Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pakistani Taliban Force Burqa on Christian Women’s School

ISTANBUL-A Pakistani official in a northern district warned female teachers and students to don Islamic garb this week, citing threats from Taliban extremists active in the area. The Pakistani Executive District Officer (EDO) issued a notice requiring female students in Swat district to wear burqas, an outer garment cloaking nearly the entire body, according to an article on Tuesday (September 25) in regional newspaper Daily Mashriq.Christians in the Afghan-border region 120 miles north of Peshawar say that extremists from the Taliban movement, which ruled most of Afghanistan from 1995 to 2001, have targeted them in recent months. Extremists in Swat have conducted a campaign of Islamization in the district against all things deemed un-Islamic since early July, when a government crackdown on militants at the Lal Masjid mosque in Islamabad triggered violent reactions nationwide. “Due to continuous threatening letters from the Taliban directing female staff and students to wear burqas … the Executive District Officer has instructed [them] to comply with the orders,” the Daily Mashriq article stated. The order to cover up under the full-body robe that leaves only the hands and eyes visible may affect Christians at the Catholic-run Public High School in Sangota. The all-girls school had already closed down for a week this month after being threatened with suicide attacks for supposedly converting students to Christianity. Swat EDO Ghulam Akhbar was not available for comment when contacted by telephone, and a colleague could not confirm the existence of the circular ordering burqa attire. But a Swat representative in the provincial assembly said yesterday that Akhbar had denied issuing the notice, though the officer had told female students to cover up. “He has said verbally to the schools that you must use burqas,” Mutahida Majlis-i-Amal politician Hussain Ahmad told Compass, minutes after speaking with Akhbar. Apostolic Carmelite sisters in charge of Sangota Public High School refused to comment on the issue. Diocesan Bishop Anthony Lobo was unavailable when contacted by Compass.
Suicide Bomb Threats
The all-girls school re-opened its doors on September 17 after a threat letter from Muslim extremists forced it to shut down for a week. Entitled “Red Notice for Public School Sangota, (The Factory of Englishmen),” the September 8 letter accused the nuns of involving students in adultery, according to a Union of Catholic News for Asia (UCAN) article. The Urdu-language note said that Christian teachers were converting Muslim students, who make up more than 99 percent of the schools 950 students, to Christianity. The Catholic Church’s National Commission for Justice and Peace reported that the extremists also told parents to withdraw their girls and place them in Islamic schools. The letter threatened suicide bombings if the school did not require its students to wear burqas and fire all Christian and male teachers by September 17. Only half of the students returned when the high school reopened its doors on September 17 with assurances of increased security from local officials, UCAN reported. One top clergyman who traveled to the area following the threats told Compass that he suspected the letter came not from outside extremists, but from a teacher at the school who wished to take it over. Whether or not the letter was such an “inside job,” it fits a pattern of increasing threats and violence in Swat targeting practices considered un-Islamic. Since July, extremists have stepped up attacks on stores and institutions viewed as Western, as well as on police and government officials. In a single explosion, militants blew up 63 CD rental shops and shoe stores in the Swat town of Mingora on September 7, the Daily Times reported. The article said that a few days before the attacks, owners of the stores had received letters telling them to “close their ‘un-Islamic’ businesses or face bomb attacks.” On September 11, militants blasted rocks carved with Buddha’s image in Swat’s Buthgarh Jehanabad historical site, imitating the Afghan Taliban’s destruction of the Bamiya Buddha statues in 2001. “It’s something like anarchy and chaos in that area,” provincial representative Ahmad told Compass. He said that the army had been called in after police and Frontier provincial officials failed to retain control.
Christians Under Pressure
Christians living in Swat, numbering about 1,000, say they have come under increasing pressure for their faith in recent months. Two nights ago, militants approached hired Muslim guards at Swat Christian Camp, a Christian-run retreat center in Mingora, and demanded that they quit their jobs. “They are Christian, why are you working with them?” the militants demanded of the guards, according to a local source who requested anonymity. The camp has been closed since July 5 after a crackdown on Islamic militants at the Lal Masjid mosque in Islamabad set off violent repercussions throughout the country. A Christian running a small medical clinic has been forced to close down the center and conduct only home visits in order to avoid attack. “My 17-year old daughter cannot go outside without wearing a burqa,” one local Christian told Compass. Christians in the North-West Frontier Province have received a number of anonymous threats telling them to convert to Islam since May. “Embrace Islam and become Muslims … otherwise, after next Friday, August 10, your colony will be ruined,” read one of more than a dozen identical letters thrown into the courtyards of Christian and Hindu homes in Peshawar last month. Police increased security around churches and Christian neighborhoods, but the threats were never carried out. More than 50 Christians fled the town of Charsadda in May after a local Christian politician received a letter telling the Christian community to convert to Islam within 10 days. The threat was repeated, chalked on the wall of a building opposite the church, 10 days later. Two young men from a local Islamic school eventually confessed to having written the threats as a joke. In an unrelated incident, a Catholic elementary school in Bannu, west of Peshawar, was bombed on September 15. The blast destroyed the chapel windows and furniture, leaving a hole in the side of a classroom wall. The identity of the bombers and their motive remain uncertain.

As in the days of Noah....

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