Ever since my friend, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, branded British foreign policy towards aid to Pakistan as ‘anti-Christian’, I’ve been trying to think through the issues. To say that it is ‘anti-Christian’ does to me something of an over-statement – or rather risks addressing the wrong target.

But just to be clear, no over-statement does justice to the dreadful reality of what is happening in Pakistan and the working out of their notorious blasphemy laws. You may not have seen the astonishingly forthright Times article by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Responding to the killing of Shahbaz Bhatti, he refers to Pakistan and says, ‘In the history of some countries there comes a period when political and factional murder becomes almost routine — Russia at the beginning of the 20th century, Germany and its neighbours in the early 1930s.’ You can read the full article here.

At the recent Primates’ Meeting in Dublin, I had the privilege of getting to know Archbishop Samuel Azariah of the Church in Pakistan – a modest and unassuming person of great courage. That friendship brings these issues closer to me as I picture the difficulties and dangers with which he, his clergy and people live on a daily basis. The Primates agreed to send a private letter to the leaders of Pakistan expressing our feelings about the application of the blasphemy laws.

But it seems to me that the issue here is really about aid budgets – and in particular about whether aid budgets should be an instrument of foreign policy. I understand that what is at stake here is far more than just the minutiae of foreign policy – there are fundamental issues of human rights being denied, freedom of speech and freedom of worship. How could one not feel that the provision of aid should be made dependent on a commitment to the even the most basic of human rights? And yet there is something of a slippery slope here – which, as I have suggested, can lead to connections being made between the provision of aid and all kinds of other issues. Better I think to keep them separate. If aid is required, let us provide aid. If human rights are being denied, let us say that in the most vigorous terms – directly to the government of Pakistan, in the United Nations and elsewhere.


  1. Those who need aid are those who are starving and abused. That is still the case whatever the blasphemy laws. To make the relief of need dependent on anything else other than need, seems to be to be anti-Christian.

  2. Talking great sense as usual and it was an honour to be on The Big Questions with you last Sunday as described in your previous post. Thank you for referencing the Archbishop’s Times article as well. I wonder if you have seen this story?
    Pakistani Christians convert to Islam because of threats and intimidations
    by Aoun Sahi*
    This is the rate is 60 per month. In one madrassa in Lahore alone, 678 Christians embraced Islam in 2009. Last year they were almost 700. These are “dangerous days” minorities, activists say as the blasphemy law is used to force them to change religion.

    Lahore (AsiaNews/TNS) – On a sunny afternoon in the second week of February 2011, 45-year-old Azra Bibi, clad in black shawl, entered the reception of Jamia Naeemia with her ten year old son, a leading Sunni-Barelvi madrassa situated in a congested area of Lahore. Accompanied by a 45-year-old Muslim witness Chaudhry Muhammad Islam, Azra a recent convert to Islam along with her six children asked for the imam of the Jamia. She has come here to get proper documents to prove in the court that she was no longer a Christian.

    The young receptionist at Jamia Naeemia talks to the principal on telephone opens the side drawer of his dented metal table and pulls out a two-inch-thick book wrapped in a blue cover. He finds a blank page and starts writing her details.

    The book is a registry used to keep record of religious conversions to Islam. One book is enough to record 100 cases of conversions. A newly built wooden cabinet brimming with many such books is used to store the record. Officials at the Madrassa say the number of people converting from other religions, especially Christianity, to Islam is on the rise here. At least 50 to 60 Christians embrace Islam each month by signing a white and green paper on the book declaring that they accept Islam without any greed or pressure and promise to ‘remain in the religion of Islam for the rest of the life’, and will try to spend life according to the principles of Islam.

    more at the link above

    1. And you Ruth – you’ll have seen I felt that those of us in the chairs facing the presenter’s back came out just ahead on points on a ‘was it worth the effort’ measurement!

      Thanks for the quotes. I’ll address my twitter status as you suggested to Lorna!

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