Murder in the cathedral

WHILE SUICIDE bombing is not an uncommon phenomenon in Pakistan, there is something especially appalling about militants targeting a place of worship where people are at their most vulnerable.

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Published: Tue 24 Sep 2013, 11:35 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 10:49 AM

Even during the worst violence in Europe, churches were regarded as sanctuaries and people who took shelter there, even if they were criminals, could ask for asylum and were even granted so, as Victor Hugo depicted in “The Hunchback of Notredam”. The public horror and repugnance that the spilling of blood in the house of God provokes remains indelibly etched in the collective minds of society.

That is why the assassination of British archbishop Thomas Becket in the Canterbury cathedral on the behest of the then reigning monarch Henry II still remains an anathema, despite the fact that it happened in 1170 AD and the king was the rightful ruler of the land. The bloodbath at Peshawar’s All Saints Church after Sunday’s mass, in which nearly 80 people died and the casualties could go up, is therefore even more condemn-worthy, being perpetrated by suicide bombers who have no legitimacy.

Pakistan has a long list of attacks on churches and Christians. Whenever a book or film in the West gave offence, Christians in Pakistan paid for them though they had no hand in them. In 2006, churches and Christian schools in Pakistan came under attack over an offending cartoon published in a Danish newspaper. The government’s failure to control anti-secular forces was highlighted in 2011 when gunmen killed Shahbaz Bhatti, minister for minorities affair, who was the first Christian to have become a minister in Pakistan’s federal cabinet. Though Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has condemned the church attack, the need is for quick and strong action against the perpetrators that would deter future attacks, not just words. Bhatti’s murder, for instance, is yet to be punished. Police arrested an alleged perpetrator only last week, two years after the killing even though the victim was a powerful man with high connections.

At a time the Sharif government is trying to promote foreign investment and tourism in Pakistan, the church carnage will deal a blow to the government’s efforts unless quick retaliatory action is taken against the perpetrators.

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