As people are being hacked to death in France, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan decided to lecture Europe about discrimination. In addition to incredible tone deafness, Pakistani hypocrisy is astounding, considering its own domestic and international policies. So before casting stones, Khan should first press his neighbor China to end their mass atrocities against Uighur Muslims and do more to protect religious minorities at home. Until then, his recent letter urging action falls short.
What triggered Khan’s statement? A series of tragic events in Europe touching on interconnected issues of freedom of expression, integration, religion, and extremist violence. In France, before the September trial of the accused Charlie Hebdo attackers, the satirical magazine reissued its infamous cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. Soon thereafter, a Pakistani man attacked individuals standing outside of what he thought were their offices (they have moved to a secret location).
A week after the stabbing, President Macron released a plan to prevent “Islamic separatism.” Parts of the program problematically tries to force reforms on a religion, running roughshod over beliefs and customs. Macron referred to Islam as in crisis, which triggered protests in some countries.
And then occurred the ghastly beheading of Parisian teacher Samuel Paty for showing his class the Mohammed cartoons. At the funeral, Macron proclaimed, “We will not give up cartoons, drawings, even if others back down.” He promised France would continue “the fight for freedom.”
Ignoring the death toll, Khan’s letter urges Muslim government leaders to respond to the “ridicule and mockery” of the founder of their faith. Absent is any expression of sympathy to Mr. Paty’s family or those murdered at Charlie Hebdo. Khan calls for criminal bans on offensive speech, drawing a false parallel to Holocaust denial laws. Most glaringly, the letter lacks a clear denunciation of violence but instead offers ambiguous language warning, “Hurtful actions result in reactions from Muslims as they see their faith and their beloved Prophet targeted.” With all that’s happened, including an attack at a church in France on Thursday, it is hard to promote dialogue about offensive cartoons without unequivocally stating violence is never a permissible response.
For sure, a double standard is often foisted on Muslims, asking they constantly denounce the actions of criminals. And they do, regularly speaking out against violence. But not Khan, despite radical Islamist groups threatening more attacks. By seeking the limelight, he needs to clearly denounce violence. The cartoons are offensive and gratuitous. We want to promote understanding, but free societies must also have room for a diversity of views, regardless of how offensive they may be. This is not a maximalist position but minimalist — people shouldn’t be murdered for drawings.
Khan’s letter is long on accusations and short on reflection. Increasingly secular Europe has certainly struggled to accommodate the practices of religious minorities, particularly Muslims. Khan is not incorrect to site Muslim women “denied their right to wear clothing of their choice” in public and other forms of discrimination. These are issues Europe needs to address. But he fails to acknowledge how European Muslims enjoy tremendous religious freedom. It must be remembered the principles protecting Islamic practices in Europe also protects offensive speech. One cannot be separated one from the other.
In fact, because of Europe’s commitment to human rights, Muslims can practice their faith with greater freedom and security than in Pakistan. Last week, a bomb exploded in a Pakistani madrassa, killing eight students and wounding 130 others. More than half of Pakistan’s population of blasphemy inmates are Muslim. The government has a uniquely repressive regime targeting the Ahmadi Muslim sect for purely theological concerns. Pakistan’s education system is rife with intolerance. And religious minorities in Pakistan are horribly persecuted, well beyond the discrimination cited in Europe. Pakistan continues to imprison Christians for blasphemy and does little to stop the forcible conversion and marriage of Hindu girls (a euphemism for rape).
But Khan’s real hypocrisy is calling out Europe while ignoring China. Beijing aims at nothing less than destroying Islam in its western province of Xinjiang, numbering more than 10 million people. In a throwback to the days of Mao, Communist China has forced more than 1 million Uighur Muslims into 1,000+ “reeducation” camps. Dangerous crimes of “religious extremism” include prosaic tenants of the faith, such as beards, refusing alcohol, or fasting during Ramadan. As widely reported, detainees suffer “torture, rape, sterilization, and other abuses,” with nearly 500,000 Muslim children forcibly “separated from their families and placed in boarding schools.” Internal Chinese documents confirm a repression campaign, as does drone footage showing Uighur Muslims bound and gagged.
Has Pakistan spoken out? Not once, as Khan appreciates China’s help to his government. In fact, the one letter Pakistan signed regarding Chinese policies supported their draconian measures against Muslims in Xinjiang. So instead of defending Muslims where they are persecuted, Khan issues a public letter on discrimination in Europe. Khan’s criticism costs him little, while distracting from failures at home and bolstering his Islamic credentials.
The stratospheric level of Khan’s hypocrisy is hard to ignore. He criticizes European discrimination while people are murdered in France. Before commenting, Khan would be wise to unequivocally denounce violence, while pressing China to end their mass atrocities against Muslims and protecting religious minorities in Pakistan. Then he could legitimately raise concerns about discrimination in Europe.