Religious Minorities: Wisely Skeptical of Democracy

Democracy? Not so fast, say Pakistan's religious minorities: the 4% who are non-Muslim, and the additional 10-15% who profess the Shi'ite version of Islam.

Intolerance has been on the rise for the past five years under Pakistan’s democratically elected government because of the growing violence of Islamic radicals, who are then courted by political parties, say many in the country’s communities of Shiite Muslims, Christians, Hindus and other minorities.

On Saturday, the country will elect a new parliament, marking the first time one elected government is replaced by another in the history of Pakistan, which over its 66-year existence has repeatedly seen military rule. But minorities are not celebrating. Some of the fiercest Islamic extremists are candidates in the vote, and minorities say even the mainstream political parties pander to radicals to get votes, often campaigning side-by-side with well-known militants.

More than a dozen representatives of Pakistan’s minorities interviewed by The Associated Press expressed fears the vote will only hand more influence to extremists. Since the 2008 elections, under the outgoing government led by the left-leaning Pakistan People’s Party, sectarian attacks have been relentless and minorities have found themselves increasingly targeted by radical Islamic militants. Minorities have little faith the new election will change that.

‘‘We are always opposed to martial law (but) during all the military regimes, the law and order was better and there was good security for minorities,’’ said Amar Lal, a lawyer and human rights activist for Pakistan’s Hindu community.

We see a similar paradox in Syria. The Assad regime is very oppressive. Yet one of the things it has oppressed is the desire of local majorities to persecute local minorities. I've talked to many Syrian Christians - or rather, ex-Syrian Christians, since they have sought refuge elsewhere - who all agreed in preferring the Assad regime to the Sunni-chauvinist rule they foresaw as the Assad regime's most likely successor.