Violent fundamentalism in Pakistan and the USA

By Savi Hensman
November 2, 2018

Hardliners are protesting in Pakistan after the conviction for blasphemy of a Christian farm labourer, Asia Bibi, was overturned . She had been sentenced to death. In the USA a Republican politician, Matt Shea, is being investigated after a violent ‘manifesto’ was leaked.

This reflects a worldwide trend towards fundamentalism, in which leaders distort religious teachings to gain political power. This may be deliberate or unconscious. Faith communities, along with other people of goodwill, have a key part to play in tackling this problem.

A case which should never have been brought

Blasphemy laws, supposedly meant to protect religion, seem to question God’s wisdom in giving humans free will. They have also been applied in ways that are clearly unjust, doing faith more harm than good.

Asia Bibi’s conviction in 2010, after a quarrel with neighbours, was clearly unsafe. But two politicians who showed sympathy for her plight were murdered. Though Islam emphasises justice and mercy, instability and hardship mean that many people fall prey to leaders who exploit them to stir up hatred. Christians have been among the targets.

One of the judges who granted the appeal, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, described some of the evidence as “nothing short of concoction” and wrote, “Blasphemy is a serious offence but the insult of the appellant’s religion and religious sensibilities by the complainant party and then mixing truth with falsehood in the name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad was also not short of being blasphemous.”

Preparing for a ‘holy war’?

Matt Shea, a member of Washington state’s House of Representatives seeking re-election, has long been a controversial figure, with extreme views even by the standards of right-wing Republicans. He faces investigation after producing a ‘manifesto’, ‘Biblical Basis for War’.

This states that “God is a Warrior” and urges, “Stop all abortions”, “No same-sex marriage”, “No communism” and “Must obey Biblical law”. It also says, “If they do not yield – kill all males.” There is little connection with the teaching and example of Jesus or even the social justice at the heart of the Hebrew Bible. He claims the document has been taken out of context.

Though such views are still unusual, President Donald Trump’s rise to power has encouraged a form of Christianity far removed from Christ’s self-sacrificing love for everyone. Some fear it has also made violent right-wing extremism seem more acceptable.

His national security adviser, John Bolton, has welcomed the election of Brazil’s new far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, despite his open contempt for women, minorities and human rights. He too reflects the rise of supposedly Christian power-mongering.

A challenge

If this trend is to be countered effectively, those with more humane beliefs perhaps need to get better at communicating with people who may be drawn to such extremism. This may include listening to their concerns but pointing to a better way forward.

People of faith who are not fundamentalists may have a particular role to play in offering hope and a sense of connection which does not depend on dehumanising others. When people feel insecure, they may be drawn to leaders with violent rhetoric, sometimes being in denial about where this may end. Where there are shared values or a sense of shared humanity, there may be openings for dialogue.

Meanwhile each victory deserves to be celebrated – each person saved from murder or maybe suicide because of absorbing destructive teachings, each occasion justice and truth win out, each act of kindness which breaks down barriers.


© Savitri Hensman is an Ekklesia associate and respected commentator on welfare and other issues. She is author of the book Sexuality, struggle and saintliness: same-sex love and the church (Ekklesia, 2016): http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/22613 and has been involved in seeking greater inclusion. She wrote on ‘Health or Wealth?’ in Feast or Famine? (http://dltbooks.com/titles/2195-9780232532616-feast-or-famine)

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