Pakistan: Blasphemy and Bombs, Death and Dalits; and History

The World Factbook 2021's map of Pakistan, showing major cities plus parts of surrounding countries and the Arabian Sea. Central Intelligence Agency (2021)

I’ll be talking about today’s Pakistan: particularly what it’s like being a Pakistani Christian, Hindu or Sikh.

Or, for that matter, the ‘wrong’ sort of Pakistani Muslim. The list of at-risk Pakistanis depends partly on who’s talking.

A few weeks ago, someone asked me to write about what Pakistani Christians are enduring.

Finding more-or-less current news or information on that general topic wasn’t nearly as easy as I’d hoped. What I did find told me that what’s happening now has very deep roots.

I suspect some of Pakistan’s problems come from being a place that’s been run by foreign rulers since the Vedic period. “Complicated” doesn’t begin to describe the situation.

So I’ve broken this week’s piece into bite-size chunks.

New Nation, Old Land

Photo from CIA World Factbook. The Supreme Court Building, Islamabad, Pakistan. Pakistani government buildings are traditionally decorated and illuminated to celebrate the country's Independence Day, 14 August.
(From CIA World Factbook, used w/o permission.)

As a nation, Pakistan is a very young country. Its 75th Independence Day comes next month: August 14, 2022.

The name is new, too.

“Pakistan” was coined by Choudhry Rahmat Ali’s in his 1933 “Now or Never” pamphlet.

It’s an acronym taken from the names of five British holdings — Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh, and Baluchistan — on or near the Indus River.

“Pakistan” also sounds a lot like “Land of the Pure” in Udu and Pashto, languages spoke by many Pakistanis. “Pak,” “پاک,” means “pure” and “stan” means “land” or “place of.”

It’s “Land of the Pure” in Persian, too, which was a court language until 1837. That’s the year when the British East India Company said the region’s official languages would be English and Urdu.1

Early Settlers in the Indus Valley

Rick Potts, Susan Antón and Leslie Aiello's map, showing earliest known spread of the Homo lineage (2014) from Smithsonian Insider (July 2014) used w/o permission

As a place folks call home, on the other hand, the land around the Indus Valley makes America seem as new as a 1950s suburban development.

I figure the odds are very good that folks were living in and around the Indus Valley, Pakistan’s heartland, upwards of 1,700,000 years ago. It’s on one of humanity’s major transcontinental pathways.

Their descendants and those of newcomers have, most likely, been living there ever since.

Granted, we haven’t found much evidence for anyone before the Soanian culture.

We don’t know what folks in the Soanian culture called themselves. They lived long before Sumerians developed pictographs and then cuneiform writing.

Soanian culture is our name for folks who lived in the Siwalik Hills of the outer Himalayas. Sometimes Siwalik is spelled Sivalik or Shivalik, and some folks call them the Churia Hills.

Researchers who first found Soanian tools got the name from their dig’s location: the Soan Valley in Pakistan.

Soanian culture is known for a particular style of stone tools. The folks who made and used them lived from around 125,000 to 500,000 years back. Probably. The Soanian culture’s chronology hasn’t been solidly confirmed. Not yet.

That’s not surprising, or shouldn’t be.2

Living in a Vast and Ancient Universe, Accepting God’s Work
NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team's (STScI/AURA) image, detail: NGC 602; a young, bright open cluster of stars. NGC 602 is embedded in nebula N90, a star-forming region in the Small Magellanic Cloud. (2007)

Since 1,700,000 years, or even 500,000 years, is way longer than the 6,024 years and nine months since a particular day in October, 4004 B.C., and I’m not horrified by such big numbers, maybe I should explain why science doesn’t bother me.

Then again, maybe not. But I’ll go ahead, anyway. Feel free to skip ahead to Indus Valley Civilization: Major Player of the Bronze Age.

Bishop Ussher said that God began this creation in 4004 B.C., near the Autumn equinox.

