Born into a Third World Experience in a First World Country. Product of Apostasy. Nomadic Writer. Journey through a lifetime of experiences, script after script. Shattering illusions. Heart for the Homeland. Soul for the Cross.
Providing the Pakistani state permit her survival, or contingent on prevailing health, 2019 will mark the 10th year of Asia Bibi’s arrest and subsequent imprisonment over what was, quite literally, a dispute between her and Muslim women at a local well. If you don’t know at this stage (particularly as I’ve attempted to highlight her ordeal numerously on this platform), Khala Bibi’s case remains as one of the most prolific – in Persecuted Christian terms at least. The fact that a local Christian woman, a local labourer in Punjab, Pakistan has been left to languish in a jail cell for a decade – over essentially what was local Muslim objection to an ‘infidel’s’ use of a village well, spells out not only the dire state of Pakistani Islamisation that shows no signs of reversing; but also the unashamed indifference towards Bibi. Not necessarily only amongst many Pakistani politicians and its judicial system but within countries officially professing Christianity as their state religion. And of course, the Global Christian Church.
Whilst it is encouraging that Bibi’s plight has not slipped from global attention, however sporadic, (the European Parliament awarded Bibi its 2017 Sakharov Prize, for Freedom of Thought), identity politics and the politics of ‘altruism’ does not directly influence the daily treatment of a mother and wife; deprived of her children and in constant deterioration health-wise. I have been following Bibi’s suffering from the moment her ordeal surfaced in 2009. I was 14/15 at the time. I simply can not pen how such draconian circumstances have allowed almost a decade to pass by, with an innocent villager still sat behind bars. It is incomprehensible to the civilised mind.
However, that has been Asia Bibi’s cross to bear and continues to remain so. I don’t write this post to reiterate all past mentions of her. (All past posts can be found by punching her name into the blog’s search engine). Rather, I recieved alarming news from a reliable source, that Bibi’s health is rapidly on the decline. Duties of care concerning detainees is not applicable in countries in Pakistan, particularly a vulnerable Christian woman who has been accused of blasphemy – the most contentious and salient political issue that has seen the murders of former Minorities Minister, Bhatti and former Punjab Minister, Taseer,murdered for daring to challenge the blatant anti-nonMuslim mentality and motives within Pakistan’s penal code. After 9 years of sitting on what has been death row in a country that continues to chip away at its founding promise to enshrine religious and ethnic minority rights, one can imagine the state of Bibi’s health.
Without major campaigning for her release, effective lobbying to our local/national leaders, who barely speak out against Christian persecution, much less instill financial impositions on the billions of aid pumped out to Muslim-oriented countries such as Pakistan; Bibi is fundamentally at the mercy of the Pakistani state. Her family continue to live in terror, tainted by blasphemy and in constant flight for their lives.
Today I have been informed that Asia continues to cough up blood whilst being denied access to medical treatment.
I have written numerous posts concerning the utilisation of the Blasphemy law across many Islamic countries. Section 295 of Pakistan’s Penal Code has enshrined blasphemy, whereby defiling or defaming the Quran and/or Muhammad is deeply illegal. In extreme cases it carries a death sentence. Aside from the legal ramifications which render many of the accused languishing in prison – some of which await the death penalty – the social consequences are less publicised and therefore widely unknown to the wider world.
For those accused of blasphemy yet never imprisoned, for those released from detention – the mark of blasphemy continues to taint and follow them within their local communities. All too often we hear of instances where those accused of blasphemy are set upon by local, incensed mobs, beaten and in extreme cases murdered. Regular readers of this blog are already very aware of a few case examples. Families of the accused are hardly guaranteed their safety. I immediately think of Asia Bibi’s family who were forced to flee their home in the Punjab province of Pakistan upon her arrest in 2009. In 2010 the BBC reported on the plight of the Bibi family, referring to Asia’s husband – Ashiq Masih – as ‘having the look of a hunted man, gaunt, anxious and exhausted’. Hunted. Imagery of petrified prey scurrying away from predators on the prowl spring to mind. The Bibis are one example of a family tainted by blasphemy and constant flight is the consequence. I have often wondered which would be the lesser torment – to be caged inside a Pakistani cell at the disposal of prison guards and other detainees or to be ‘free’ at the mercy of local communities who take it upon themselves to avenge so-called blasphemy charges and accusations. Either way neither option constitutes freedom. This rising issue of blasphemy ensnares and entraps those accused.
