Christian woman charged with blasphemy

Babette Francis - News Weekly, 5 February 2011

I intended to title this article, “The myth of the moderate Muslim”. I was going to discuss the myths promoted by US President Obama that Islam has made a great contribution to US history (and to space travel), and particularly the recent myth, expressed in a New York Times editorial (January 6, 2011), that the assassination of Salman Taseer, governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, was attributable solely to “radical fundamentalists” and had nothing to do with the violence embedded in Islamic teaching itself.

However, I acknowledge there are moderate Muslims. The problem is some of the courageous ones have been killed, e.g., former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Others live protected by security guards and the majority of Muslims are either uninformed or cower in fear, afraid to confront the religious leaders who spew intolerance and hatred.

Islam itself is the problem. It is not just a religion: it is also an intolerant political creed that seeks to subjugate the world to Islamic sharia law which degrades women to submissiveness under misogynist edicts, and condemns non-Muslims to second-class status.

There are moderate Muslims, but there is no such thing as “moderate Islam, the religion of peace”. Islam inspires violence as is evident from the slogans shouted by jihadis when killing unarmed Christian worshippers in Baghdad Cathedral in October 2010. The massacre, according to theologian and expert on Islam Dr Mark Durie, was a “purely religious act” (See blog, January 15, 2011).

According to survivors, the attackers cried out Allahu Akbar (“Allah is greater”), each time they shot Christians, the same slogan shouted by Dr Nidal Malik Hasan, the US army psychiatrist who shot 13 people at Fort Hood. The Baghdad killers called the Christians kafir (infidel) and said it was halal (religiously permitted in Islam) to kill them because they were Christians.

The plight of Asia Bibi in Pakistan is a further illustration of the problems embedded in Islam. She is a farm labourer in her late-thirties who in 2009 had an argument with neighbours who taunted her about being Christian. Asia defended her faith, and was accused of blasphemy (insulting the Prophet) which, according to the penal code of Pakistan, is punishable by death.

Christians and other minorities in Pakistan have been trying for years to have the blasphemy law abolished, and the government of President Asif Ali Zardari of the Pakistan People’s Party was considering doing so, when Asia was arrested and sentenced to death.

Mr Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab, Pakistan’s major province, who has been an outspoken critic of the blasphemy law and who visited Asia Bibi in prison and called for clemency for her, was shot (29 bullet wounds) and killed by his own bodyguard, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, on January 4 because he had called the blasphemy law a bad law.

In most countries when a political assassination takes place, there is horror and revulsion, but not in this case. Qadri has become a national hero for major segments of the Pakistani population. He was showered with rose petals on two successive days of court appearances.

Furthermore, a major Sunni Muslim group of 500 “scholars” and clerics praised Qadri for his “courage”, i.e., for shooting the unarmed governor 26 times in the back. They warned other politicians of the same fate if they spoke out against the blasphemy law, which human rights campaigners claim fuels Islamist extremism. Islamist-inspired terror is no longer “extremism”; it is mainstream in Pakistan.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik of the governing Pakistan People’s Party alluded to a wider conspiracy to destabilise Pakistan, and fears are rising for a PPP member of parliament, former Information Minister Sherry Rehman, who has proposed a private member’s bill for parliament seeking to soften the blasphemy law.

Also under threat of assassination is Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Minister for Minorities, whose portfolio deals with the rights of minorities under the Pakistani constitution. He wants the blasphemy law abolished and has criticised clerics who offered a reward to anyone who killed Asia Bibi.

Shehrbano Taseer, the murdered Punjab governor’s daughter, slammed the inconsistencies of the ruling party, her father’s party. She noted that in 2008 the PPP had proposed changes in those elements of the blasphemy law that led to social and religious disharmony, but “demonstrations by religious groups against a pardon for Aisia Bibi” undermined the party’s and the government’s agenda. Shehrbano has been warned to be silent or she will also be killed.

Not content with the massacres of Catholics in Baghdad, of Copts in a church in Egypt, and Christians in Nigeria, the Saudi-funded 56-member Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) is trying to have a blasphemy law passed by the United Nations.

Keith Riley, vice-president of the Pakistani-Australian Christian Association, has asked Australians concerned about human rights to write to Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd, requesting him to offer asylum to Asia Bibi. Bringing her out of Pakistan may be one way to defuse a volatile situation.