Back in 1650, his exercise in Bible trivia and mathematics was in line with the results folks like Johannes Kepler and Sir Isaac Newton got, using similar assumptions and methods.

Then folks like Kepler and Newton kept collecting and analyzing data.

Folks like James Ussher, the English Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, kept trying to stamp out Papist plots.

By the 1960s, ever-vigilant successors of the Ussher legacy had added communism, evolution and rock music to their list of Satanic schemes. Which eventually led to me becoming a Catholic, and that’s another topic.3

I don’t know how many folks still insist that this universe is just shy of 6,025 years old.

Faith and Reason, Seeking Truth and Seeking God

'Man is but a Worm' cartoon, caricaturing Darwin's theory, from the Punch almanac for 1882. (1981)But I keep running into those who assume that being Christian means believing that scientists must be wrong.

And that humans can’t possibly have been around for more that 6,024 and a fraction years — ‘because the Bible says so.’

I’m a Catholic, so I think we find truth in Sacred Scriptures. That’s one reason we’re expected to study the Bible. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 101-133)

I also think we find truth in the natural world’s order and beauty. (Catechism, 32, 41, 74, 283, 341, 2500)

So ignoring what we’re learning about God’s world makes no sense. Not to me, because:

  • I should seek truth and seek God
  • Faith and reason work together
  • Faith means embracing “the whole truth that God has revealed.”
  • God creates everything
    • The physical realities studied by science
    • And the spiritual realities that faith pursues
    (Catechism, Prologue, 27, 35, 50, 74, 154, 214-217, 274, 283, 1706, more under Truth in the Catechism’s index)

Seeking truth generally involves learning new stuff.

But that doesn’t bother me. I like living in an era where some of what was I learned in high school science classes is outdated.

Getting back to humanity’s continuing story, assumptions and all that —

Until 1859, thinking that we’ve always been the way we are now made sense. Or could.

For many or most folks, at any rate.

Then Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” suggested that maybe humanity hasn’t always looked just like we do today.

During the 162 years, 7 months and 29 days since “Origin” hit the press, we’ve confirmed that we’ve changed over the last few million years.

But we’re still missing pages, maybe entire chapters, of our long story. And that’s yet another topic.4

Indus Valley Civilization: Major Player of the Bronze Age

Avantiputra7's map of the Indus Valley Civilization, Early Phase. (3300-2600 B.C.) Data from 'The Ancient Indus Valley: New Perspectives,'Jane McIntosh (2008); background from; via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission

Archaeologists have been finding Soanian culture tools in what’s now northern Pakistan and northern India.

Some say the folks making and/or using the tools influenced, traded with, or maybe were the folks who built the Indus Valley civilization. Others don’t agree.

In any case,  from around 7000 B.C. to 2000 B.C., folks living at a place we call Mehrgarh, west of the Indus River, were raising livestock and growing crops. They were among the earliest farmers in south Asia. Earliest that we know of, at any rate.

Some of them moved to places nearer the Indus River and founded the Indus Valley civilization, or they didn’t. The matter hasn’t been resolved yet.

Indus Valley civilization is our name for folks who lived in what’s now northeast Afghanistan, much of Pakistan and western India from around 3300 to 1300 B.C. — 5,300 to 2,300 years back.

Another name we’ve got for them is Harappan civilization, since archaeologists first uncovered their ruins near a town called Harappa.

Charles Masson, AKA James Lewis had been on the lam from the East India Company when he found and described the Harappa site in 1842.

After that, the Harappa site was used as a source of bricks until around 1905. That’s when a new English viceroy of India made archaeology a priority. Maybe not top priority, but at least researchers weren’t competing with bricklayers and railroad construction projects.

Since then, we’ve learned that the Indus Valley civilization traded with folks in Mesopotamia; and through them with Egypt.

We still don’t know if Sutkagan (or Skukagen) Dor was a seaport or a town on a coastal land route connecting Mesopotamia with places like Lothal and Dholavira.

