Suicide Bombers Target Pakistani Christians
Ashkar arrived in Edinburgh three years ago to begin his studies at the Free Church College: the second member of his family to join us (his brother, Aftab, is now a minister in Grangemouth).
Three months later Ashkar returned home. Britain’s misguided immigration rules (the concession of weak governments to mindless public clamour) forbade his wife to join him, and the thought of four lonely years in a cold, alien city was too much.
And so, two weeks ago he went as usual to his local church in Peshawar, near Pakistan’s north-west frontier, on Sunday morning. All Saints Church belongs to the Anglican Communion, yet clearly reflects its own location, even to the extent that its architecture resembles local mosques and all worshippers take off their shoes on entering the building.
But it was as they left that tragedy struck. While the congregation milled happily outside, greeting friends and exchanging news, two suicide bombers detonated their lethal vests. Packed with ball-bearings they wrought havoc. At least eighty five people were killed and over a hundred injured. Among the dead were Ashkar’s mother and his two nephews. Among the badly injured was his son, and such was the force of the ball-bearings that the church itself looked as if it had been riddled with bullets.
This was no sectarian attack of the kind with which Pakistan is all too familiar as the main Islamic denominations, Sunnis and Shias, set about killing each other. Nor was it the kind of indiscriminate attack which devastated the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi a couple of weeks ago. This was an attack specifically aimed at Christians, and it was by no means the first. Christian homes have been torched and their occupants burned alive; at least one prominent Christian politician has been assassinated; and it was the threats to his wife and family that forced Ashkar’s brother, Aftab, a senior clergyman in the Peshawar diocese, to flee Pakistan and serve the church in Scotland instead.
No Pakistani politician has dared, at least in public, to condone the attack on All Souls, but some have sought to “explain” it, most notably Imran Khan, the former cricketer whose political party now control the province of which Peshawar is the capital. Khan links the attack on All Souls to the Pakistan government’s support for the Western presence in Afghanistan and to America’s use of drones against Taliban enclaves among the tribes of the north-west frontier.
It’s hard to get your head round this. Both these measures are defensive responses to terrorism and what Khan (and many others) seem to be saying is that the reason the Taliban commit atrocities is that we defend ourselves.
Whatever else, this highlights the dilemma posed to the civilised world by militant Islam. Does a government (or the international community) have a duty to protect minorities; and if so, does this include the right to use force?
Mr. Khan’s answer appears to be, No! and it was this same answer that emerged from the recent House of Commons debate on a possible military response to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons. In the end, Parliament probably made the right decision, but it was the arguments that were fascinating.
There were, we were told, three reasons for doing nothing: first, it is always wrong to do anything that Tony Blair did; secondly, military action kills people; and, thirdly, military action is never right unless sanctioned by the United Nations (for which read, “Russia”).
Suicide bombers probably share the House of Commons’ collective hatred of Tony Blair. On the other hand, they never wait for UN sanction; and their form of jihadism clearly has no scruples about killing people, including their co-religionists. And while the grief of Peshawar’s Christians shouldn’t be used as a pretext for detached analysis, it is surely fair to ask what kind of religion orders suicide bombing.
Somewhere in the background to 9/11, and somewhere in the background to the attack on All Souls, lies some species of theologian able to persuade young men and women that murder is martyrdom, and that by using themselves as human bombs they are bringing glory to Allah. Verily the Bible was right to call religions abominations! Such a theology can be the product of nothing but hate, and it is high time the whole Islamic nation rose in revulsion against it.
Do British Muslims not blush when they note the contrast between the freedoms they enjoy in this country and the intolerance which blights the image of every Islamic country on earth? Here they enjoy the right to worship, the right to preach, the right to proselytise, the right to protest and the right to exploit every loop-hole in our legal system. In Saudi Arabia, Christians must remain anonymous; in Pakistan, every expression of their faith is blasphemy; in Iran, converts to Christianity are hanged.
In Christian Britain, by contrast, we actually expect government to use force in defence of Muslims. Any outrage against a mosque and any personal attack on a Muslim would lead to apprehension and imprisonment; and should there arise in the north-west Highlands a group of Christian extremists stock-piling weapons and vowing, “Death to Islam!” public opinion would demand the instant deployment of the SAS.
Because, as St Paul reminds us, God has invested the state with the power of the sword precisely to ensure that, subject to the rule of law, it can strike terror into the hearts of evil-doers: whatever their religion.
We underestimate the aspirations of militant Islam at our peril. The training-camps in the remote tribal areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, the radical cells in Britain and America, and the jihadist groups in Somalia and Yemen, are all driven by hatred of Israel, hatred of America and a resolute determination to bring the world to the heel of Allah.
In pursuit of that aim they will not shrink from barbarism, and while we must never sink to their level, even in retaliation, neither should we forget their victims.
“The European nations don’t give a damn about us,” said Mano Rumalshah, Bishop of Peshawar.
Not exactly bishop-like language but, in the circumstances, entirely forgivable.
This is a slightly amended version of an article which first appeared in the West Highland Free Press.