FaithWorld

Is “phobia” the right term for religious intolerance?

ParliamentParliament in Britain has scheduled a debate on Christianophobia for Wednesday and interest in it seems to be almost zero. It’s on the parliamentary agenda and the BBC has done a story on it. But the usual Google searches find no other articles about it and few blog entries (for example here, here, here or here).

OK, it’s not the hottest topic right now and there’s a much bigger religion story out there today — the return of “teddy row teacher” Gillian Gibbons from Sudan. But that’s not all.

Christianophobia doesn’t seem to be catching on as a useful term denoting a clear injustice to Christians. There was disagreement about it among Christians when the Vatican led a successful drive about three years ago to have it recognised as a social evil equivalent to the hatred of Jews or Muslims. The United Nations adopted the term and reports regularly on cases of Christianophobia, but these reports have little impact.

Coffins of 15 Pakistani Christians shot dead in church by gunmen, Bahawalpur, 29 Oct. 2001Human rights groups regularly document clear cases of persecution of Christians in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, to mention only the most frequently cited offenders. Christians such as British MP Mark Pritchard, who initiatied the parliamentary debate, express concern about the way Christian traditions such as Nativity plays are being sidelined in western societies. This recalls the criticism of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI that Europe is forgetting its Christian roots .

All this is happening, but is a word ending in “-phobia” the right way to describe it? A phobia is an irrational fear. Fear can certainly be one of several motivating factors in anti-Christian views. But aren’t we really talking about prejudice, discrimination and persecution here? Aren’t those who persecute Christians or try to keep Christianity out of the public sphere doing this out of their cold calculation of their own interests?

Support for UN religious rights expert detained in Pakistan

Six international human rights groups have appealed to the U.N. Human Rights Council to press Pakistan to release Asma Jahangir, the world body’s special rapporteur on the freedom of religion or belief. The Pakistani lawyer, a leading human rights campaigner in her country, was put under house arrest in Lahore when President General Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency on November 3.

Asma Jahangir presents 2006 Pakistan human rights report, Feb. 8, 2007The six groups — Amnesty International, The International Federation for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, International Service for Human Rights, World Organisation against Torture and Pax Romana — also said Pakistan should lift a threat of detention against Hina Jilani , the U.N. special representative on the situation of human rights defenders who is currently outside of her native Pakistan but would be arrested if she returned. Jahangir and Jilani are sisters who have been active campaigners for women’s rights in Pakistan.

A group representing all 38 UN special representatives and working groups on human rights also protested against emergency rule in Pakistan and singled out the arrest of their colleague Jahangir and the detention order against Jilani. “We are concerned that placing a Special Procedures mandate holder under house arrest may adversely impact on his or her ability to carry out the activities necessary to fulfill the mandate. We are alarmed that a detention order remains in place against Hina Jilani, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders,” they said.

Kashmiri Hindus hold festival for first time in 18 years

Kashmir policeman guards Hindu religious festival in SrinagarSome international crises drag on so long that outsiders can forget what life in the area was like before the unrest began. Look at Kashmir, the beautiful mountain region split by war between India and Pakistan at Partition in 1947. The Muslim separatist unrest in Indian Kashmir flared up again in 1989 and led to clashes 10 years later that threatened to spark a full war between the two nuclear states. These years of unrest have fanned tension and suspicion between the majority Muslim population and the minority Hindus and Sikhs. But peace efforts in recent years have brought the violence down to the point where the Hindus could revive a religious tradition they dared not celebrate publicly for 18 years. The violence is not over, as our photo of the police protection for the ceremony vividly shows, but progress is being made.

As our Srinagar correspondent Sheikh Mushtaq wrote,

Hundreds of chanting Hindus burnt a huge effigy of a demon king to mark one of their biggest festivals for the first time in Kashmir since Muslim militants launched a revolt 18 years ago.

The celebrations late on Sunday came at the end of the nine-day Dusshera festival, which celebrates god-king Ram’s victory over the mythological king Ravana, symbolising the triumph of good over evil.