Again, those are names we’ve given the places recently. Lothal, for example, means “the mound of the dead” in Gujarati.5

Good Times, and Then a Drought
Avantiputra7's map of the Indus Valley Civilization, Mature Phase. (32600-1900 B.C.) Data from 'The Ancient Indus Valley: New Perspectives,'Jane McIntosh (2008); background from; via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission

By 2600 B.C., the Indus Valley civilization’s villages had grown into urban centers: cities, although not on the scale of places like today’s Delhi and Mumbai.

Those were good times, judging from the scale and amenities of their cities. And evidence we’ve found of thriving Indus-Mesopotamia-Egypt trade.

Then, around the time Pepi I, Merenre, and Pepi II ruled Egypt, what we call the 4.2-kiloyear event started.

It was a drought, lasted two centuries, and may be among the reasons Egypt’s Old Kingdom and Sargon’s Akkadian Empire ended. And, probably, helps account for folks of the Indus Valley civilization abandoning their cities.6

‘There Goes the Neighborhood’ — ca. 1600 to 800 B.C.

ALFGRN's photos of Indus Valley seals from Mohenjo-daro: Indus script characters alongside 'unicorn' (left), bull (center), and elephant (right); from Guimet Museum via Wikipedia, used w/o permission
(From Guimet Museum and ALFGRN, via Wikipedia, used w/o permission.)
(Seals from Mohenjo-daro in the Indus Valley: Indus script and pictures of animals.)

We’d know more about the Indus Valley civilization, if we could read Indus script. And if we’d found more of it. That’s assuming that Indus script is a written form of their language.

Researchers think it looks like some sort of writing; but haven’t deciphered it.

On the other hand, maybe Indus script was their equivalent of calligraphic flourishes.

Maybe descendants of the Indus Valley civilization’s founders would have started rebuilding their cities after the drought finally lifted. But they didn’t.

Immigrants — we call them Indo-Aryans — began arriving from the north toward the end of the drought. Probably.

We’re pretty sure, actually, based on archaeological, linguistic and genetic evidence. But we’re still not sure about details, like exactly why so many folks were on the move.

There were significant climate shifts happening at the time, so a fair fraction of current speculations involve greener pastures: literally.

Maybe some of the Indus Valley’s old families blamed the newcomers for their region’s hard times. Or maybe not. All we’ve got to work with are buildings, tools and bodies archaeologists find: no written records

What does seem certain is that more than the usual number of folks were experiencing violent deaths or dying from diseases like leprosy and tuberculosis.

But life went on. From 1500 to 500 B.C. or thereabouts, folks living in the upper reaches of the Indus Valley were composing Vedic literature. These days, it’s often listed under ‘history of India,’ but current political boundaries didn’t happen until later.7

Foreign Ideas — 535 B.C. to 1707 A.D.

William R. Shepherd's 'Historical Atlas,' the Achaemenid/Persian Empire, ca. 500 B.C.. (1926)

Cities started growing again, starting around 600 B.C., in what’s now northern Pakistan and northern India.

Other places too, but today I’m focusing on the area that’s now Pakistan.

The Vedic folks were Indo-Aryans, descendants of folks who had moved in from the north. Or they had always been in India, which seems unlikely.

At any rate, early Vedic culture’s biggest units were tribes. About three millennia back, they had spread eastward, built towns and established kingdoms.

They weren’t the only ones.

Cyrus the Great’s Achaemenid Empire conquered the land just west of the Indus Valley in 535 B.C., give or take a bit. The united Vedic kingdoms were more like a passel of warring Vedic tribes at that point.

So the Indus Valley was divvied up into five Achaemenid satrapys.

Alexander the Great rolled through the Indus Valley in the 320s B.C. — but his empire didn’t last much longer than he did. When Alexander the Great died, his generals began jockeying for top spot.

