Multiculturalism is a Western ideal, amounting to a secular faith. Every Western government at least mouths its mantras – that a mix of peoples in one nation is a social good, that it enriches what had been a tediously monolithic culture, that it improves (especially for the Anglo-Saxons) our cuisine, our dress sense and our love lives. Besides, we need these immigrants: In Europe at least, where demographic decline is still the order of the day in most states, where else will the labor come from? Who else replenishes the state pension fund? Even where leaders criticize multiculturalism’s tendency to shield communities from justified criticism – Angela Merkel of Germany and David Cameron of the UK have both spoken out on this – they touch only on its more obvious failings. As a process, they agree it is welcome.
Forgotten, or at least suppressed, in this narrative is religion and the animating force it still gives to many groups. Animating – and also divisive. To believe deeply in a religion had been, in the West as well as elsewhere, to believe deeply in the error of those not of the same faith, and to shun them. It has been one of the remarkable transformations of the past century that in the West, those of religious faith, or none, should accommodate the faiths of others. Indeed, they should even honor them. Those societies where that did not happen — say, until very recently, Ireland — the culture was seen as aberrant.
The reverse is true in many strongly Islamic societies. And that’s causing a problem for the Christians still living in them.
In Pakistan, the Christians number around 2.5 million. At 1.5 percent of the population, it is the largest minority in an otherwise wholly Muslim country, its origin as a community stemming entirely from the missionary activities of the British colonialists and the small number of Christians who stayed on after independence came in 1947. Promised complete equality, the progressive Islamization of the state has put increasing pressure on Christians, who face both official discrimination and periodic popular violence. The latter increased in the past decade: Last year claimed two prominent victims.
Shahbaz Bhatti, 42 years old, was the federal minister for minority affairs, a Catholic and a strong opponent of the country’s blasphemy laws: In March, his car was sprayed with bullets. By the time he got to the hospital, he was dead on arrival. The group Tehrik-i-Taliban claimed responsibility, citing Bhatti as a “known blasphemer.” The murder came two months after another, of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer. Although not a Christian, Taseer had also strongly opposed the blasphemy law and offered support to those caught in it. He was shot in January by one of his bodyguards, Malik Qadri, reportedly associated with the Dawat-e-Islami group.