Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Aid to Pakistan

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, has called on the government to seek commitments to human rights and religious freedom in exchange for aid money given to Pakistan - going so far as to brand present foreign policy "anti-Christian" because these guarantees are not in place.

According to a report published by Vatican-approved agency, "Aid to the Church in Need", 75% of religious persecution around the world is directed against Christians and 100 million people are affected. The Pakistani minority affairs minister Shahbaz Bhatti - the only Christian member of the Pakistani cabinet - was assassinated in Pakistan at the start of March by Islamic fundamentalists. Despite being warned in advance of the assassination attempt by security agencies, the Pakistani government failed to give him any extra protection.

Shahbaz Bhatti's death was a tragedy, not just for his family and friends but for the whole of Pakistan, which desperately needs liberal voices to stop it from becoming an oppressive hardline Islamic state. Having said that though, I nevertheless have to disagree with the Cardinal's comments...

Religious persecution - any persecution - is a terrible thing, and we should be doing everything we can to discourage and prevent it, but the Cardinal's words seem to me to contradict the words of Jesus himself, who told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. This ought to be a key distinctive of the Christian faith - that we repay evil with kindness and show love unconditionally. This most emphatically was not done during the most dark and shameful period of church history - the Crusades - for which many Muslims worldwide still have not forgiven us. We should be doing everything possible to live in the opposite spirit to those terrible days.

I am horrified by the spirit I see manifested behind Islamic fundamentalism in places like Pakistan, but Christians are nevertheless called to love all Muslims - fundamentalist, extremist or otherwise - as we are to love anyone else. Aid should never be given with conditions attached, except for the condition that it goes to whoever needs it the most. In no sense can this be called "anti-Christian" - it's actually about as Christian as it gets!

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