Folks like Cyrus and Alexander don’t seem to have been interested in forcing new ideas on folks in their new territories, aside from ‘now we’re in charge.’

But I figure soldiers, merchants and the era’s blue-collar analogs who came along with the top bosses traded ideas with the locals.8 Humans are social critters, which I’ve said before.

Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Maurya’s Empire
Avantiputra7's map of the Maurya Empire. (ca. 250 B.C.) Based on map provided on D. Rothermund's and H. Kulke's 'A History of India,' p.69 (2004) background from; via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission

Alexander’s shakeup of the Indus Valley’s status quo, followed by his generals’ infighting, gave Chandragupta Maurya an opportunity to add that region to his empire. Which he did.

Chandragupta Maurya’s biographies vary. But it looks like he gave his throne to his son, retired and became a Jain monk. Or retired and didn’t become a monk.

The Maurya Empire lasted from 322 to 184 B.C., at least as a loose-knit political entity.

Meanwhile, some time around 250 B.C., the two main sects of Jainism formed.

Or maybe Jainism predates Buddhism and Hinduism, having started in the Indus Valley some two and a half millennia before the split. I get the impression that asking five scholars might get six answers.

Buddhism started when Siddhārtha Gautama searched, taught and died: back when Bimbisara ruled Magadha. That’d be around 550 B.C., give or take a few decades.

Hinduism began — we’re not sure, actually. A fair number of academics say Hinduism happened when folks wove together traditions from the Indus Valley civilization and other folks living where India is today.9

Goodby Maurya Empire, Hello Guptan Golden Age

Woudloper's maps of Gupta Empire, ca. 375 and 450 A.D.; from A. Agrawal et al., via Wikipedia, used w/o permission
(From Woudloper, via Wikipedia, used w/o permission.)
(South Asia’s Gupta Empire, Vakataka’s and other holdings, ca.375 & 450 A.D.)

After the Maurya Empire fizzled, folks living in the Indus Valley were ruled by and occasionally joined by folks from Bactria and Scythia, who liked to think they were Greek.

What they, and both the Kushan and Sassanian Empires, had in common was that they came from the north.

That pattern changed in 275 A.D. or thereabouts, when Gupta launched the Gupta Empire. There’s considerable debate over exactly when and where he reigned, but the consensus is that it was late third century A.D. in what’s now northern India.

The years between 300 and 480 A.D. were good times for at least the Gupta Empire’s upper crust, according to the era’s fans in academia.

That’s when mathematicians started thinking about zero as a number and invented the decimal numbering system. Guptans (probably) invented chess, realized that Earth is round and built the Mahabodhi Temple.10

Drama, Death, Decline, a Brahmin Dynasty; Then Caliphates and Mongols

Woudloper's maps of Gupta Empire, ca. 375, 450 and 590 A.D.; from A. Agrawal et al., via Wikipedia, used w/o permission
(From Woudloper, via Wikipedia, used w/o permission.)
(South Asia’s Gupta Empire, Vakataka’s and other holdings, ca.375, 450 & 590 A.D.)

Whether Alchon Huns broke the Gupta Empire, or they succeeded because the Empire was on the skids; Gupta’s good times were clearly over, starting in the 460s A.D.

The Sindh Rai dynasty ruled the lower Indus Valley from 489 to 632 A.D. — the upper part being Alchon Hun territory.

Then drama, death and decline led to the Brahmin dynasty of Sindh. That lasted from  632 to 712, and included much of the upper Indus Valley.

Shifting focus a decade back and two thousand miles or three thousand kilometers north and west, Islam had gotten traction in the Arabian Peninsula.

By 712, Rashidun caliphacy forces were rolling over much of the Indus Valley.

The next several centuries were — complicated.

Basically, and oversimplifying, assorted caliphates kept bringing Islam to India, while assorted Hindi rulers kept defeating the invaders.

