Member Of Parliament for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan
March 21, 2016

Opposition Motion (CPC) Office of Religious Freedom - part 3

 Mr. Garnett Genuis: Mr. Speaker, on May 16, 1919, Molly Pinto was born in Karachi, Pakistan, then part of greater India. Her family was originally from Goa, a Portuguese colony on the west coast of India, which had and continues to have a large Catholic population. She grew up in a Goan Catholic colony in Karachi. She remembers a very happy childhood, one populated by children and then young adults from all different ethnic and religious communities; Goan, as well as indigenous Pakistani Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, et cetera. Various languages were spoken: English; Konkani, the Goan language; Urdu; Hindi; et cetera. She recalls how people from different communities shared meaningful friendships. They would bring sweets to their Muslim neighbours at Christmastime, and their neighbours would bring them sweets for Eid.

Molly Pinto is my wife's grandmother, and the Pakistan that she grew up in looked a lot like how Canada looks today. Those on the left and on the right who are willing to casually label religious intolerance as part of the culture or religion in Pakistan do not know their history, because countries like Pakistan had a rich tradition of multicultural, multilingual, multi-faith co-operation long before Canada even existed, and that tradition continued into the living memory of many who are still with us today. Some members of the House, I am sure, remember that history from their own experience and hope and pray for a return to it.

   Molly remembers how increasing tensions emerged during partition, when India and Pakistan achieved their independence and separated from each other. Her perception was that when people who had been pushed out of other places in present-day India came to Pakistan, often after seeing or experiencing violence at home, they brought a level of suspicion and tension that felt alien in what had previously been an idyllic setting.

Still, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, was very clear about the need to continue Pakistan's pluralistic traditions after independence. Like Molly, Jinnah was born in Karachi. His family were Gujarati Shia Muslims, and as a Shia, Jinnah was, in many senses, part of a religious minority as well. He also attended Christian schools.

   Jinnah had a vision for Pakistan that made the protection of minorities central to its success. Pakistan adopted a flag which clearly demonstrated his vision: a green section to represent the Muslim majority, and a white stripe for the minority communities.

   Here is what Muhammad Ali Jinnah said in an address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan in 1947:

You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State...We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State.

   On September 9, 1968, Clement Shahbaz Bhatti was born in Lahore, Pakistan. He would go on to become the country's first federal minister for minority affairs.

   In 1979, when Shahbaz was 11 years old, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. This event would have a consequential impact on world affairs, in Pakistan, and in the life of Shahbaz Bhatti .

   Western aid and aid from other Muslim countries was funnelled through Pakistan to support the mujahideen in its jihad against the Soviet Union. The mujahideen defeated the Soviets, but Pakistan paid a heavy price for its involvement because of the significant injection of extreme and intolerant ideas that came with the mujahideen and the subsequent rise of the Taliban. The rise of extremism in Iran as well had a negative effect on Pakistani pluralism.

   Importantly, none of these developments in the Muslim world were inevitable. They were the push and pull of history, perhaps some policy mistakes, perhaps some policy decisions which were necessary in their time but had unintended consequences. Either way, the evident decline of pluralism in Pakistan was not inevitable and it is not irreversible.

   Shahbaz Bhatti knew that. As federal minister for minorities in Pakistan, he visited Canada. He came here in February 2011, the month before his assassination. He met with the former prime minister as well as other ministers. He knew then how vulnerable he was. His visit followed on the heels of the assassination of Governor Salman Taseer, a Pakistani Muslim who, like Shahbaz, was an outspoken critic of Pakistan's blasphemy laws used to target religious minorities.


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