Church bombing in Pakistan: Why it still ricochets

The public reaction to a terrorist attack on Christians in Pakistan reflects a similar pushback by moderate Muslims in Egypt and Tunisia. Civic values such as religious tolerance are at stake in this latest struggle for Islam.

Members of the Pakistani Christian community hold placards during a protest in Lahore to condemn Sunday's suicide attack on a church in Peshawar, Sept. 24. A pair of suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the 130-year-old Anglican church, killing at least 85 people in the deadliest attack on Christians in the predominantly Muslim country.

Sunday’s suicide bombing of a Christian church in Pakistan continues to shake the largely Muslim nation. The government declared three days of mourning for the dozens killed. Thousands of people, from lawyers to students, have joined Christians in countrywide protests.

Just as important, the terrorist attack – which two groups with Taliban links have claimed responsibility for – has pushed many moderate Muslims to look again at how government itself treats religious minorities, including Shiites. At least one major party, the Pakistan Movement for Justice, wants a review of strict blasphemy laws that severely penalize any perceived critic of Islam. In the past, politicians have been shot for even suggesting such a move.

If Pakistan now acts to ensure that civic values such as freedom of conscience play a dominant role over radical Islam, it will not be alone in the Muslim world. In recent weeks, both Egypt and Tunisia have seen popular uprisings against Islamists who try to impose their interpretation of the Quran on government or who exclude from power those who disagree with them.

Unlike the Arab Spring, which was largely a movement against secular dictators, the struggle in these three countries is now over Islam itself. The dividing line is pretty clear: Is society better off living by the rules of a particular faith or by an official tolerance toward many faiths?

This contest of ideas is only made easier when those who try to compel others to one faith resort to violence, such as the twin bombings of Christianworshipers in All Saints Church in the Pakistani city of Peshawar.

In Egypt, the July 3 military ouster of a government led by the Muslim Brotherhood was based on a popular revolt against the Brotherhood’s abusive grab for ultimate power. To prevent a repeat of an Islamist party ruling Egypt, a 50-member committee is now writing a new constitution, one that is expected to ensure rights for women and non-Muslim minorities while preventing Egypt from becoming a religious state.

In Tunisia, recent assassinations of two leading opposition politicians, presumably by extremist Muslim groups, have spawned a huge public backlash against the ruling Ennahda party and its attempts to introduce Islamic law. Governance in this young democracy, where the Arab Spring began, has almost ground to a halt.

A similar stirring of dissent in Iran has also pushed reform in that cleric-ruled nation. Top Islamic leaders were shocked by street protests in 2009 and again in June when a presidential election saw a relative moderate win. The new president, Hasan Rouhani, offers a new social leniency and has released many prisoners of conscience.

Worldwide, most Muslims reject extremists and are able to live alongside other faiths. When their rulers or violent groups go against such moderation, it is time for Muslims to rise up. The reaction in Pakistan over the church bombing is a testament to that.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Church bombing in Pakistan: Why it still ricochets
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today