The Hindu Shahis held on to part of the upper Indus Valley from 822 to 1026. Ghaznavids, Turkish Muslims, knocked over the Hindu Shahis and ran the territory for 154 years.

Then came the Delhi Sultanate, Chagatai Khanate — AKA Mongol invasion — a whole bunch of other names you needn’t try remembering; and, from 1526 to 1857, the Mughal Empire.11

The Mughal Empire

Antosh.mbahrm's map of the Mughal Empire in 1525, showing expansions by Akbar in 1605 and Aurangzeb in 1707. via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.Zahīr ud-Dīn Muhammad’s name wasn’t easy for his troops to pronounce, so they called him Babur. He took over part of what’s now Pakistan in 1519.

By 1525, he was well on his way to founding the Mughal Empire.

It was a Muslim state, about the same way America is a Christian nation.

The laws were derived from Islam, but enforced with an eye to the reality of dealing with a huge and diverse population of non-Muslims.

Akbar the Great was the Mughal Emperor from 1542 to 1605.

Akbar set up the library for women at Fatehpur Skri, ordered schools for both Muslims and Hindus throughout his realm and helped bookbinding become a high art.

Then he died.

In 1658, regent Dara Shikoh tried picking up where Akbar the Great had left off. Whether his reforms offended defenders of the status quo, or Dara Shikoh was insufficiently diligent about watching his back, results were the same.

A year later, Aurangzeb, another royal, said that he was emperor and made it stick. Then he had Dara, (and, a little later, Sikh guru Tegh Bahadur) executed. Aurangzeb encouraged his subjects to become Muslims, adding Jizya taxes to those who didn’t.

After that, Sikhs militarized and a mess of other folks revolted.

Some historians say Aurangzeb destabilized his empire. Others say he did a wonderful job: building Hindu temples, and employing Hindus in his bureaucracy.

Either way, Aurangzeb eventually died. Without naming a successor. Bahadur Shah I, Aurangzeb’s son, survived a scramble for the Mughal throne.

Bahadur Shah I repealed his father’s religious policies, tried reforming the government, and then he died, too.

The Mughal Empire was on the skids from that point on. Explaining why it fell apart has kept historians writing papers at each other for generations.12

England’s Indian Empire

Archibald Constable and Sons' 'Constable's Hand Atlas of India' map, showing political divisions of England's empire in India. (1893) via Wikipedia, used w/o permission.

I’ll say this for the Mughal rulers. They kept trying. In 1719, their empire was an oligarchic constitutional monarchy. That lasted until 1857.

Bahadur Shah Zafar — “Mughal Emperor of India, King of Delhi” — ruled a realm that included the city of Delhi and property out to Palam. That’s where the Indira Gandhi International Airport is now.

He was crowned in 1837 and stayed neutral on the subject of religion.

The East India Company had long since arrived. They’d been running growing fractions of the Indian subcontinent since 1757, 1765, or 1773: which is when they said their capital was in Calcutta.

Having their lands run by a foreign company didn’t sit well with India’s regional rulers.

Fast-forward to 1857.

A rebellion was in progress. Or a mutiny, or a glorious and doomed war of independence. There’s an ongoing and lively debate over which is the ‘correct’ term.

At any rate, some of the rebels/mutineers/patriots visited Zafar — emperor of a city and a suburb — and said he was emperor of Hindustan. If they’d been successful, that’d be the name of what’s now Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.

Zafar was 81 years old at this point, and had a reputation for staying neutral on religion: which I gather was a huge point in his favor from the rebel viewpoint.

Opinions on how Zafar handled his appointment as Hindustan’s emperor vary.

I figure that whether Zafar’s response was indecisive or reluctant doesn’t matter.

Either way, Zafar eventually said he’d be emperor of the as-yet-nonexistent empire. Then some of his guests killed 52 Europeans, using the front of Zafar’s palace as a backdrop.

