They say justice delayed is justice denied. In Asia Bibi’s case perhaps delaying of a sentence may turn out to be a better deal for her. She was arrested for her faith. We all know the story by now — how she stood her ground for harassment over drinking water from the same cup as the Muslim women in her neighbourhood. Those women took to mob justice to punish Asia for what they thought was her audacity to stand up for her Christian faith and her dignity in a country that is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. It has come to this now that when a judge recused himself from her case, the few of us holding our breath, exhaled.
Twitter hashtags; Friday sermons; a petition by 150 Islamic scholars; the talk shows and the radio call-ins all want one thing — to hang Asia Bibi. It seems like our blood thirst is insatiable. This case has cost Pakistan an arm and a leg. The world sees us as a country that deserves sanctions for persecuting minorities, this case just highlighting the tip of the iceberg. We have internally been crushed because when Salmaan Taseer — Punjab’s sitting governor, stood up for her, he was assassinated in perhaps one of the most brutal moments of our history. Taseer’s guard was unabashedly proud of gunning him down and the country glorifies and garlands him like he saved widows and discovered a cure to a pandemic.
In this Orwellian state where war is peace and peace is war, we can only hope that time has pity on us. The only ally we have left, time, buys us a few crumbs of poise and strength to go on. That we live to see another day and then just maybe something will come out of the woodworks and save us and that they will not be assassinated. This is hopeless. This is a failure of our political elite for not having courage. Bravado, yes, they have plenty of.
Asia Bibi is a testament to the rot of religious bigotry that this country has been infested with since the end of the Afghan war. Everywhere you look now, there is a purification attempt of even Muslims. Just a particular brand of Sunni Muslims, they say, have a claim to rowdy freedom in this country. To loot minority homes, to rape and force into marriage their women and to harass those who practise or preach a religion other than this brand.
A mother of five, this woman has been failed by this country and its people but I assure you that even her blood will not quench their thirst. Violence and war breed more violence, they need more offerings to be thrown into some sacred fire to fulfil some sacred version of their salvation. Empathy is lost as is human compassion. Other countries have lost the plot too, but they still have a strong justice system with checks and balances. So the Asia Bibis are safe there. Here there is one big mouth hungry for vengeance to feed. No one has been hanged for blasphemy in this country — on death row since 2010, Asia Bibi may be the first. Amidst international pressure the country needs to clear the mist and recognise that it stands on an important juncture in history. Some decisions are symbolic and can undo years of culpability for tyranny of the majority. This is one of those times.
For the stakeholders to understand how much honor rests on them, they need the right noises from not just the civil society you can fit in a yoga room, but from leaders of mainstream political parties. They need to express their aversion to destroying lives, to the death penalty, to keeping mothers away from their children, to rigidity and to national holier-than-though ethos.
This is Pakistan’s McCarthyist era — this call for blood of those who are not Muslim enough or whatever ISM enough. When an ideology becomes rogue, its time to reclaim it. It’s time for Muslim scholars to stop signing #HangAsia petitions and work on interfaith harmony. The peaceniks are becoming a dying breed here in this country. They need more amplification. As does any woman who will not bend to coercion and her right to self identify in a particular faith.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 19th, 2016.
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