Features Australia

The Cup, the Martyrs and the Archbishop

29 April 2017

9:00 AM

29 April 2017

9:00 AM

The sub-leader in the Australian some months ago (‘Sipping water a capital offence’) called attention to the plight of Mrs Asia Bibi, a poor Christian villager and mother condemned to death by a Pakistani court for the crine of blasphemy, triggered by her sipping water from a Moslem cup. The months have gone by and she is still awaiting execution.

The only Christian apart from her children in a desperately poor village, she was working in a field in June (ie. midsummer) 2009 (not 1009), with some Moslem women when the others told her to bring them water. She did so, but stopped to take a drink from an old metal cup she found lying near the well. It turned out to be a Moslem cup. Words followed. She was then arrested and sentenced to death for blasphemy. All appeals so far have been refused, and she remains in a foul Pakistani jail. The only hopeful thing about this story is that the death sentence has not yet been carried out. Her final appeal is to be heard in June, likely to be followed by a walk to the gallows or headsman’s block.

However, there is a good deal more to this story, none of it edifying except for the shining courage of two genuine latter-day heroes and martyrs to decency. The story is a little complicated but worth following. It wanders from the dusty, baking Pakistani field to the manicured lawns of Lambeth Palace.

Asia Bibi, far from being allowed to see her children, has been in solitary confinement since she was arrested while her appeal against the death-sentence drags its way through the courts. She is a widow with five children. God knows how, or if, they are surviving alone in a fanatically hostile village. The Western powers which give Pakistan hundreds of millions of dollars of aid have not tied it to any conditions regarding respecting the human rights of Christians – or of anyone else. Come the final hearing in June, she will have spent eight years in solitary.

However, it gets better: the provincial governor, Salman Taseer, in an effort to bring Pakistan forward to the Enlightenment of, say, the 18th century, tried to intervene on Bibi Asia’s behalf and have the case dropped. For this he was murdered in January, 2011, by his own bodyguard, a man sworn to protect him, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri. Thousands gathered in support, not of the dastardly murdered governor, but of the murderer and oath-breaker, strewing rose petals before him on his way to court (Qadri was finally hanged). Five hundred clerics announced that it was forbidden to send condolences to Governor Taseer’s family. His then 28-year-old son was kidnapped, held prisoner, and only found five years later.

Pakistan’s Minority Affairs Minister Shgabaz Bhatti, the only Christian member of Pakistan’s Cabinet, also supported Mrs Bibi and supported changing the blasphemy laws under which she had been sentenced. On March 2, 2011, he was shot dead from ambush.

Among those supporting the murderer Qadri were extremist Islamic clerics Muhammad Naqib ur Rehman and Hassan Haseeb ur Reman, who embarked on a seven-week tour of Britain, allowed into the country by its desperately multicultural conservative government. Just the type of people the UK needs more of, in fact.

But it keeps getting better and better: one of the first things these two charmers did when they arrived in the UK in July last year, on a preaching tour of Moslem communities, was to meet the Archbishop of Canterbury. And what did the Archbishop do? He welcomed these creatures to Lambeth Palace and claimed in Sam Flannel language that the meeting would strengthen ‘interfaith relations’ as well as (you can’t make this up) ‘addressing the narrative of extremism and terrorism’. What was it the late Peter Simple (Michael Warton) said about the Anglican church putting itself in a position so far beneath contempt that there were no words to describe it? People are still attracted by courage and integrity and repelled by moral cowardice. Religious expert Damian Thompson has said British churches (though not the evangelicals, baptists, etc.) are losing people at the rate of 10,000 per week. Hardly surprising.

How about the archbishop using any influence or authority he might still possess to have the Pakistani Government address the ‘narrative’ of Asia Bibi? Or how about the ‘narratives’ of the late Salman Taseer and the late Shahbaz Batti, men who have given some meaning by their deaths to that old word ‘heroism’?

Extremism and terror? Both these clerical gentleman took an enthusiastic – indeed hysterical – stand in Pakistan in support of the murderer Qadri. There is a video of Hassan Haseeb delivering a mouth-frothing speech in support of Qadri while Muhammad Naqib looks on from the platform. Muhammad Naqib is shown on another video whipping up the vast crowd of mourners after Qadri was hanged. He repeatedly referred to Qadri as a shaheed or martyr. Tens of thousands of people attended the funeral and afterwards rioted, chanting ‘Qadri, your blood will bring the revolution!’ and ‘The punishment for a blasphemer is beheading!’ After Qadri’s execution, Hassan Haseeb said on social media ‘Every person who loves Islam and the prophet is in grief for the martyrdom of Mumtaz Qadri’. The archbishop either knew or did not know of these gentry’s colourful histories. Neither alternative does him much credit.

Pakistan is the biggest recipient of British aid – nearly 400 million pounds this year. This is despite Pakistan having its own space programme, and despite the fact that its friendship with the West is ambiguous in the extreme. The fact it has increased its defence spending by 11 per cent suggests where some of the aid goes.

Shahbaz Taseer, the son of the murdered governor, is among those who have spoken out against the clerics being allowed into Britain at all. ‘These people teach murder and hate’ he has said, ‘For me personally, I find it sad that a country like England would allow cowards like these men in. It’s countries like the UK and the US that claim they are leading the way in the war against terror and setting a standard. Why do they allow people in that give fuel to the fire they are fighting against?’ It seems an excellent question. But there are also questions to be asked about the archbishop’s behaviour, quite apart from questions as to what Australia is doing for the persecuted Christians of whom Asia Bibi is an emblem? There is no reason why either the government or the church in Australia should not take up her case. This year, incidentally, the Australian tax-payer is giving Pakistan $47 million in aid. That should give some leverage. Might even the sisterhood of the women’s rights movement place some pressure on the Australian Government to act? Probably a very silly question.

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