The Corner

Honoring Shahbaz Bhatti, a Modern Martyr

Last spring, as a part of a congressional delegation, I met with leading Pakistani parliamentarians and officials to discuss legislative practices and issues of importance to our bilateral relationship. At one level, Pakistan prides itself on democratic ideals and is making some strides to strengthen democratic institutions. At another level, the potential for violence seethes below weak civil structures.

During that time, I requested a private meeting with Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s interior minister for minorities and the highest-ranking Christian in the government. I was deeply impressed by his youthful, unassuming, humble demeanor. He spoke to me about Pakistan’s blasphemy law, a relatively recent law that is often used for personal vendettas aimed at minority Muslim sects and Christians. He suggested designating a three-judge panel for blasphemy trials, and proposed that one of these judges represent one of Pakistan’s religious minorities. He also asked that U.S. scholarship programs include representatives of Pakistan’s minority communities, who are routinely excluded from such opportunities for personal achievement.

As a Catholic, Mr. Bhatti shared with me that Pope Benedict XVI had requested a private meeting with him when a Pakistani delegation visited the Vatican. He pointed out the long history of the Catholic Church’s involvement in building educational and health-care institutions in Pakistan. He was clearly a man of faith, courageously standing for the universal ideas of justice and dignity. He did so with meekness, without bravado, making no loud demands as a political aggressor.

Our meeting took place off to the side of the building’s cafeteria. Though the Pakistani parliament is a heavily secured facility, for a moment it crossed my mind that as a foreign U.S. official, our appearing together in such a public space might draw unwanted attention.

On March 2, Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated.

That day, as I was concluding a speech on the perilous situation in the Middle East — the opportunities, the dangers, the extraordinary and hope-filled change sweeping lands — the report of Shahbaz’s death came across my Blackberry. I am certain my face went ashen. I told the crowd of Nebraska visitors to Washington that my colleague had just been killed.

Although I didn’t know him well, and our time together was brief, he was not just a political acquaintance. We shared a meaningful conversation about permanent things — that which is higher, that which lasts. Seeing him through our shared faith, I consider him my brother who was killed.

It is my hope that the people of Pakistan will honor him by honoring the ideals for which he stood. He was a noble witness and a modern political martyr.

Jeff Fortenberry is a Republican congressman from Nebraska.

Most Popular


The Dominant-Sport Theory of American Politics

I think it’s safe to assert that President Trump has an unfortunate tendency to do and say (and tweet) embarrassing things. When he does, we all join in the condemnation, and often it’s not so much for the substance as for the style. The president of the United States should be dignified, measured, slow to ... Read More

Why Does Russia Build So Many Doomsday Weapons?

While America’s ruling and chattering classes were chasing Moose and Squirrel, back on planet Earth the Russians have been busy building a doomsday bomb. As Vladimir Putin alluded to in his March 1 address to the Federal Assembly, the Russians have developed, among other “superweapons,” a Doomsday ... Read More

Enoch Powell’s Immigration Speech, 50 Years Later

The 20th of this month marks a significant anniversary in Britain. For it is the 50th anniversary of what is probably the most famous -- and certainly the most notorious -- speech by any mainstream politician since the war. On April 20, 1968, Enoch Powell gave a speech to the Conservative Political Centre in ... Read More
Economy & Business

A Trump Trade and Economic Doctrine

If the Treasury Department’s recent semiannual report is any guide, the Trump administration still doesn’t quite get it when it comes to trade imbalances. “The US government has all the tools it needs to achieve balanced trade without risking a trade war,” writes Joseph Gagnon for the Peterson Institute ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Comey–Trump Dance

I never thought the Comey book would make much news for the simple reason that it would be outrageous if it did. If Comey knew something relevant and important about the Russia investigation that we didn’t already know, he couldn’t possibly put it in his book. Let’s say he did have something big on the ... Read More