In the closing days of 2002 another atrocity was committed against Christian missionaries, this time in the southern Yemeni city of Jibla, by a self-serving, Muslim-in-name-only militant. According to his statement, he did it to get close to God. By killing innocent people he has violated the very core of his own religion and thus distanced himself from God.
While religious zealots in many parts of the world, including India, Pakistan, and some African countries, have selectively targeted Christian missionaries, it is the local Christian population in those countries that has borne the brunt of these attacks. In Pakistan, for example, religious intolerance and communal strife has torn the fabric of a society where, in the not too distant past, religious accommodation and acceptance were the norm.
Christians constitute 12 percent of Pakistan's population of 140 million. Since 9/11 there have been 36 Christians killed in six separate attacks against Christians and their schools, churches, and villages. A rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism amongst the uneducated poor and their frustration at the plight of Muslims elsewhere in the world lead these militants to lash out against the easy targets within their own country who profess to the same religion as that of their avowed enemy.
Muslim fundamentalists are angered by the policies of the Christian West that have resulted in suffering of Muslims around the world. Included in their laundry list of grievances are the festering problems in the Middle East, Kashmir, East Timor, and Chechnya. In their simplistic interpretation of the events, they consider the perpetrators of those injustices to be either Christians or those supported by Christians. Thus the global issues are reduced to struggle between Islam and Christianity.
The fundamentalists are incapable of changing the events or to ameliorate the suffering of their fellow Muslims. But they find it convenient to retaliate against those who happen to be within their reach, even though killing Christians and foreign missionaries does not address their grievances or help their cause. The Pakistani Christians have nothing to do with injustices against Muslims in the world.
What Pakistan and other countries in the same situation need to do is to come down hard on the fundamentalists, dismantle their institutions, and at the same time bring religious leaders on board to proclaim a unity of purpose with all the minorities in the country.
The Christian missionaries have done a commendable job in bringing education and health care to the needy in some of the most inaccessible areas in Asia and Africa. Their schools and colleges provide quality education in places where public education is either nonexistent or in shambles. Many of the current and past leaders in Pakistan were educated at missionary schools. So were some of the successful Pakistani-Americans living in Toledo.
Having worked as a volunteer surgeon in Mission Hospital in Peshawar in 1971 and having done short stints in other mission hospitals in Pakistan and Afghanistan, I know the impact these missions have had on local population.
While people of conscience the world over have taken note of atrocities against helpless Christians in Pakistan (and elsewhere) the expatriate Pakistani community in this country has remained more or less silent. In private they talk incessantly about the plight of Christian and other minorities in Pakistan but they have not made their disgust public by taking a visible stand.
As members of this society, Pakistani Americans are in a unique position to take the government of Pakistan to task, either directly or indirectly through their congressional representatives, for not doing enough to protect the lives of Pakistani Christians and other minorities. They have not made strong protests by writing to politicians, religious leaders, or to the media in Pakistan. Their collective indifference flies in the face of their vocal protests about the killing of Muslims in Indian Gujarat or in Kashmir.
Killing of innocent people is wrong no matter which side of the religious divide the victims come from.