Church groups in Pakistan and India have condemned Britain’s decision to honour the author Salman Rushdie with a knighthood, and claimed it risks inflaming hatred against Christians in their countries.
"The British government should have been more sensitive to the feelings of the Muslims. This is a very bad decision," said Victor Azariah, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Pakistan, which groups four Protestant churches, on 28 June.
"Such insensitive decisions will only worsen the anti-Christian feelings in the Muslim world," Azariah told Ecumenical News International from his office in Lahore.
Indian-born Rushdie angered Muslims in many part of the world with his 1988 book, The Satanic Verses. Rushdie was accused of insulting Islam, and had to go into hiding after Iran’s late spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a religious edict, or fatwa, declaring a death sentence against the author.
Since the award was announced in mid-June, Muslims have demonstrated in, among other places, London, Pakistan and Iran. The Pakistan parliament unanimously agreed a resolution condemning the knighthood and demanding its withdrawal.
Azariah said that "indiscreet" actions such as the award of the knighthood could become a propaganda tool in the hands of fundamentalist forces to demonise Pakistan’s minority Christian community.
He also pointed out that actions such as the publication of cartoons in a Danish newspaper caricaturing the Prophet Muhammad, or the US-led invasion of Afghanistan had been used to portray Christians as being anti-Muslim.
More than 30 Christians have been shot and killed in Pakistan following the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime then in control.
Meanwhile, in India, the country’s National Council of Churches has also criticised the knighthood, and said that Britain should have exercised "restraint" in honouring Rushdie.
The council’s general secretary, Bishop D. K. Sahu, said, "This is not a simple question of honouring an author. The whole world knows the anger in the Muslim world against his book."
(c) Ecumenical News International
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