostitutes, easy and the right of any Muslim man to take, whether they be a young schoolgirl or a married mother of numerous children. Whole communities of women are essentially held in forced sexual slavery whilst their men work in the fields. Rape of Christian women is rife, at untold levels, and the rate of cases where Christian girls are kidnapped, gang-raped and forced into sexual slavery a.k.a. ‘marriage’ and conversion to Islam is estimated at, at the least, two a day.
You will doubtless be aware of the double suicide bombing of two churches in Lahore, Pakistan, on Sunday 15th March 2015. What you may not be aware of is the situation since then. Let me recount what you may not know. In one case, a young security guard at the church managed to intercept the suicide bomber and stop him detonating the suicide bomb. However, a gunman accomplice opened fire on him to detonate the bomb from a distance. In the immediate horrific aftermath of the explosions, a few nearby Christians turned on that gunman and another gunman accomplice arrested by police, and unfortunately beat them severely and set fire to them, killing them – a fate that all too often meets genuinely innocent Christians, previously inflicted on a young married couple with five children who were beaten to a pulp, doused in petrol and thrown alive into the village brick kiln where they worked in late 2015, and since then a Christian teenager in the metropolis of Lahore beaten and burnt alive solely because he was a Christian. In the case of the double bombing, the police guards, all too typically, were watching cricket in a coffee shop, leaving church members to perform security functions, just as the police stood by when that couple were burned to death late last year.
However, the situation got far, far worse. The police went around beating up anyone with a cross on their person or vehicle, impounding vehicles for no reason other than the owner is a Christian, as well as demanding that Christian individuals pay them ‘jizya’ tax – imposed under Sharia on non-Muslims for the privilege of remaining alive unconverted – for ‘killing innocent Muslims’ . Christians have been rounded up and arrested and brutally tortured by the police – not just those that protested, but any Christian in the vicinity. Despite the Christian community handing over the names of those involved in the killings and some property destruction, the police illegally raided houses and detained relatives of suspects, beating and sexually assaulting women when they protested at the invasion. The police spread fear by telling local Christians that they should move out of their homes, because they would not protect them from the anticipated violent mob. Conditions nationally appeared to be ripe for genocide. Already dehumanized, symbolized, discriminated against and degraded, the situation of Christians matches the recognized precursors for genocide. The media – and this must be with at least the passive complicity of the government of Pakistan – spoke as one with extremist Islamic leaders and Mosque announcements which have called for mass attacks on churches across the country during Sunday worship. The media whipped up this hatred by stating that Christians killed two innocent Muslims bystanders, and should therefore be punished, and the government itself took a similar line, further endangering Christians. At the same time a prominent champion of Pakistani Christians, the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) received online threats from a Pakistani individual claiming to act on the part of the hacker group Anonymous claiming equal moral culpability of the terror group that did the suicide bombings and the whole Pakistani Christian community worldwide, and calling on all Anonymous hackers to attack the online social media sites of both Pakistani Christians and the terror group that claimed responsibility for the bombings. This is the type of mentality that is moving the massed mobs of Pakistan, except that there the threat is not against electrons and servers, but to their very lives and ability to live and exist and worship as Christians – in short, just like many Christians across the Middle East, and in parts of Africa, they are now facing the possibility of out and out genocide.
Pakistani Christians have already had to live under a permanent state of some degree of terror, watching as they suffered more and more abuse and their defenders were assassinated, even up to Federal Minister level, but now they are utterly terrified. For a long time there have been calls from some Christian activists in the nation, however unrealistic, for them to have their own state where they can be unmolested, because their suffering and degradation was so bad, but now they are calling for weapons to defend themselves, guns and armour. ISIS has recently recruited thousands of militants in Pakistan, with at least one Taliban commander on record saying that his men are ‘waiting for the right moment’ to join, but Pakistani Christians have no equivalent of Kurdistan where they can flee to, unlike the Christians of Iraq who face ISIS, nor do they have a government that is prepared to act to protect them, as the Christians of Syria do to some small extent. They have no defenders, no protectors. By and large, the police of Pakistan side with the extremists, and much of the army too. The intelligence services often work hand in hand with extremist Mullahs to harass Christians, even those in the UK and the West, by harassing their families back in Pakistan.
Whilst the threatened attacks didn’t occur, sooner or later they will. If not this week, then next week, or next month, genocide will happen, barring a miracle for which the Christians of Pakistan are desperately praying.
In the meantime, Western Governments need to do much, much more. The BPCA have stated that they repeatedly hear from Pakistani church leaders a common refrain – that they see their persecutors gain residence in the West, sometimes gaining asylum, but Christians find it very difficult to get asylum or refuge in the West. Some countries will only take you if you are not already in the country if you have gained refugee status from the UN. The BPCA say they are repeatedly told that that Muslim UN staff members and / or local embassy members in their home nation block and divert their attempts by Christians to gain such status, not just in Pakistan, but also in some other Muslim states as well.
