By Vatican Radio
It was 10 years ago, on Tuesday, that Pakistani Catholic rights advocate and federal minister for minorities, Shabaz Bhatti, fell to the bullets of assassins. On 2 March 2011, Shahbaz was on his way to work after paying a visit to his mother in Islamabad, when his car was sprayed with bullets by unknown gunmen. He was 42 when he died.
Pamphlets left behind at the murder scene by “Taliban al-Qaida Punjab” at described Shahbaz as a “Christian infidel”. His fault – he fought for the rights of minorities, and vehemently opposed Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws that punish defamation of Prophet Muhammad with the death penalty and blasphemy against the Qur’an with life imprisonment.
Shahbaz particularly defended Catholic woman Asia Bibi who in 2010 was condemned to death on charges of blasphemy. Prominent politician Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab Province was also gunned down earlier in January that year for the same reason. He called for a review of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and freedom for Asia Bibi.
Respecting human dignity and rights of all
Shahbaz’s elder brother, Paul Bhatti, is a surgeon who practices in Italy. Speaking on the phone to Vatican News, Paul said that on the 10th anniversary of his brother’s assassination, he particularly recalled his brother’s activism on behalf of the rights of all, not only in Pakistan but the world over.
Paul said that Shahbaz’s “main ideology and struggle was that human values and dignity should be honoured,” irrespective of people’s beliefs and religions.
In doing so, Shahbaz’s “main focus was on education”. Paul explained that in many educational institutions, “the message of hatred and division is instilled in the minds of children, so they grow up with this kind of hatred”, disregarding people of other faiths. This is why, Paul pointed out, “violence, terrorism, extremism and fanaticism” have developed so much in countries that it has become a problem not only for the minority communities of Pakistan but also for the rest of the world. He said it is problem that should be addressed properly.
This great message of Shahbaz is still relevant not only for peace in Pakistan but also for peace in the entire world. So, all need to stand together and make every effort to eliminate hate material from schools and societies. It is something that is valid not only for other people but also for those who are manipulated to hate others.
In this regard, Paul said that his brother was a great advocate of dialogue. According to Shahbaz, it was the “only supreme method” to resolve all conflicts in society or in a country. He particularly believed in inter-religious dialogue because it honours every religion. Among Shahbaz’s friends were also many “non-believers”, whom he honoured.
So his main task in this regard was to convey the message of harmony – that every human being should be respected and that faith is an individual matter of all of us. One of the responsibilities that lies with everybody, regardless of one’s faith, is to honour and respect human dignity and the basic rights of all. Based on this message and ideology, Paul said, Shahbaz promoted inter-religious dialogue in Pakistan. He started several committees and movements, and met a lot of people of all faiths, dedicating a lot of time to this cause. Paul said there are many people who are following this ideology and promoting inter-religious dialogue.