In 1858, the whatever-it-was ended. Zafar was tried, convicted and exiled to Rangoon. Seems that the new powers that be didn’t see a point in executing an 82-year-old ex-emperor.13

Slaves, Opium and Change

'A busy stacking room in the opium factory at Patna, India,' lithograph after W. S. Sherwill. (ca. 1850)The East India Company’s control of India could have been worse.

The 1857 rebels/mutineers/patriots might have succeeded in launching their Hindustan Empire, if more folks in India either thought the English overlords were unacceptable, or simply didn’t care who was running the place; as long as they could do business.

Folks who were bought and sold as slaves might have preferred a change in leadership. It depends, I figure, on whether the wannabe liberators wanted to end the slave trade: or wanted a piece of the action.

Slavery had existed in India and in most places long before the English came.

Treating some individuals as if they were property has been a tradition at least since the earliest civilizations began.

It’s also a bad idea and we shouldn’t do it. (Catechism, 2414)

The idea that slavery is a bad idea started getting traction a couple-three centuries back. What astonishes me isn’t so much that many countries have now criminalized slavery, as that open slavery is now unfashionable.

The East India Company’s exports included slaves and opium. I haven’t learned when either commodity was phased out.

The Opium Wars, a Euro-American coalition’s successful effort to force China’s acceptance of opium imports, ended in 1858, the same year that the British Crown took over India’s management from the East India Company.14

Misusing opium, or any other drug, is a bad idea and we shouldn’t do it. (Catechism, 2291)

On the other hand, opium and other drugs aren’t evil by themselves. It’s how we use them. Life and physical health are precious gifts from God. Taking care of them, within reason, is a good idea and something we should do. (Catechism, 2288-2296)

Nine Eventful Decades: The British Raj and Pakistani Independence

Alfred Gale's 'Pictorial Illustration of the Cause of the Great Rebellion' and 'Pictorial Illustration of Abolitionism.' (ca. 1865) via Library of Congress, used w/o permissionThe British Raj, English rule in India, lasted from 1858 to 1947.

Quite a bit happened during those decades.

My country’s northeastern states won a major internal war, so we call it the “American Civil War” or “The Civil War.”

If things had gone otherwise, it might have been the “War of the Rebellion,” “Great Rebellion”, or “War for Southern Independence.” I’m partial to “War Between the States,” and that’s yet again another topic.

Germany, a late starter in the European colonial era, was punished for losing the first phase of a global war.

Crippling economic reparations and political sanctions provided a surprisingly charismatic German politician with talking points that made him an effective fundraiser, chancellor and dictator. I said “effective,” not “good” in the ethical sense.

Nagasaki City Office's photo of Urukami Cathedral, Nagasaki, Japan. (1945)The second phase of the 20th century’s global war ended with a remarkable number of survivors, and an even more remarkable number of national leaders who thought ‘business as usual’ was a bad idea.

What we call World War II ended in 1947.

British India — I’d bet you thought I’d forgotten about that, if I placed bets, which I don’t, and that’s still another topic — Anyway, British India became India, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and British Burma in 1947.

British Burma became just plain Burma in 1948 and now it’s called Myanmar.

Pakistan was in two pieces, east and west, until 1971. Now the west part is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the east bit is the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.15

Pakistan in the 21st Century: It Could be Worse

Reuters photo: Peshawar church bombing. (September 22, 2013)
(From Reuters, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(Peshawar, Pakistan (September 22, 2013)
“The attackers struck as hundreds of worshippers left the All Saints church in a busy part of the city”
(BBC News))

Pakistani church bombings got attention in 2013, 2015 and 2017.

Why they happened at approximately two year intervals, and how many churches were attacked before and since: that, I don’t know. I also don’t know whether there’s anything significant about Peshawar, Lahore and Quetta being in central and northeastern Pakistan.

The good news is that apparently many Pakistani churches weren’t bombed in September of 2013.