The BPCA also say they have been involved in a number of cases where Christians seeking asylum have had their cases rejected, and that so far in each and every case they have written reports for, they have been successful in helping overturn the appeals, which, as an official told one of their trustees, is an un-precedented success rate. This gives rise to the concern that Pakistani Christian asylum cases are being judged too strictly. For instance, in one case a Christian was rejected in part because officials did not believe that she was a Pentecostal Christian based on her answers to questions about Pentecostal distinctive beliefs. However, the BPCA researcher writing the report in her appeal was himself a Pentecostal theologian who would have answered in exactly the same way – the officials’ ignorance had led them to completely erroneous conclusions based on false assumptions. The same researcher has heard of other nationality Christians being rejected as only ‘pretend’ Christians because they did not know the meaning of the British traditional ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ and similarly obscure festive cultural customs.
Western governments have a moral responsibility to be pro-active in rescuing from genocide those who are most naturally attuned to our values of democracy, freedom of worship and speech and so on, and genocide is either already happening or on the verge of happening across the Middle East and in nations like Pakistan. We stand at a point akin to the one that the democratic Western nations stood at in the late 1930’s regarding the Jews, where at best a relative few were given grudging asylum, but the rest left to their fate.
There are a number of practical advantages to welcoming Christian refugees in particular. Firstly, there is the low national security risk. The likelihood of terrorists being among this group is vanishingly small, especially compared to some other groups. With proper liaison with local community leaders, the risk of outsiders infiltrating in by pretending to be Christian can be kept low. This means a speedier, more efficient and cheaper process. Secondly, Christian refugees have a good track record of integrating well into the societies where they have found refuge whilst still retaining their distinctive culture, and yet contributing constructively to the host nation’s diversity and public life. Thirdly, if their integration is handled right, they can become a valuable bridge between the host nation and the wider national communities and language groups of which they form a part. Moreover, having gone through the experience of persecution, they will be more sensitive to signs of radicalization and extremism, than the local community, which we believe to be seriously hampered by unhelpful political correctness. Although thought must be given to their potential vulnerability, handled correctly they will likely prove to be useful to both local and national government, as well as police and security forces; in particular in helping them avoid funding and making alliances with groups that claim they are moderate but in reality are anything but, something we have seen happen a number of times. They will have an especial motivation not to encourage or facilitate here the persecution they suffered in their home country, and so can contribute powerfully to protecting the whole of society.
In the light of this, I urge you to change policy so that the UK follows, and even exceeds, the example of Holland, not only giving Christian refugees from Pakistan and other countries where genocide by extremists is either happening or increasingly likely special status, but pro-actively working to tear down barriers that would prevent genuinely needy and endangered Christians from gaining refuge, whether that be an overly strict and out of touch asylum process here in the UK, or barriers to religiously persecuted individuals actually reaching this country or places of refuge in the West generally. As I understand it, for instance, the US and UN are facilitating some Syrians of particular Muslim sects in gaining refuge in the US because they are persecuted by the Syrian government or state, but denying such refuge to Christians because they are not being persecuted by the Syrian state, but are terrorized and facing genocide by the non-state actors Islamic State, Al-Nusra / Al Qaeda and similar groups. This is unconscionable, and we are calling upon the government to urgently and thoroughly address this kind of imbalance and injustice.
Additionally, in the particular case of Pakistan, I also believe that the government can and must do more in using taxpayers’ money in aid to Pakistan. I am not talking about pouring more money in, but I am concerned that money being used in literacy and education campaigns – which I support in principle – will not result in greater improvements in the propagation and expansion of human rights in Pakistan unless the incitement and dehumanization of minorities by Pakistani textbooks and educators is firmly addressed, and that an opportunity for leverage is being substantially squandered.
Furthermore, because the UK is followed by a number of other countries, it is particularly unconscionable that the official guidance states that Christians in Pakistan are only ‘discriminated against’, but not generally persecuted. This is flatly false, has been flatly false for a long time, and is getting more and more false each and every month. The persecution of Christians in Pakistan has been worsening, and even in the face of the rise of ISIS related groups in the Middle East and North Africa over the last couple of years, Pakistan has been independently assessed as getting worse in its treatment of Christians, moving from 14th worst to 8th worst in 2015. Given that the UNHCR is citing the UK’s country guidance on Pakistani Christians as a reason for not prioritizing Christian refugees and asylum seekers desperately seeking refuge, even in places such as Thailand where they are horrifically treated and dying of treatable illnesses in significant numbers, you have a moral imperative to change the official guidance, and so I for one am calling on you, in your role as the relevant government minister, to address this absurdity with great urgency, and also call on you to prioritize Christian refugees from Pakistan and other similar nations. The reason for this is that generally Christians in these countries face worse persecution, fewer options and locations for safety and greater road blocks to escaping to the West. In this country, governments have repeatedly put in place programs to elevate the life chances of those who are deemed to suffer some kind of systematic disadvantage as a group, and these same principles should be applied to the situation of Christian refugees and asylum seeker, particularly those from Pakistan, as both Holland and Canada have done.