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Black day

"Black day" Continued...

Issue: "The ABCs of C Street," Aug. 29, 2009

Witnesses concur that this was indeed the case in the Gojra attack. "The way things were moving in Gojra, no rocket science was needed to predict this fallout," Napolean Qayyum, a member of a Christian advocacy group, told Compass.

One Pakistani pastor, who asked that his name be withheld for security reasons, said there is a great need for justice in the wake of these attacks: "It seems that over the years, Pakistani society has become intolerant of non-Muslims both in the country and outside the country. There is need to publicly condemn unholy acts of such elements who do not fear the law and by bringing them to justice, the authorities can make an example for the rest of the people."

Christian and human-rights groups are watching to see how Pakistan responds to the atrocities and the demands of extremists. "The authorities must take note of these patterns of failures of the local police, remove such elements from their office and punish those who fail to provide protection to fellow citizens," said the pastor.

Muslim groups in Gojra held a press conference on Aug. 5, calling on the government to release the imams listed in the formal complaint who threatened to hang Talib Masih, the father of the sons falsely accused of desecrating the Quran.

Investigators believe a banned pro-Taliban group, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and its al-Qaeda--linked offshoot, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, were behind the attacks. The government recently received an intelligence report stating that militants are transitioning from suicide attacks to incitement of sectarian strife in their efforts to destabilize the country, and the growing presence of SSP and other militant groups in central and southern Punjab has led many analysts to predict a new militant stronghold in the province.

That threat could grow as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Malik Ishaq is released from jail on bail next month as expected. Ishaq has been linked to at least 70 killings, but a 1990 law, which allows criminals and victims to settle out of court, has made it difficult to convict him and others.

Bhatti says Pakistan's blasphemy laws-some of the most extreme in the Muslim world-are the root cause of Christian persecution and a violation of human rights. The current ruling party, the Pakistan Peoples Party, vowed to amend the laws but has yet to do so. The government has ordered an investigation into the Punjab attacks and is issuing monetary compensation to those who lost family members and homes. But Christians say they hope for more meaningful actions in the near future-such as repealing Pakistan's one-sided laws.

Pakistani Christians are taking action to promote awareness of the blasphemy laws and how they've affected Christians. Instead of commemorating the government-endorsed "minorities day" on Aug. 11, Pakistani Christians are planning "black day" activities that include peaceful demonstrations and a display of black flags in various locations around the world.

School of militancy

By Jill Nelson

The Jamba Erabia Madrasa on the outskirts of Islamabad cannot be seen from the main road. A gas station hides the small dirt road leading to the still-under-repair three-story building. The front green metal gate, made in a typical Islamic fashion, leads to a long white hallway, where carved white seats each face a faucet to wash feet and hands. The main courtyard and mosque were built in 1979 with private money from locals and influential Pakistanis from outside the area. The madrasa gets all its money from private donors, which makes it very hard to trace, as Saudis are known to have poured millions into Pakistan.

About 30 young men from the age of 13 to 20 attend, sent by their parents for a 2-3 year training program. It is organized around a rigorous schedule that begins at 4 in the morning and only ends when the students go to bed at 11 at night. Their time is organized around five daily prayers and the memorization of the Quran. The memorization dictates how good a Muslim these children will become.

One of these children, Abdul Manaam, a Pashtun from the remote North West Frontier Province, was sent by his parents to Jamba Erabia to escape the war-torn province, where resurgent Taliban adherents are waging war with Pakistani forces as well as U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The 8-year-old boy does not speak Urdu, the language of Pakistan, nor Arabic, the language of the Quran, and understands very little about the Pakistani madrasa culture that is likely to shape his future.

In 2002 the Pakistani government, as the key U.S. ally in the region following al-Qaeda's attack on the United States, vowed to reform madrasas, where over 1.5 million mostly poor children are provided free religious education, boarding, and lodging. But Jamba Erabia is testimony to the failed reform effort.

Madrasas not only in the north but in central areas like Punjab, where recent attacks against Christians took place, are growing while public government-funded education in Pakistan is in decline. That trend is a concern in the face of expanding insurgency by Pakistani-based Taliban and al-Qaeda linked groups-offering little instruction beyond Quran memorization and developing militant sympathies.
-with reporting by Jonathan Alpeyrie, a photojournalist living in New York

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