Asia Bibi case shows the danger of courting religious extremists

Has Asia Bibi left Pakistan or not? The rumor mill is working overtime because peace in Pakistan depends on ...

Posted: Nov 13, 2018 10:28 PM
Updated: Nov 13, 2018 10:28 PM

Has Asia Bibi left Pakistan or not? The rumor mill is working overtime because peace in Pakistan depends on the whereabouts of the Christian woman, acquitted of blasphemy charges after nine years in prison.

News of her acquittal on October 31 was met with the shutdown of major roads in cities such as Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad, where cars were burnt and smashed by mobs organized by the Tehreek e Labbaik party (TLP), an extremist religious party.

Asia

Asia Bibi

Belief, religion and spirituality

Continents and regions

Donald Trump

Middle East

Middle East and North Africa

Misc people

Pakistan

Political Figures - US

Society

South Asia

Even the news of her release from prison was greeted by a baying mob of thousands of men who waved banners demanding that she be hanged -- a terrifying and visceral picture of the patriarchy in action.

Despite being declared innocent by the courts, it is Asia who is on the run like a criminal and needs to leave the country before the mobs track her down.

Even her lawyer, Saiful Malook, had to uproot his life and family and seek asylum in the Netherlands. Other less well-known members of her legal team like Muhammad Aman Ullah, who has stayed behind in Pakistan, is fearful for his life.

How did this happen in a so-called democracy like Pakistan? Ever since the military dictator Zia ul Haq began the Islamisation process of Pakistan in the 1980s, religious leaders have acquired unprecedented power. Saiful Malook, who I interviewed in late 2017 while he was preparing Asia's case, lays the blame firmly on Zia ul Haq.

"He made them ministers, gave them cars, built them bungalows, got them involved in government. Before that the religious leaders were quite weak, now they are stakeholders in government and in corruption."

It was Zia ul Haq who revived the dormant British law on blasphemy by increasing the maximum penalty from 10 years to death. Yet the irony is that to date no one has been executed by the state on the charge of blasphemy, but many have been killed by the mob -- one estimate is 75.

It is also this mob rule that prevents the quick dispatch of blasphemy cases in the lower courts, even when the evidence provided is as flimsy as a flight of fantasy.

The political strategy of the extremists has been to pack out the courts at every blasphemy hearing so that judges are reduced to nervous wrecks and refuse to take on cases, pleading ill health.

If they do hear the cases, they simply do not acquit defendants. Lower-court judges are typically less educated and more sympathetic to the religious lobby.

Saiful Malook recounts the story of the judge who sentenced Asia Bibi to death, who has preserved the pen which he used to sign off her judgment as a source of pride.

The higher up you go in the Pakistani legal system, the more likely you are to get justice because judges further up the hierarchy are paid well and have security provided by the state.

Of course, even this security can turn out to be illusory as Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab, was to discover when he was killed by his own guard in 2011 for visiting Asia in prison and calling for her to be released.

The few lawyers who take on these life-threatening cases command huge fees. Many of the blasphemy victims, like Asia, are just too poor to go all the way up to the Supreme Court and languish for years in prison.

But Asia caught the public imagination and donations poured into her campaign from all over the world. Rights organizations like Amnesty International also stepped in to help fund some of the legal fees.

Although the leadership of subsequent governments after Zia has been drawn from the liberal elites whose personal lives have eschewed religion to a greater or lesser degree, all of them, except General Pervez Musharraf, have relied on religious parties for their power. It was a strategy of appeasement and vote garnering.

Benazir Bhutto was the great feminist hope when she succeeded Zia but failed to overturn his Hudood ordinances, which, for example, required women to produce four witnesses to prove rape to avoid charges of adultery. Nawaz Sharif condemned religious violence against minorities but did very little to reverse the sharification of Pakistan.

Musharraf cultivated an image of Enlightened moderation, introduced some women-friendly laws and pushed back against religious forces.

However, Afiya Zia, a Pakistani activist and academic, in her new book "Faith and Feminism in Pakistan" says his policies were "more symbolic than transformative" while the backlash of radical conservatism against women went unchecked.

Imran Khan, elected to power recently, and yet to shake off his image as playboy of the Western world, plays a similarly duplicitous game.

He has valorized the Pakistani Taliban for standing against US imperialism, has aligned with religious-right parties like Jamaat-e-Islami at provincial level, has expressed his support for blasphemy laws, publicly supports the acquittal of Asia Bibi and then behind the scenes, does a deal with TLP accepting its demand for a review petition of the Supreme Court judgment and to keep Asia Bibi in the country.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom produces an annual report surveying the state of religious freedoms across the world. Pakistan has appeared regularly as a "Country of Particular Concern" and is the only country to be put on a special watch list in its 2018 annual report.

