Pakistani MPs Can Insult Christians and Get Away with It

Proto Thema Pakistani Christians protesting the September 22, 2013 suicide bombings at Peshawar's All Saints Church, which left more than 80 dead.

Pakistan is in its second week of protests about the Chitrali case. Bishops and clergy of different Christian denominations and activists for freedom of religion took to the streets demanding that MP Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali resigns.

On March 28, Chitrali spoke in the heated parliamentary debate about the practice of certain Pakistani universities to give credits to students who can memorize the Quran or the Bible. He made a distinction between the Quran and other scriptures.

“The Gospel, the Torah, and the Psalms are canceled scriptures, he said. We believe in all of them and don’t reject them but Quran is permanent and will remain till the judgment day.” Chitrali is a member of the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami party, and was expressing the opinion that, while respectable and adequate in pre-Muslim times, the Torah and the New Testament were superseded and even “canceled” when the Quran appeared.

This is a theological opinion common in conservative Islamic circles, but the word “canceled” is offensive to Jews and Christians, the more so when it is used by a MP in a Parliamentary debate. Few Muslims would tolerate a Western MP calling the Quran a second-class or outdated scripture in a Western Parliament. Demonstrations and worse would probably follow.

In Pakistan, however, nothing happened to Chitrali. Naveed Aamir Jeeva, a Christian MP, asked the speaker of the Assembly to censor Chitrali, but his request was turned down.

Religious minority protesters noted that in Pakistan blasphemy, or alleged blasphemy, against Islam is punished with the death penalty, but blasphemy against other religions is practiced openly and even protected at the National Assembly. As long as this situation persists, they noted, any claim that Pakistan is a democracy upholding human rights should be dismissed by the international community as mere propaganda.

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