Dec 10, 2018
Asia Bibi, a farmworker and mother in her 50s, is still at risk for her life in Pakistan, where religious fanatics call for her murder and a house-to-house hunt for Bibi continues. Offers of asylum are being discussed with some government officials in England, Spain, France and Germany.
She was condemned to death in 2010 for blasphemy against Islam, and was finally acquitted by the Supreme Court in Islamabad this October.
Almost ten years ago, Asia Bibi was accused by her Muslim neighbors of defiling the water of a well. She used the same tin cup used by Muslims to drink – but she is a Christian. Despite the fact that there is nothing in the precepts of Islam barring people of other religions from sharing a cup, Asia Bibi was accused of blasphemy and imprisoned under the 1986 “anti-blasphemy” law.
Condemned to death in 2010, she appealed, despite the threats to herself and her family. She won the support of many people, including some prominent politicians. Islamic fanatics killed two of them, the governor of the state of Punjab and the Pakistani Minister of Religious Minorities, both of whom advocated amendments to the anti-blasphemy law or its repeal.
This law serves as the pretext to accuse many hundreds of people every year, without any relationship to their religious beliefs. Some of these people are sentenced to death, though up to now, no one has been executed. The law continues to be enforced, regardless of which of the two political parties who divide power in Pakistan is in charge. In the context of their limitless corruption, it serves as a red flag they can wave to mobilize demonstrators, for or against its modification.
Pakistan is not alone in the role played by religious fundamentalism. There might not be an anti-blasphemy law, but in the United States, politicians use religious ideas to reinforce the most reactionary attitudes in the population. Christian fundamentalists have murdered doctors who carried out abortions. They form a base of support for those who seek to bar Muslims from entering the country. And as in Pakistan, religious fundamentalism is used to stir up hatred against homosexuals and women who demand equality.
In Israel, Jewish fundamentalism plays a similar role, justifying the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land by reference to the Bible, and reinforcing the same types of sexist and homophobic attitudes that are defended by Islamic and Christian fundamentalists.
The acquittal of Asia Bibi came just a few months after the election of a new prime minister, the ex-cricket champion Imran Khan. Outside of promising to fight corruption and fiscal fraud, Kahn calls himself a partisan of an “Islamic Providence state,” and says he is in favor of the anti-blasphemy law. In this context, the tenacity of Asia Bibi’s lawyer and of her family, her support within the country and abroad, and the courage of the judges who acquitted her, did not suffice to free her from Pakistan. The authorities finally released her from prison – but she is still barred from leaving the country, even though she and her family remain in danger of their lives.
In Pakistan, the situation for women is still terrible, especially for poor women, whatever religion they belong to. The acquittal of Asia Bibi is a victory won in women’s long, difficult struggle for equality.