The religious right has so far not managed to win power at the ballot box, but its ability to rouse a rabble and paralyze the country has given it a disproportionate and vicious grip on what's left of democracy in Pakistan. Trump, take note: if you court religious extremists, you are in danger of letting mobs weaken democracy.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 560450

Reported Deaths: 7122
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1167211690
Ramsey48313858
Dakota42928423
Anoka38965419
Washington25195274
Stearns21198219
St. Louis16926298
Scott16187118
Wright14964128
Olmsted1282897
Sherburne1072580
Carver993045
Clay787390
Rice7701102
Blue Earth704240
Kandiyohi631381
Crow Wing624286
Chisago554750
Otter Tail547673
Benton536697
Mower453032
Goodhue448572
Douglas446071
Winona439549
Nobles401948
Morrison397559
McLeod397255
Isanti382559
Itasca379053
Beltrami375457
Polk367967
Steele366214
Becker359448
Lyon349748
Carlton331152
Freeborn329629
Pine313821
Nicollet310343
Brown295639
Mille Lacs285450
Le Sueur273822
Todd270030
Cass252526
Meeker239137
Waseca231921
Martin215230
Wabasha20003
Roseau198319
Hubbard174441
Renville172943
Dodge17253
Redwood166735
Houston162714
Cottonwood158221
Fillmore15229
Pennington151519
Chippewa147537
Wadena145821
Faribault145519
Sibley137110
Kanabec133622
Aitkin129436
Watonwan12609
Rock123419
Jackson118210
Yellow Medicine111319
Pipestone110526
Pope10386
Murray10319
Swift100418
Marshall85817
Stevens83310
Lake78819
Clearwater78514
Koochiching77813
Wilkin77312
Lac qui Parle73922
Big Stone5764
Lincoln5613
Grant5528
Norman5229
Mahnomen5178
Unassigned48678
Kittson46822
Red Lake3877
Traverse3625
Lake of the Woods3073
Cook1480

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 359450

Reported Deaths: 5839
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk56274608
Linn20392330
Scott19245236
Black Hawk15611306
Woodbury14960221
Johnson1415481
Dubuque13196203
Dallas1094596
Pottawattamie10804162
Story1035747
Warren559186
Clinton541791
Cerro Gordo524987
Webster508792
Sioux507873
Marshall477575
Muscatine463297
Des Moines443165
Wapello4255121
Buena Vista422140
Jasper408470
Plymouth398779
Lee369255
Marion355775
Jones293455
Henry286837
Carroll280152
Bremer279860
Crawford262840
Boone259633
Benton251155
Washington249850
Dickinson243743
Mahaska225750
Jackson218942
Kossuth213763
Clay212325
Tama206971
Delaware204539
Winneshiek194933
Page190721
Buchanan189031
Cedar185023
Fayette183541
Hardin181942
Wright180635
Hamilton178449
Harrison176673
Clayton167355
Butler162734
Mills159020
Cherokee157738
Floyd156242
Lyon155341
Madison154819
Poweshiek153233
Allamakee149351
Iowa146224
Hancock144234
Winnebago136931
Grundy135532
Cass135154
Calhoun133411
Jefferson131235
Emmet129940
Shelby129037
Sac128419
Louisa127349
Appanoose126747
Mitchell125441
Union123332
Chickasaw122715
Guthrie118529
Humboldt118426
Franklin113121
Palo Alto111323
Howard102922
Montgomery101537
Unassigned10040
Clarke98524
Keokuk95031
Monroe94528
Ida90133
Adair84832
Pocahontas84121
Monona81430
Davis79924
Osceola77116
Greene76710
Lucas75723
Worth7138
Taylor65412
Fremont6169
Decatur5919
Van Buren55518
Ringgold53624
Wayne52123
Audubon4969
Adams3314
Rochester/St. Mary'S
Clear
48° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 32°
Feels Like: 44°
Mason City
Cloudy
49° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 45°
Albert Lea
Mostly Cloudy
50° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 50°
Austin
Clear
46° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 43°
Charles City
Cloudy
46° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 42°
Rain showers return for Friday
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

Aaron's Evening Forecast (4/22/21)

Image

Aaron's Evening Forecast (4/21/21)

Image

Aaron's Evening Forecast (4/20/21)

Image

Bulls defeat Grizzlies in Fraser Cup Final

Image

Bruins continue fight for playoff bid

Image

Aaron's Evening Forecast (4/19/21)

Image

Sean's Weather 4/19

Image

Mayo Clinic Doctor creates art for patients

Image

Electric car show

Image

Walk a Block

Community Events