PEACE PROBE by Gene Stoltzfus

Pentecost in Pakistan: Minorities and Majorities by peaceprobe
June 2, 2009, 4:04 pm
Filed under: Getting on the Way to Peacemaking

      Though the region now called Pakistan includes some of the oldest settlements in South Asia dating back thousands of years, it was only  in 1947 that Pakistan became a nation state for Muslim people from colonial India who wanted a homeland. Mahatma Gandhi resisted the notion of a separate state for Muslims to the end.  The India that Gandhi and his colleagues dreamed of was a heaven of diversity and a cradle of kindness towards all. He was heartbroken when up to a million people were killed during the chaos of separation from India, migration and riots.

     This past week I attended a gathering here in Islamabad called Minorities Solidarity Convention, an event that recalls deeply rooted threads of unity in the diversity of this region. Christians here are now in the season of Pentecost, when they remember how the diversity of their ethnicities at the very outset melted into unity.  For the first time since the founding of Pakistan, a Muslim nation set apart to protect and lift up a life of Muslim justice, the government has established a law for minorities.  Here in Pakistan the definition of a minority is religious, Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist, and other. The new law calls for a five percent set aside government jobs for minorities.  In addition to political representation, activists hope that this will include official curriculum in schools and other marks of toughened respect.

     At its founding Pakistan was envisioned to be  a secular state for Muslims.  The notion of a secular Islamic state is an inherently confusing concept that suggests an autonomy for the state in the context of the dominant religion, Islam.  The notion of the separation of church and state which evolved in Europe and the Americas attempts to deal with the same matter.  Both approaches can be and are manipulated for political and religious ends.  With the growth of Muslim fundamentalism stretching from India through Pakistan and across South Asia the meaning of the nature of a secular Muslim state is being tested.  The stretch from secular on one edge is balanced (some would say abused) by the pull towards a stricter application of traditional Muslim law on the other.   Similar stretching has occurred in lands dominated by Christians.  Fanatic, fundamentalist and fascist expressions of faith and politics claw for power.

                I don�t think it is very helpful for Christians to lecture Muslims about state craft.  We Christians tend to forget the substance of our faith when we get power.  We forget that in its roots Christian faith requires transparency and vulnerability. Even Christian politicians who  come from the bottom  usually get snookered into heavy handed institutional notions of statehood and the exercise of power complete with tanks, mines, big armies that break things, and drone air planes.  Our arsenal is completed with nuclear weapons. The highest expression of our faith and maybe all faiths is very rarely shown in statecraft.  Our laws, their application, our market places and even our credit cards hide our deepest aspirations for equality, peace, a do unto others.., and the cautions about usury (lending money for interest) in both  religious traditions.  

This year my walk in Pakistan during Pentecost Sunday brings together threads of the ancient and modern world. At Pentecost, as described in the Book Of Acts, the divine was integrated in one place where there were people of many languages and memories of ancient conflicts were rife. That Pentecost gathering 2000 years ago was an event of the people from throughout an empire who were united around the mysteries that make for unity. We can speculate that they understood Jesus in various and even in confused ways.  The outpouring of the Spirit happened at their gathering in Jerusalem a tinder box city of fanaticism, oppression, gossip, armed forces, secret weapons and calls for insurgency. There was great potential for division, and violence. Instead unity broke out in the midst of all the potential for stupidity.  At the Pentecost gathering people understood each other despite the boundaries created by long held suspicions and language.
Today the peoples of this region hold tightly to their separate visions and boundaries, many of which were fashioned in an earlier age of empire.   The incomplete business of unity is everywhere visible to the point of violence, terror, and insurgency.

I really need to remember Pentecost this year in Pakistan where the friction of divisive convictions, some devoid of a single thread of compromise, threaten neighbourhoods, villages, cities, and nations.  I am in a place where a big imperial army with faceless weapons and intelligence operatives conjoined with local military forces are poised to make things come out right.   

But I am also in a place where the voices of fairness, unity and justice and peace are  finding ways to listen, act, report, organize and try to live out the better vision. Creating space for minorities is a sign. There are  hints of resolution in the mystery of the spirit that nudges toward truth, if the battalion who march through this place of invasion can be sent away.  There are brave people here.  Some days they are tired. Some may die because of their words and actions.  So on this Pentecost I pray that the decimated villages of Swat and the car bombs of Lahore are not punctuation marks along the way to destruction of this once glorious Indus Valley.  I pray that these are the last days of reckoning before a new unity where people who hardly talk now, will soon sing a new song together.


2 Comments so far
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I prayed esp for you on pentecost sunday. keep safe and may your mission bear a thousand fruits. we may not see them now but surely they will come, thanks for the beautiful write up. Len

Comment by peaceprobe

A moving text on the eternal meaning of Pentecost. I would be interested in reading what the Minorities Solidarity Convention stressed as I have worked of minority rights in Pakistan at the UN human rights bodies. With best wishes, Rene Wadlow, Representative to the UN, Geneva, Association of World Citizens. W

Comment by Gene stoltzfus

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