Christians are targeted above any other religious minority group in Pakistan. Although 2% of the population are Christian, they account for 33% of those charged with blasphemy according to a detailed research report conducted by International Christian Concern. This clearly shows a disproportionate discrimination toward the Christian minority. Reading into the ICC’s special report on blasphemy cases in Pakistan, I discovered that 171 Christians have been accused of blasphemy since the law was enacted in 1986, 157 from the Punjab Province, 12 from Sindh and 2 from Kyber Paktunkhawa. As attacks on Christians have increased steadily over the decade, I can’t help but notice the totalitarian element to blasphemy. Given that the blasphemy law is increasingly being utilised to settle personal scores and vendettas it is obvious that in these instances, Christians are being discriminated against simply because of who they are as opposed to what they supposedly do.
One case study is the example of Adnan Masih, originally from Lahore and who was accused of insulting Islam’s prophet Muhammad in 2013. He continues to be imprisoned. On 7 October 2013 Adnan replaced his brother at the Diamond Glass store and had spotted a book written by the leader of fanatical group Jamat-ul-Dawa entitled ‘I asked the Bible why Qurans were burnt’. Having noting biased religious points of view against Christianity in the book he penned corrections. His colleague subsequently filed a report against Masih at a local police station and he was eventually arrested after the targeting of his family members forced him out of hiding.
Blasphemy is indeed contentious. The Federal Sharia Court issued an order in 2013 to ‘reform’ the blasphemy law, leaving many of the country’s Christians in increasing fear for their lives. December 2013 saw the FSC order Pakistan’s government to remove life imprisonment from the list of court punishments in dealing with blasphemy; thereby bolstering the death penalty for those charged under the penal code. It should be stated that the role of the FSC is to examine and ascertain whether the laws of the country are in accordance with Sharia. They do not have the Parliamentary prerogative of enforcing legislation.
Yet whilst the government has yet to implement the ruling of the FSC – if they ever intend to – it unmistakably places Christians in a sustained climate of heightened fear and uncertainty for the future of their faith in the country. There are no consequences for those levelling accusations of blasphemy and this impunity only furthers the manipulative use of this controversial law.
The legacy of blasphemy should never be undermined. International Christian Concern cites the example of ‘Asif’ who underwent a decade of separation from his family after he served 4 years of his blasphemy sentence in 2002. Upon his release, his fear of being recognised with his family and his desire to blur any connections with them forced him to live as a fugitive in order to ensure their safety. The families of those accused also carry the mark, a ‘legacy’ of blasphemy.
‘’Because people know I have been imprisoned for blasphemy, it is unsafe for me and my family to live together’’
(‘’Asif’’ – blasphemy victim)
To be tainted with blasphemy could well be the fate of any Christian in Pakistan. A fate initially leashed upon religious minorities in 1986 and one that shows no sign of slowing down, much less stopping.
I’ve put off this blog for many weeks. The Blasphemy issue throughout the Muslim world is tiring, open to be manipulated and utilised in order to settle personal scores time and time again. The tune of ‘blasphemy’ ricochets repeatedly with the same end result: imprisonment and/or death. Asia Bibi – my symbol of Christian persecution on this very blog – is a prime example. But however exhausting, however weary-worn it makes one feel, since there are tireless attempts and efforts to persecute, intimidate and subjugate innocent people through this blasphemy farce; then the effort to expose it should be matched and then some. At least that’s what I believe.
I specifically refer to Afghanistan’s latest prolific victim of blasphemy accusations. A 27 year old Islamic scholar’s life was not even given the dignity of being cut short, instead dragged out so agonisingly that it anguished those who watched brief snippets of her ordeal. A life that should never have been stripped away, had the mob of 150 predominantly seething men possessed a mentality of rationality; a need, wanton desire to demand at the very least evidence of the burnt Quran supposedly set alight by the hands of Farkhunda Malikzada.
I initially heard of the fate of Farkhunda when finalising my year of studying abroad and didn’t have the time to follow up on the headlines that exploded concerning her murder. I did assume her to be an Afghan Christian or a member of a religious minority accused of setting fire to Quranic passages, in order to avenge a personal vendetta. The usual. However, I was startled to learn of her deeply devout Islamic beliefs and baffled as to how a caretaker at Shah -e Du Shamshira shrine in Kabul had managed to convince hoards of local men and women, that an Islamic teacher had torched the Quran; some of which would’ve known this young woman, her beliefs, her character.
