Christian and Muslim leaders condemn attack on church during anti-Islam film protests
Islamabad (AsiaNews) - Christian and Muslim leaders have condemned the attack on a Protestant church which took place on September 21, in conjunction with protests led by Pakistani Muslims against the anti-Islamic film. The attack has caused severe damage to the building and the adjacent library; several copies of the Bible were desecrated. The bishop of Islamabad condemns the act and the violence that characterized the Friday protest as "unjustifiable"; the comments of leading figures of the Islamic front is even more critical, that "Pakistani Christians are peaceful people" and "have never insulted" the religion of Muhammad. Meanwhile, the Pakistani and U.S. government have expressed their disapproval of the bounty imposed by a Minister in Islamabad against the director of the film "The innocence of Muslims," the film that has sparked a wave of violence across the Islamic world.
Meanwhile, demonstrations continued yesterday in Pakistan, which already on 21 September, coinciding with the International Day of Peace, caused deaths, injuries and destruction. An Anglican church in Mardan, in the Province of North-West Frontier (NWFP) was targeted by Taliban groups that damaged the building and desecrated copies of the Bible.
On 21 September, while the world was celebrating peace, Pakistani Muslims launched demonstrations across the country for "love of the Prophet Muhammad." However, the demonstrations took a turn violent, derailed by the participation of extremist movements and Taliban groups banned by the government. In Peshawar, at least six people were killed, 45 wounded, three cinemas, two banks and three buildings set on fire. In the capital Islamabad 45 people were reported injured, two banks and a gas station set on fire. Damage to personal property and people was also registered in Lahore and Karachi, where two churches were attacked as well.
The most serious attack (pictured) against a Christian church took place in Mardan, where the Sarhadi Lutheran Church, part of the Protestant Church of Pakistan, was destroyed. The attack took place at the end of the Muslim Friday prayers, saw several copies of the Bible desecrated and the Library adjacent to the building suffer severe damage. The same Protestant community in the recent past, had promoted initiatives to support and aid Muslim populations exhausted by the devastating floods of 2010, providing them with shelter and housing.
The episode was strongly condemned by the bishop of Islamabad / Rawalpindi, who states that "everyone has the right to protest," but "damage to public buildings or private property is not justifiable." Bishop Rufin Anthony also added a "strong condemnation" of the attacks and the killing of "innocent". Paul Bhatti, Special Adviser to the Prime Minister for National Harmony, has appealed to Christian leaders and members of civil society, asking them to condemn with "no ifs, ands or buts" the film against Muhammad, the Catholic politician continues his battle for peace between believers and religions and calls for collaboration to restore a climate of tolerance.
Several leading members of the Muslim community in Pakistan have also expressed disapproval and condemnation of attacks against Christian targets. Allama Riaz Ahmed Sharifi, Islamist leader in Punjab, said that "insults to the Prophet Muhammad can not be tolerated," but "the way in which the Muslims showed their anger is unjustifiable." He makes it clear that the government and religious leaders "have a role in the educational process" that should teach people "that it is legitimate protest, but at the same time is completely wrong to damage places of worship, property, or terrorize people." The Muslim lawyer Ejaz Ahmed adds that "Pakistani Christians are peaceful people" and "have never insulted Islam", but "a small fringe of extremists persecute them for their own interests."
In the meantime, the debate continues to rage about the 100 thousand dollar bounty placed by Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, Pakistani Minister of Railways, on the head of the anti-Islamic film's director. While recognizing that the work as "offensive" and "tasteless", as stated by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, according to Washington the Pakistani Railway Minister's gesture - a 100 thousand dollars reward to those who kill the film's author - "foments violence" and is "inappropriate." Dissent and condemnation was also expressed by Islamabad, which has rejected and distanced itself from the initiative of one of its members, Ghulam Ahmed Bilour. A spokesman for the Prime Minister clarified to the BBC that "the government dissociated itself from this in the strongest terms" by a minister who "is not part of the Pakistan People's Party" (which holds a majority of votes, ed) and soon "steps" will be taken against him.
To "avenge" the broadcast of the film that offends the figure of Muhammad, on 11 September, an armed group attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi (Libya). In the attack, Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three of his co-workers lost their lives. Protests against the film have since spread to other Muslim countries in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as in India, Pakistan and Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country in the world.
(Jibran Khan and Shafique Khokhar collaborated)