Interreligious dialogue has to go beyond sharing ideas with those who already agree on the same principles. If dialogue is to put an end to religious violence, those who influence the violent must be part of the dialogue.
This is the observation of Paul Bhatti, who knows well the sad reality of religious violence, since his brother, Shabhaz, was a victim of Muslim fundamentalists in March 2011.
Bhatti spoke to ZENIT in the context of the Vatican-sponsored conference on the 50th anniversary of the encyclical Pacem in Terris, where he was one of the contributors.
The conference was introduced by Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, with subsequent interventions from Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Monsignor Michael Fitzgerald, former apostolic nuncio in Egypt, and Bhatti, former Minister of National Harmony in Pakistan.
Bhatti’s brother Shabhaz was also a minister in Pakistan until his assassination.
Talking about the situation of religious liberty in his country, Bhatti explained how Pakistan does recognize legislatively a right to religious liberty (in contrast, for example, with Saudi Arabia). He also noted that the notorious Pakistani anti-blasphemy law has never resulted in a legal death sentence. The real threat to religious liberty in Pakistan, he explained, is represented by the extremist and fundamentalist fringes that unleash campaigns of hatred against Christians, accusing Christians of “blasphemy,” often falsely, as a way to get revenge or settle a debt. It is a fanaticism that very often degenerates into physical aggression and homicide.
Outside the conference, ZENIT asked Paul Bhatti some questions on this decisive subjects for the future of humanity and for peace in the world.
ZENIT: Dr. Bhatti, in your opinion, why are diplomatic means no longer sufficient for peace in the world? Why is it increasingly necessary to take account of the religious factor?
Bhatti: When there is talk of violence and of terrorism, religion is often used as a pretext. However, no religion gives the right to kill another person in the name of God. Therefore, we should share this idea with those who have their faith at heart and protect it. Christianity does not imply so much the conversion of non-Christians, but above all the witness of Christ and of a life dedicated to others, humanity and love that is transmitted as a religious faith. Other religions such as Islam have important human values: if one promotes them he cannot but condemn any act of violence expressed in the name of a religion.
ZENIT: Do you think that Pope Francis’ appeal to prayer and fasting for peace in Syria and in the whole world was an effective means?
Bhatti: I think the Pope’s appeal was extraordinary! Only with prayer and with dialogue can we go forward. When he spoke of peace in Syria, he reminded that one war triggers another and so, it never ends. Therefore dialogue at the diplomatic level should have the power to resolve the global humanitarian crisis and the violence. If it fails, perhaps it means that insufficient account was taken of the reality of the situation, or persons were not involved in the dialogue who were apt to make a difference. Every situation is directed, with a determined intellectual, religious capacity to persons who have a certain influence. If in an area of Pakistan there are extremist manifestations and I call on a scientist or a priest who speaks well of Islam, they don’t make any difference, because they are already convinced that it is about an evil. Instead, it is necessary to share our ideas with persons who can influence those who do violence. Sometimes the failure of the interreligious dialogue happens because it does not involve those who don’t think as we do.
ZENIT: You have lived in Italy and know well the Western culture: is there really religious liberty in Europe?
Bhatti: I believe that the West, at this point of its democratic evolution, should have acquired the concept of religious liberty (including the right not to profess a religion), as the basis of human rights. However, if extremist and fanatical groups, also of a terrorist stamp, infiltrate themselves, in the future it will be a problem for Italy and the whole of the West; hence, it is necessary to find a system to block this type of menace.
ZENIT: However, Europe is vitiated by the secular factor and, in a different way in regard to Asia, and being insinuated in a creeping way is the shadow of Christianophobia: in France old churches are demolished, while in Ireland courses on atheism have been introduced in the schools, as in the Soviet Union of some time ago …
Bhatti: No government should impose itself on topics such as the faith. Given in schools is a universal education in as much as the creed should be the educational responsibility of the parents, while the children are minors. The State must guarantee a universal education that allows an individual to make his choices in a future life.
ZENIT: How do you live your commitment as a Catholic in politics?
Bhatti: The topic of the commitment of Catholics in politics was addressed also by John Paul II who reminded that politics is a form of assistance to others, in particular the weakest: if this is the concept, welcome! If it were like this every Christian should engage in politics.
ZENIT: Today the congress ends on the fifty years of Pacem in Terris: after half a century, how timely is this encyclical?
Bhatti: The world is facing so many challenges which are involving the whole world. Hence today to speak of peace on earth is a real exigency for which concrete steps must be taken.[Translation by ZENIT]