The slaughter in Paris has again wrought shock and grief upon the world.
I'm sure your church, like the one my family and I attend in Canberra, was praying on Sunday.
We need to continue to pray as world leaders grapple with what to do next, recognising that the policy of seeking to contain the murderous self-appointed Islamic State has failed.
I am glad for Muslim leaders who consistently condemn the violence. But I am perplexed as to why many moderate Muslim countries continue to deny basic religious freedom and why some, like Pakistan, even sentence Christians to death for allegedly blaspheming their prophet.
It is difficult to see how extremist violence can be dealt with when the most basic religious freedom violations are not being called out in international foreign policy.
I wrote about this for The Australian newspaper after the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris last January. I have reproduced the article below because sadly, nothing much changed in the past 10 months. The subject of this article, Christian woman Asia Bibi, languishes on death row in Pakistan.No outcry for persecuted Christians
In Paris, Islam’s prophet Mohammed was avenged by two brothers killing in cold blood.
In Pakistan, the prophet is to be avenged by the government-sanctioned hanging of a mother of five.
Asia Bibi’s crime was to be a Christian drinking a bowl of water from a village well, thus making it unclean. She then allegedly made derogatory comments about Mohammed, something she denies.
It would seem her alleged actions are not a patch on the provocations of Charlie Hebdo.
Yet a court in Lahore has decreed her death. According to the congress-appointed US Commission on International Religious Freedom, Bibi is one of 16 Pakistanis on death row for blasphemy.
No need for masked gunmen in Pakistan when the state will do the killing.
Australia has a large Muslim population which is just as numbed by terrorism as their fellow Australians.
Peaceful Muslim leaders in Australia are rightly tired of being asked to condemn each new Islamist atrocity and we should be thankful to them for speaking out.
In the wake of last month’s Sydney siege, Tony Abbott pointed out that associating all Muslims with terrorism was akin to blaming the Pope for the terrorism that used to afflict Northern Ireland.
But this does not mean that questions do not remain and that Islam as a belief system should not face scrutiny.
When the Prime Minister made his comments he was being interviewed by ABC radio’s AM host Chris Uhlmann. Uhlmann put to Abbott what many people think about Islam but are too afraid to say.
He stated: “It is not Islamophobic to notice that this is a religion that is resistant to scrutiny or criticism, that is utterly incapable of laughing at itself, and when it is criticised the reaction often tends to be violent.”
Sadly, Uhlmann’s words were eerily prophetic, with 17 killed in France and another 2000 at the hands of Boko Haram in Nigeria last week.
(There was no rolling television coverage of last week’s Islamist-conducted genocide in Nigeria.)
Uhlmann went on: “And, Prime Minister, in a truly tolerant Western society of course we would hope for a day when Islam is so integrated that it can be criticised in the way that Catholicism is criticised.”
Abbott replied: “Well, certainly, Chris, over the years Christianity and Catholicism has been criticised up hill and down dale, and you and I are both very conscious of that.
“But we don’t blame the Pope for the IRA (Irish Republican Army), and we don’t blame the Catholics living next door for the folly of some people, the folly and madness of some people who may claim a Christian motivation. And I think we need to be similarly carefully and cautious in these other areas.”
Abbott is, of course, right, although it’s hard to remember even IRA terrorists claiming a religious motivation. Catholic was an identity of social and political disadvantage. But so too is Uhlmann right in wishing Islam’s integration.
No one liked it when South Africa was banned from cricket and rugby because of apartheid. We like to keep our sport and politics separate. But targeting sport worked and paved the way for Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s reintegration.
The Pakistani government should explain why it should not be banned from world sport while it is killing people such as Asia Bibi for blasphemy.
Australia and its co-host New Zealand should not let Pakistan’s participation in this month’s cricket World Cup go by in silence.
The Bibi case should certainly be put by the Australian government to the Pakistani high commissioner in Canberra, Naela Chohan.
We should all be protesting religious apartheid and violations of religious freedom wherever they occur.
Supposedly moderate Saudi Arabia is certainly not Islamic State and the Taliban don’t operate there. But it holds prisoners of conscience and persecutes minority Shia Muslims. Women are not allowed to drive and it is illegal to build a church.
According to reports received by USCIRF, high-school textbooks in use during 2013-14 “continue to teach hatred toward members of other religions and, in some cases, promote violence”.
According to USCIRF, some textbooks label Jews and Christians as “enemies”.
Does this sort of material in the school curriculum of a “moderate” Muslim nation raise or lower the terrorism threat in the West?
Back home, it was good to see Islamic Friendship Association spokesman Keysar Trad quoting Jesus as the inspiration for what he says is Mohammed’s approach to being persecuted.
“When attacks were personal against him, he (Mohammed) always turned the other cheek,” Trad told The Australian.
So if this is the true Muslim position on criticism of their religion, why do the Pakistani and Saudi governments not see it this way? Why was the overwhelming majority of the Muslim world (moderate and radical) up in arms about the publication of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and the Danish cartoons?
Why are both the Islamic and the Western worlds silent about egregious violations of religious freedom in countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia?
When we are sitting back watching the Pakistani cricket team strut its stuff in the World Cup, the least we can do is spare a thought for Asia Bibi.
We should be asking why an Islamic government is killing her for a lesser crime than that supposedly committed by the journalists of Charlie Hebdo.
For the deaths in Paris to have not been in vain, we must lose our fear of asking the tough questions of our Muslim friends.
Lyle Shelton is the managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby.