It is hard to think of a more deserving case for asylum than Asia Bibi.
A Christian in Pakistan, Asia Bibi has been freed after eight years in solitary confinement on death row for committing blasphemy, a crime of which she has now been acquitted by Pakistan’s supreme court.
The accusation against her was a travesty. As she picked berries with other Punjabi farmworkers in June 2009, a quarrel developed with two Muslim women after she was asked to fetch water and they said they wouldn’t drink from a vessel touched by a Christian. The women later alleged to a village mullah that Asia Bibi had insulted Mohammed, accusations which the supreme court said were “concoction incarnate”.
The acquittal prompted thousands of violent demonstrators to take to the streets calling for Asia Bibi to be hanged and threatening the supreme court judges with death. The leader of the Islamist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan threatened that if she left the country there would be war.
She is now in hiding for her life in Pakistan after the new prime minister, Imran Khan, succumbed to the pressure and allowed a petition against the court decision as part of a deal to halt the protests. Several commentators have said the refusal to allow her to leave Pakistan effectively signed her death warrant.
It is, of course, astounding that the prospect of freedom for one woman, acquitted of a monstrously unjust claim of blasphemy, can have provoked this murderous hysteria. Apart from illustrating once again the sheer derangement of Islamic fanaticism, it illuminates two other things: the Islamists’ fear that Pakistan may be on the verge of becoming more open and loosening up Islamic law, and Imran Khan’s actual spinelessness in the face of an opportunity to do so.
A UK campaign group in touch with Asia Bibi’s family said the British government was working to help her but had stopped short of offering asylum.
This is apparently because it is afraid that granting her asylum would cause unrest among British Muslims and violence against British embassies within the Muslim world.
As Wilson Chowdhry of the British Pakistani Christian Association said, Britain would have been one of Asia Bibi’s first choices for asylum. “It was a bit of a kick in the teeth.”
To put it mildly. Britain’s attitude is utterly spineless and disgraceful. Western governments have a moral duty to offer Asia Bibi asylum not just to save her life – important though that is – but also to show the Islamic world that its fanaticism will be fought and defeated. Instead, as so often before, Britain has led the way in showing that the west will take the path of least resistance.
It believes that by doing so it will protect itself from further Islamist attack. This is not only spineless but stupid, for the contrary is true: that such weakness incites jihadists not just in Pakistan but across the Islamic world to redouble their attacks in the certain knowledge that these will merely elicit yet further surrender to religious terror.
Britain has been appeasing this evil for years. While it doesn’t lock people up for blasphemy as prescribed by the Islamic world, it inflicts social, professional or political disapproval against those who draw attention to the dangers inherent in Islamic doctrine and the refusal by too many British Muslims to accept the superior claims of Britain’s culture and laws.
When Boris Johnson called niqabs and burqas “oppressive and ridiculous”, he was widely denounced for bigotry and accused of “fanning the flames of Islamophobia” for political gain; there were calls for the police to take action against him for hate crime (which it declined to do); and his own Conservative party, instead of standing up for the freedom to criticise oppressive or intimidating religious practices, investigated him instead.
This cultural cowardice by Britain does far more than abandon Asia Bibi. For she is but one of countless Christians who are being persecuted in Pakistan and across the world by Islamic jihadis determined to exterminate Christianity itself.
As documented in this article, recent attacks against Pakistani Christians included an attack on a church in Quetta in December 2017 that killed 9 people; a suicide attack targeting Christians celebrating Easter in March 2016 at a Lahore playground and which left 70 dead; two bomb blasts at churches in Lahore in March 2015 that killed 14; a twin suicide bomb attack at a Peshawar church in 2013 which left around 80 dead, and nearly 40 houses and a church burned by a mob in 2009, in the town of Gojra in Punjab, with eight people burned alive. Last March, a Pakistani court acquitted 20 people of being part of a mob that burned alive a Christian couple who had been falsely accused of “blasphemy”. The Christian couple were tortured and their bodies incinerated in a brick kiln.
By so shamefully refusing asylum to Asia Bibi, Britain is sending out an even bleaker message: that it is deaf to the cries of persecuted Christians worldwide; that it is also abandoning those Muslims who are themselves the victims of oppressive Islamic practices, not least in Britain; and that, through signalling surrender to religious intimidation, it is actively undermining the desperate struggle now under way to defend civilisation itself.