They were not terrorists. They were not members of the Taleban or Al Qaeda. The 400 individuals who lynched Christian couple Shahzad Masih and Shama Bibi, burning them alive on 4 October, were just ordinary people, Muslim workers, day labourers and farmers from villages in the Kasur district in Pakistan’s Punjab province. But how can ordinary people, fathers, young people and model citizens suddenly transform themselves into persecutors and carry out such acts of barbarity?
Robert McCulloch, an Australian priest who is now Procurator of the Missionaries of St. Columban, came up with an answer: “It’s religious hatred that’s the problem.” Pakistan is McCulloch’s adopted country: he has lived here for 43 years and the government even presented him with the prestigious Nishan-e-Quaid-i-Azam award, for his tireless service to society, along with a special gift: a permanent visa to enter the country as a persona grata.
“Crime in Kasur stems from hatred,” McCulloch explained to Vatican Insider. “Today Pakistan is being disfigured by the Taleban’s actions, yes, but also by hatred. Terrorism is a cancer that cannot be eradicated. Hatred, on the other hand, is infectious. A disease which lies dormant and suddenly explodes, giving rise to the kind of monstrosities we are seeing.”
One of the instruments that is fuelling and perpetuating hatred is the blasphemy law approved by dictator Zi ul-haq in 1986. McCulloch, who has been in Pakistan since 1978, confirms there was “a before and an after”, remarking that intolerance has increased significantly over the past decade. Today, the infamous “black law” has become a “legal justification for religious hatred” which is expressed in cases such as that of Asia Bibi or the couple from Kasur.
So which are the places that have become breeding grounds for hatred against religious minorities? A hatred that is fuelled to the point of committing such barbaric acts as the above. The answer is mainly schools, mosques and politics.