Those who haven’t watched the BBC documentary of Farkhunda’s ordeal can do so through the link enclosed below. In the BBC’s ‘Killing of Farkhunda’ documentary, 9 minutes are dedicated to her slow murder but is more than enough of an insight into the sheer animalistic nature of her killers and the brutal mercilessness one innocent and helpless Afghan was surrounded by in the face of the murderous mob. They didn’t only disbelieve her pleas that she never burned the Quran but descended upon her, beating, kicking and hurling rocks and stones at her to the point where her niqab had torn away to reveal her bloodied face.
I remember looking at that iconic image that has become ingrained in my mind since and seeing a grief-stricken woman who I feel accepted her fate at that moment. I just feel she knew at that point she was going to die, The frenzy of pain in her eyes is unmistakable and I felt deep love and compassion for a woman I have never known.
Not content with the beating she had already endured, Farkhunda was accused of being ‘an American’ and dragged up to the roof of the Shamshira shrine, thrown off it, ran over by a vehicle and then finally set ablaze and for what? As penance for burning Quranic passages she never did? Blasphemy needs to be addressed. Or rather ‘blasphemy’ does. The world does right to produce the international outcry that it always does when the plight of Farkhundas come to light but the fiery fiasco is quick to simmer down, permitting those imprisoned through accusations of blasphemy to languish, allowing many to be be consumed by mob rule and to be murdered.
There is a deeper implication behind every blasphemy case. Whether we admit it or not there is an intolerant attitude and conduct towards those that are accused of defaming Muhammad, Allah or the Quran. It is approached and handled with absolutism, inevitably leading to extreme results. I always find hypocrisy in the usual claim that ‘Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance‘. Even though I will dissent any person who lauds all Muslims as being of a volatile and violent nature, we have witnessed repeatedly mass crowds worldwide of venemous people, chanting for the death of those accused of blasphemy. Farkhunda is just one recipient of such treatment and is not alive to defend Islam’s ‘peaceful and tolerant’ attitude towards her, when a man she debated with on Islamic grounds took offence at her viewpoint and used
‘blasphemy’ to lure hundreds of local people to reduce her to ashes. Such all too frequent treatment of all those who fall prey to blasphemy is no coincidence.
Nor can the argument that her fate was determined by ‘uneducated people, unaware of the teachings of Islam‘ be utilised here as many Afghanistani leading officials condoned Farkhunda’s killing. The official spokesperson for the Kabul police Hashmat Stanekzai said of the situation: ‘Farkhunda thought, like several unbelievers that this kind of action and insult would get them US/European citizenship. But before reaching their target, lost their life‘. The Deputy Minister for Culture and Information Simiri Ghazal Hasanzada also approved the murder of a woman ‘working for the infidels’. The Chief of the Complaints Commision of the Upper Parliament Zalmai Zabuli posted a picture of Farkhunda’s face with the caption: ‘This is the horrible and hated person who was punished by our Muslim compatriots for her action. Thus, they proved to her masters that Afghanistanis only want Islam and cannot tolerate imperialism, apostasy and spies’. Of course there will be those in the public eye who denounced Farkhunda’s killing, I found Imams who both supported and opposed the crime. However, take note of the few examples mentioned, pay heed to their position in society and their stance on the murder.
There is a climate of intolerance towards those considered ‘Infidels’ or who have committed ‘Infidelic acts’ and the system under which Afghanistani leaders tackles issues such as blasphemy clearly isn’t challenged. Despite police presence during Farkhunda’s ordeal, where was the genuine effort to protect this innocent woman? Why weren’t provisions put in place to safeguard her while her ‘Quranic burning’ was investigated? Why was she allowed to be devoured by wild dogs? And if she had burned the Quran why is death – the symbol of lack of forgiveness -always the favoured option? All this is very telling and none of this is Islamic peace and tolerance. All those complicit in the killing of Farkhunda can never stand on moral ground in crying victim when people doubt and critisise the very principles they adhere to.
Justice hasn’t been served in Farkhunda’s case as it never is. Afghanistan struggles with determining right from wrong in a nation riddled with social, economic and religious corruption and this brutal theft of an otherwise youthful life is a prime example. Instead many women took to the streets of Kabul parading the coffin of Farkhunda and refusing any man to touch the case that contained the remains of her body, chanting ‘where were you the day Farkhunda was attacked and killed by hundreds of men?’
