Asia Bibi was accused of blasphemy after refusing the demands of her co-workers to reject her Catholic faith and embrace Islam. A mob invaded her home and attacked her and her family. The police responded to this brutal, unprovoked assault as you would expect: they arrested Asia Bibi and charged her with blasphemy. The local police insisted that she had called the Qur’an a fake and insulted Muhammad. She had not. Her only ‘insult’ was being a Christian. Nonetheless, a local judge sentenced her to death by hanging and the Lahore High Court upheld the judgement.
For nine years, Bibi was kept in solitary confinement so her fellow inmates could not get their hands on her. Two politicians who defended her, meanwhile – Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti – were assassinated. Crowds hailed their murderers as heroes of the faith.
Last month, Pakistan’s Supreme Court finally acquitted Bibi. In a hearteningly firm judgement, it accused her co-workers of insulting Christianity, thus violating ‘the covenant made by Muhammad with Christians’, and cast doubt on the claims that she had insulted Islam. Her supporters celebrated, somewhat prematurely. Their work was not over. Their prayers could not end.
No one has been officially executed in Pakistan for blasphemy. Dozens of people, on the other hand, have been murdered after being accused of it. The government turns a blind eye to the mobs of fanatically self-righteous killers who act on the principles it legally preserves.
After the Bibi verdict, Pakistan erupted with protests, and the streets were filled with baying, bloodthirsty men whose faith had somehow led them to crave the death of a harmless middle-aged mother. Not just Bibi but her lawyer and the Supreme Court judges have been threatened. Her lawyer, Saif Mulook, whose courage should be remembered, fled to the Netherlands and sought asylum for his client in the West.
President Imran Khan has threatened demonstrators with repression but then agreed to a deal with the Islamist Tehreek-e-Labbaik party wherein Bibi would be barred from leaving Pakistan. This, of course, exposes her to vigilantism. It appears that this decision was swiftly overturned. Officials have said she is free to leave. But where can she go?
A disturbing report from the Huffington Post has suggested that the British government will not accept Bibi’s asylum application due to ‘security concerns.’ Britain fears ‘unrest’ among British Muslims, it is claimed, and attacks on British embassies abroad. There is room for scepticism. These are not the words of British officials but a Pakistani Christian activist. It is possible that he is mistaken. Still, the plausibility of his claims is disturbing. It is undeniable that Bibi could face danger in Britain. Prominent British Muslims have supported her but fanatics lurk in the shadows. A British convert to Christianity, Nissar Hussain, was battered with a pickaxe handle in 2015 after facing ‘years of persecution for leaving Islam.’
If the British government is too weak to offer Bibi a safe haven, America should. It would be a valuable demonstration that, for all President Donald Trump’s toughness on immigration, America can still be a sanctuary to those fleeing religious persecution. Nobody should be persecuted on account of their faith, yet every year, hundreds of thousands of Christians – as well as Sufi Muslims, and Ahmadiyya Muslims – face threats, abuse, imprisonment and death.
Just this month, seven Christians were murdered when terrorists attacked their bus in the city of Minya in Egypt.
The severe laws of nations such as Pakistan, and the hatred preached by Islamic supremacist clerics, not only inflict pain and inspire terror but encourage vigilantism and mob violence. For too long, western governments have been silent about the mass persecution of Christians.
If Trump wanted to show that his immigration policies are fair rather than cruel, he could use the case of Asia Bibi to demonstrate that America First still stands for religious freedom everywhere – at a time when countries such as Britain, for all our multiculturalism, may not.