- - Tuesday, November 13, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Eight years ago this month, Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian, was prosecuted, convicted and sentenced to be hanged on the charge of blasphemy. She has spent the years since on death row. Now, Pakistan’s Supreme Court has overturned her conviction on grounds of insufficient evidence. So this sad story turns out to have a happy ending, right? C’mon, you knew it wasn’t going to be that simple.

Let’s begin in 1947, before Ms. Bibi, now 53 years old, was even born. British India was partitioned into two independent nation-states, one with a Hindu majority, one with a Muslim majority. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founder, intended for his country’s minorities — Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Ahmadis and Christians among them — to enjoy full citizenship, with human and civil rights guaranteed.

His vision was not realized. Less than a decade later, Pakistan became an Islamic Republic, one that has become increasingly intolerant. In 1986, President Zia ul-Haq made blasphemy a capital offense.

Year after year, Pakistan’s minorities, subject to increasing discrimination and persecution, have been emigrating. Asia Bibi, her husband and their five children are among those who have remained. On a hot June day in 2009, while working on a farm near Lahore in the Punjab Province, she was asked to fetch water for a group of Muslim women.

One of the women refused to drink from the cup she brought them, saying that because it had been touched by a non-Muslim, it was unclean. Ms. Bibi is alleged to have told the Muslim women that Jesus “died on the cross for the sins of mankind,” and then asked: “What did your Prophet Muhammad ever do to save mankind?”

The Muslim women complained to the authorities who promptly arrested her for insulting Islam.

Punjab’s governor, Salmaan Taseer, a vocal opponent of blasphemy laws, visited her in prison, and argued that it would be a gross injustice to execute her.

On Jan. 4, 2011, Mr. Taseer was shot multiple times at close range as he was getting into his car following lunch. His assassin, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadrihe, was a member of the elite police unit assigned to protect him.

The killer explained to a television crew that arrived on the scene: “I am a slave of the Prophet, and the punishment for one who commits blasphemy is death.” Hundreds of clerics expressed support for him and called for a boycott of Mr. Taseer’s funeral.

Following Ms. Bibi’s acquittal last week, violent protests erupted around the country. Pakistan’s new prime minister, Imran Khan, a former cricket star, warned demonstrators not to “test the patience of the state.” It is by no means certain, however, that Mr. Khan will stand up to the Islamic supremacists.

His government has not yet agreed to allow Ms. Bibi to leave Pakistan, obvious though it is that for her to stay would be perilous. She is now reportedly under protective custody at an undisclosed location. According to the Huffington Post, her “appeal to Britain for asylum has been denied because her arrival in the country may stir civil unrest.” If true, that represents a British surrender to jihadists — not least, the thousands who now hold U.K. citizenship.

A modest proposal: President Trump should invite Ms. Bibi to come to America and request asylum. To do so would be just, moral and wise.

Just and moral because her life is in peril based on the fact that she is a Christian living in one of the many unfree Muslim-majority countries from which Christians are, in this century, being “cleansed.”

Wise because Mr. Trump is being reviled — unjustifiably, in my opinion — for refusing to open America’s doors to “caravans,” facilitated by a group called Peoples Without Borders, heading north from Central America. The president believes that the United States cannot integrate the tens of millions of people who — understandably, in my opinion — want to leave countries ruled by despots and/or incompetents, and enjoy the liberties and opportunities that America provides.

I don’t see how it is either wrong or heartless to insist that the United States have laws concerning immigration, and that those laws be enforced. Surely, American citizens have both a right and a responsibility to decide how many immigrants — “migrants” is an intentionally misleading term — we take in, and who should be at the front of the long line. The American welfare state is not so strong that its back can’t be broken. What happens then?

Some European countries are reportedly considering offering asylum to Ms. Bibi and her family. But just last month, the European Court of Human Rights affirmed the conviction of an Austrian woman for “disparagement of religious precepts,” a sophisticated way of saying she had insulted Muhammad (by critically discussing his marriage to Aisha, who was 6 years old when wed).

The court called that defamation, adding that it “goes beyond the permissible limits of an objective debate,” and “could stir up prejudice and put at risk religious peace.”

The Austrian woman was given a choice between paying a 480 euro fine and spending 60 days in jail. She was not sentenced to be hanged, as would be the case in Pakistan. I find that less than entirely reassuring.

• Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for The Washington Times.


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