There is no end to Pakistan’s blasphemy, no end to the depravation religious minorities are undergoing on a daily basis. I have been away from blogging for some time – partly due to university work but mostly due to the mental exhaustion and weariness one feels after reading, seeing and hearing about case after case after case of Christian torture, beating, murder . Although I write about a story that occurred a few weeks ago, even deciding to write about it years later would make no difference. The Islam I have ever known continues to persecute non-adherents mercilessly. The country of Pakistan has long become synonymous with religious intolerance, hatred and sectarian violence to the point where the difference between the testimonies of Asia Bibi, Shabhaz Bhatti and now Shehzad & Shama Masih is non-existent. For increasingly so, the blood of Pakistan’s Christians are being spilt in the name of blasphemy.
Blasphemy that is non-sensical when screamed from the mouth of a vengeful Muslim to evoke the Blasphemy Law – a blasphemy unto itself. There will be no end of accusing Pakistan’s Christians of blaspheming against Muhammad, against Muslims and against Islam itself. So long as hatred remains towards non-Muslims throughout the Islamic world, the much revered construction that is the blasphemy penal code will remain in force. Remain in force to be used to throw countless people into jail, rejecting their every appeal, whilst mistreating them and their families. This irrevocably changes the lives of the accused’s families, as they perpetually run for their lives, continually at risk of being hunted down like the animals they have become in their own country.
As many of you already know I have long become accustomed to this wretched Blasphemy Law, rendering me numb upon any case-study I stumble across. But as world leaders converge in combating any negative portrayal of Islam, as billions of aid pours through the Middle East and beyond, it is utterly incomprehensible to turn a blind eye to the treatment of Shehzad & Shama Masih, a young Christian couple beaten and burned to death. This couple was accused of desecrating Quranic pages and were dragged by a local mob, where they were then subsequently tied up, legs broken and burnt to death. Such treatment of these parents of three (with a fourth child on the way) should trigger the question of why, when billions of aid pumped into Pakistan to develop and benefit the nation – why Western leaders and the wider Christian world in particular – fail to actively show their opposition to such anti- Christian behaviour, particularly] when such aid is still essentially Christian aid.
One cannot help but feel blind anger at the lack of Pakistani government action in addition to international response. The beating and burning of any Muslim mother of three, whilst four months pregnant would no doubt spark global outrage ,with Obama himself probably racing to the nearest podium to be heard first. Instead the lack of authoritative action against Christian persecution is becoming severely dire. As Father James Channan, coordinator of the United Religions Initiative and director of the Peace Centre of the Dominican Order in Pakistan, stated: ” Our present government has the worst record of not punishing the culprits of these cases. All of them are set free after a short time. There is a big question for us: Where is justice?”
Dr. Nazir S. Bhatti remarked in a letter to Obama that the U.S. Administration — the custodian of human rights, liberty and freedom of speech and expression around the world — did not even bother to condemn the horrific murder of the Christian couple by Islamic extremists in Pakistan. Moreover, the U.S. State Department has never uttered any comments at all about Christian persecution or the genocide of Christians.
There is no end to blasphemy in Pakistan. My question to global leaders is this: why do you think the Pakistani government pardons Sunni criminals, whilst Asia Bibi is detained in prison, deprived of her children? Why can Pakistani police be bribed to dismiss murder, theft, domestic violence whilst one accusation of blasphemy against the nation’s Christians see them immediately arresting and detaining them indefinitely? The brutal reality of the situation is that Western leadership do not recognise the three million Christian Pakistanis who live in constant fear of the growing intolerance and hostility against them, nor have they made the connection between the concentration of blasphemy accusations in the Punjab province, a region home to two million of Pakistan’s Christians.
Moreover, the fundamentalist 725 Madrassa schools of Pakistan have become an influential power supporting the blasphemy laws. Total Madrassa attendance stands at 1.5 million students. These religious schools are producing a particular world-view called Alem-e-kufr (the World of Infidels) whereby the concept of these religious schools is: “The world is divided into two antagonistic parts: the Islamic world, and the infidel world. With little common ground between them both, clash is eternal, natural and unavoidable, because the forces of evil and forces of good are predestined to be at war. The West is after us, they want to destroy Muslims, Islam and our culture.”
The general silence on Pakistani blasphemed Christians is excruciating, tacitly approving and allowing this barbaric behaviour to thrive. Given the circumstance, scores more of Christian couples, children and the elderly will continued to be smeared with this life-threatening penal code. A code that relishes in the spilling of non-Sunni blood. A law that holds no reverence for age. A law that takes away the concept of life before it is even born.
There is no end to the blasphemy of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.