Features

One-man truth squad

International | Convinced religious minorities in Islamic societies will "continue to suffer" unless the United States makes them a priority, a tireless Pakistani-American activist misses no opportunity to poke holes in pro-Islam public relations

Issue: "Illegal siblings project," Feb. 2, 2002

Muslim imams invited to explain Islam at public forums in the Philadelphia area had better watch out: Victor Gill, a Christian immigrant and truth-teller from Muslim-dominated Pakistan, may be there, too. Mr. Gill, 50, father of four and a human-rights advocate who holds degrees in physics and theology, is usually among the first to stride to a microphone during question-and-answer sessions following such talks. An example:
"I am a Christian from Pakistan," he announced emphatically to Imam Farid Rasool at a recent Monday night gathering in a suburban Friends meetinghouse; 250 people there had just applauded the imam's hour-long portrayal of Islam as a unifying force for peace, goodness, and universal brotherhood. Mr. Gill cited a list of well-documented abuses suffered by the minority Christians in Pakistan (who account for 2 percent to 3 percent of the mostly Muslim population of 145 million): discrimination in employment, housing, and voting; their schools taken over by the government without compensation; years of sporadic destruction, mayhem, and murder-all in the name of Islam. "Will there be a reformation in Islam?" Mr. Gill asked Mr. Rasool. "Will you speak out?" Mr. Rasool skirted the issue ("those are not good Muslims"), but he and Mr. Gill have since struck up a dialogue by e-mail and telephone. Although some in the audience seemed annoyed by Mr. Gill's forthrightness, dozens thanked him afterward for speaking up. Mr. Gill told WORLD too many people since 9/11 have heard only about "showcase Islam"-themes of peace and the five pillars of Islam (faith, prayer, charity, fasting, the hajj), and not about a darker side of Islam that remains hidden on a back shelf. "Someone needs to tell these speakers there is a hole in their speeches if they omit human rights," he said. He challenges moderate Muslims to help press for equal rights and an end to persecution of Christians in scores of Islamic countries. Indeed, some moderate Muslims joined him and other demonstrators outside the United Nations headquarters in New York last month. Under the Illinois-based umbrella Coalition for the Defense of Human Rights, the marchers petitioned United Nations leaders to investigate injustices against religious and ethnic minorities in Islamic countries. They also called on the UN to "condemn the ideology of Jihad-Islamism as a form of religious apartheid, which divides humankind into exalted Muslims and inferior 'infidels.'" Mr. Gill says he is opposed to "Muslim bashing" and defamatory insults in confronting Muslims; he relies instead on facts, thought-provoking questions, and goodwill rooted in fairness. Mr. Gill was born into a Pakistani family converted by Church of Scotland missionaries three generations earlier. He became a Christian believer himself while a student at evangelical-founded Gordon College in Rawalpindi under the preaching of Arab-American evangelist Anis Shorrosh in 1968. He went on to become a physics teacher at Gordon and at Presbyterian-founded Forman College in Lahore-the same college where Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf studied. (Mr. Musharraf, a Muslim, also graduated from a Catholic high school in Karachi and Pakistan's military academy.) Mr. Gill and his wife came to the United States in 1976 to continue studies; he graduated from Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia in 1981. He had intended to return to Pakistan as a medical missionary, but serious medical problems of two of his sons forced him and his wife to remain in America and rethink their ministry options. Mr. Gill taught physics part-time at a community college for several years and became a hospital nurse-still his main source of family income. He founded the Christian Voice of Pakistan to "propagate the truth of Christ," to defend fellow believers in his homeland against discrimination and persecution, and to document atrocities by Muslims against Christians. Its quarterly newsletter helps to keep the estimated 10,000 Pakistani Christians in this country informed. He networks closely with other groups, from the Pakistani-American Christian Association (PACA) to the Urban Family Council (UFC), both based in Philadelphia. PACA, headed by auto-parts executive Manny Alam, provides many of the foot soldiers for the public demonstrations Mr. Gill organizes. UFC, led by William Devlin, added human rights in Islamic countries to its agenda, thanks to the Gill connection. Mr. Devlin accompanied Mr. Gill to Islamabad last year to meet with political and religious leaders about their concerns. (Mr. Gill is on a first-name basis with former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who may have a role in Pakistan's next government.) When President Musharraf came to New York to address the United Nations general assembly last fall, Mr. Gill was there. At a hotel dinner afterward where Mr. Musharraf addressed nearly 1,000 Pakistani expatriates, Mr. Gill raised the persecution issue. "Why didn't you mention Bahawalpur in your speech?" Mr. Gill asked. (Fifteen Protestants, including a pastor, were slain by Muslim terrorists at a worship service Oct. 28 at St. Dominic's church in Bahawalpur in central Pakistan.) "What do you want me to say?" President Musharraf replied with a shrug. "Just one sentence in the speech recognizing the plight of the minorities in Pakistan would have been enough for us," Mr. Gill told WORLD. Mr. Gill for years has lobbied for equal voting rights for Pakistan's minorities; President Musharraf's regime on Jan. 16 announced sweeping electoral reforms that abolish the present discriminatory system. Mr. Gill says he now will concentrate on repeal of the country's anti-blasphemy laws, responsible for widespread abuse and persecution of Christians and other minorities. Fourteen Christians reportedly are in prison facing death sentences for allegedly violating the laws, even though the accusers and "evidence" are highly suspect. Mr. Gill is in regular touch with rights champions in the U.S. Congress, and he has advised several members who have traveled to Pakistan to press for reforms. He warns: "Until the White House and the Congress place human rights at the top of their national-interest agenda, the minorities in other countries will continue to suffer."

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Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman

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