  • Scores die in twin Pakistan church bombings
    At least 78 people killed as suicide bombers trigger blasts at end of church service in northern city of Peshawar.
    Al Jazeera News (September 22, 2013)
  • Pakistan church blast kills dozens
    A twin-suicide bombing outside a church in Peshawar in Pakistan has killed at least 75 people, in one of the worst attacks on Christians in the country.
    BBC News (September 22, 2013)

And, on the ‘misery loves company’ principle, All Saints Church wasn’t the only place in Peshawar bombed that month.16

Blast kills dozens in Pakistan’s Peshawar
Pakistani officials say bomb in the busy Qissa Khwani market in northwestern city kills at least 40.
Al Jazeera (September 29, 2013)

“…The attack in Peshawar, in northwestern Pakistan, comes a week after two suicide bombers blew themselves up in a crowd of worshippers at a church, killing 85 people.

“On Friday, 19 people died when a bomb planted on a bus carrying government employees exploded in the Peshawar outskirts.

“The Sunni armed group Jundullah claimed responsibility for the church attack, saying it targeted Christians to avenge the deaths of Muslims killed by US drone strikes….”

Death, Destruction, Attitudes and Soreheads

Reuters photo: Peshawar bombing. (September 2013)
(From Reuters, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(Peshawar, Pakistan (September 2013))

The Qissa Khwani bazaar/market bomb had apparently been in a parked car, set off remotely. Or by someone in or near the car. I’ve seen it told both ways.

What’s more certain is that many folks abruptly stopped living that day.

The September 29, 2013, Al Jazeera article says nobody had taken credit for the Qissa Khwani market blast. Maybe someone disapproved of that particular market. Or had a grudge against someone who was shopping that day.

Or, since the bomb went off between a police station and a mosque, maybe whoever set it off couldn’t decide whether the police or the mosque was more deserving of destruction.

If Peshawar police were the target, maybe the blast was retaliation for police efforts to interfere with the previous Sunday’s church bombing.

If the target was the mosque, maybe the bomber or bombers felt that Muslims there weren’t the proper sort of Muslims.

The vast majority of Pakistan’s Muslims are Sunni. The others, maybe 10% to 15% of the 96.5% Muslim majority, are Shia.

Branford Clarke's cartoon, from page 21 of Alma White's 'Klansmen: Guardians of Liberty;' Zarephath, New Jersey. (1926)Sunni and Shia Muslims often aren’t trying to kill each other for religious reasons.

But Islam has its soreheads, just as some American Christians have sought to defend their country from people like me.

Happily, America’s soreheads aren’t nearly as proactive as Pakistan’s.

About the September 22, 2013, church attack, seems that it’s America’s fault. Sort of. From a particular viewpoint.

Jundullah, an enthusiastic bunch of Sunnis, said they killed folks at All Saints Church because Americans had killed Muslims with drones.17 Oh, wait. I’m repeating myself. That was in the September 29, 2013 Al Jazeera article I quoted.

From their viewpoint, that may make sense.

Blasphemy in Pakistan

Reuters photo: Peshawar bombing. (September 2013)
(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“The clinic and other Hindu-owned shops were targeted by the mob, witnesses said”
(BBC News))

In fairness, it’s not just Christians being punished for being the wrong sort of Pakistani.

Pakistan vet charged with blasphemy over medicine ‘wrapped in religious text’
BBC News (May 28, 2019)

A Hindu veterinary doctor in south-east Pakistan has been charged under the country’s strict blasphemy laws after allegedly selling medicine wrapped in paper bearing Islamic religious text.

“An angry crowd set fire to his clinic near Mirpur Khas, Sindh province, and other Hindu-owned shops were looted.

“The vet said his use of the paper, apparently torn from an Islamic studies school textbook, was a mistake.

“If he is convicted he could be sentenced to life in prison….”

Life in prison isn’t an ideal outcome, but at least it’s life.

Back in 2017, a bunch of university student Mashal Khan’s fellow-students dragged him out of student housing, beat him, shot him and mutilated him.

I’m not sure whether it was in that order. But that arguably didn’t matter, because Mashal Khan was dead when they were finished.

The university students had a good reason for killing him. Somebody had accused him of blasphemy. Well, good reason from their viewpoint.

The case somehow got into the Pakistani court system. After due deliberation, the court decided that Mashal Khan hadn’t committed blasphemy after all; so one of the students should be executed and five others put in prison for life.18

I am so glad I don’t live in Pakistan.

Pakistani Blasphemy Law: Looks Good on Paper?

Prince.aliabbas's photo: Wadi-e-Hussain Cemetery (Karachi, Pakistan) on a rainy day. (December 8, 2013) via Wikipedia, used w/o permission.

On paper, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws penalize blasphemy against any religion, with sanctions ranging from a fine to death.

In practice, it’s hard to avoid getting the impression that blasphemy is something that offends a Muslim: generally a Sunni Muslim. And that part of the trick in surviving a charge of blasphemy is to not get accused in the first place.

Folks who disapprove of Pakistani blasphemy law say that the law is used to settle grudges between neighbors and punish non-Sunni-Muslims for not being Sunni.

It doesn’t help that about 96.5% of all Pakistani are Muslims, and something like nine out of 10 of those are Sunni Muslims.

Maybe 1.27% of all Pakistani are Christians. It’s an estimate, and estimates vary.

About three out every four Pakistani Christians live in Pakistan’s rural Punjab region.

And most of them are Dalit Christians: descendants of Dalits, untouchables in the Hindi caste system. Today’s conventional wisdom is that they became Christians for economic reasons and to escape their untouchable status.

In any case, Pakistani Dalit Christians are near the bottom of the ladder in Pakistan: limited to jobs like sewer cleaner.

The closest analog in American culture that I can think of is “white trash.” Sorry if that’s an improper phrase these days: but it’s part of my dialect’s vocabulary.19

Living in a Big World

Thomas Nast's 'The American River Ganges.' (May 8, 1875) Anti-Catholic cartoon from Harper's Weekly magazine.I think folks who criticize Pakistan’s blasphemy law have a point, but I’m not a hotheaded member of a religious majority who thinks that what his country needs is fewer folks who aren’t just like me.

Anyway since I’m a Catholic, I can’t attack others for not agreeing with me. That may take a little explaining.

Pursuing truth isn’t just a good idea. It’s something we should all do. By the same token, forcing folks to deny their religious beliefs is a bad idea and we shouldn’t do it. (Catechism, 839-845, 2104-2109)

A few more points, and I’m done for this week.

Everyone is my neighbor. And I should love my neighbor. No exceptions. (Matthew 5:4344, 22:3640; Mark 12:2831; Luke 6:31, 10:2537)

Human beings are people, no matter what we do or where we’re from. (Catechism, 355-361, 1701-1706, 1928-1942, 2258-2283)

Pursuing truth and loving neighbors sounds simple, and in a way it is. But it can also be incredibly difficult. Particularly when a neighbor behaves badly.

There’s much more to say about all this, including and maybe particularly why I’m glad America isn’t a “Christian republic.” But that must wait for another time.

Besides I’ve talked about people, tolerance and making sense before:

1 Pakistan’s recent(ish) history:

2 Beginnings:

3 Religion, science and getting a grip:

4 More science, and why truth doesn’t bother me:

5 Discovedring a forgotten civilization:

6 Climate and civilizations:

7 Pakistan and the Indian subcontinent’s history:

8 Empires and immigrants:

9 Faith and empire:

10 A golden age, for some:

11 Dynasties, caliphates and a khanate:

12 Mostly Mughal:

13 Hindustan, the empire than never was:

14 Opium, slaves and wars:

15 More wars:

16 Three high-profile church bombings:

17 Bomb at a bazaar:

18 Arson, death and blasphemy:

19 Blasphemy and status:

About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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