Hypocrisy of the Western Christian Response to Muslim Persecution of Christians
Pope Francis may get letters this year from kings and presidents and grand muftis, but it is highly unlikely that he will receive a letter nearly as important as the one he got in December from an impoverished and imprisoned woman in Pakistan.
This pontiff has famously made it a hallmark of his pontificate to show especial care for the downtrodden and outcast, and so he may yet answer Asia Bibi and speak out on her behalf, but there are good reasons to bet against that happening.
It all started for Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Catholic wife and mother, on June 14, 2009 – or more precisely, it all ended for her on that day. She recounted in August 2013:
I, Asia Bibi, have been sentenced to death because I was thirsty. I’m a prisoner because I used the same cup as those Muslim women, because water served by a Christian woman was regarded as unclean by my stupid fellow fruit-pickers.
Picking fruit with a group of Muslim women, Bibi was ordered to fetch water for them – and drank a bit of it herself in the stifling heat. A Muslim woman rebuked her for doing so, saying to the other women: “Listen, all of you, this Christian has dirtied the water in the well by drinking from our cup and dipping it back several times. Now the water is unclean and we can’t drink it! Because of her!”
Bibi stood up to her, responding: “I think Jesus would see it differently from Mohammed.” That drove the Muslim women into a fury, and they started yelling at Bibi: “How dare you think for the Prophet, you filthy animal!” That’s right, you’re just a filthy Christian! You’ve contaminated our water and now you dare speak for the Prophet! Stupid bitch, your Jesus didn’t even have a proper father, he was a bastard, don’t you know that. You should convert to Islam to redeem yourself for your filthy religion.”
The embattled woman stood her ground, responding: “I’m not going to convert. I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind? And why should it be me that converts instead of you?”
Several days later, she was arrested for blasphemy as an enraged mob beat her and screamed, “Death! Death to the Christian!” She has been in prison ever since, awaiting execution for her “crime.”
In her letter to Pope Francis, Bibi wrote: “I do not know how long I can go on and on. If I am still alive, it is thanks to the strength that your prayers give me. I have met many people who speak and fight for me. Unfortunately still to no avail. At this time I just want to trust the mercy of God, who can do everything, that all is possible. Only He can liberate me.”
It may be that only God can free her because Christians in the West don’t dare to speak out on her behalf: Robert McManus, the Roman Catholic bishop of Worcester, Massachusetts, summed up an all-too-common view last February when he wrote: “Talk about extreme, militant Islamists and the atrocities that they have perpetrated globally might undercut the positive achievements that we Catholics have attained in our inter-religious dialogue with devout Muslims.”
So in the interests of perpetuating Muslim/Christian “dialogue,” Asia Bibi and other Pakistani Christians accused of blasphemy have no friend, no protector, and no spokesman. Nevertheless, it still remains to be seen whether Pope Francis will step into the breach.
If he does, however, he would be following the path of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI – a path he has already rejected. After Muslims in Egypt massacred 21 people in a New Year’s Eve 2011 bombing of a church, Pope Benedict spoke out in January 2011 against the persecution of Christians in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East. When Benedict dared to raise his voice in that way, Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the world’s most prestigious Sunni Muslim institution, reacted angrily, breaking off dialogue with the Vatican and accusing the pope of interference in internal Egyptian affairs. In a statement, Al-Azhar denounced the pope’s “repeated negative references to Islam and his claims that Muslims persecute those living among them in the Middle East.”
Benedict stood his ground, and that was that. But in September 2013, Al-Azhar announced that Pope Francis had sent a personal message to Ahmed Al Tayyeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar. In it, according to Al-Azhar, Francis declared his respect for Islam and his desire to achieve “mutual understanding between the world’s Christians and Muslims in order to build peace and justice.” At the same time, Al Tayyeb met with the apostolic nuncio to Egypt, Mgr. Jean-Paul Gobel, and told him in no uncertain terms that speaking about Islam in a negative manner was a “red line” that must not be crossed.
So Pope Benedict condemned a jihad attack, one that al-Azhar also condemned, and yet Al-Azhar suspended dialogue because of the pope’s condemnation. Then Pope Francis wrote to the grand imam of Al-Azhar affirming his respect for Islam, and the grand imam warned him that criticizing Islam was a “red line” that he must not cross. That strongly suggests that the “dialogue” that Pope Francis has reestablished will not be allowed to discuss the Muslim persecution of Christians that will escalate worldwide, especially since an incidence of that persecution led to the suspension of dialogue in the first place.
But if the dialogue cannot address that persecution, what good could it possibly do? If Christian leaders like Pope Francis and so many others take care to affirm their respect for Islam, and sit at conference tables listening respectfully as Muslim authorities explain how Islam is a religion of peace, what will that do for Asia Bibi and others like her?
“This winter I am facing many problems,” Asia Bibi wrote to Pope Francis: “my cell has no heating and no suitable door for shelter from the bitter cold. Also the security measures are not adequate, I do not have enough money for daily needs, and I am very far from Lahore so my family cannot help me.”
She ended her letter expressing her hope: “I know you pray for me with all your heart,” she told the pope. “And this gives me confidence that one day my freedom will be possible. Certain to be remembered in your prayers, I greet you with affection. Asia Bibi, your daughter in the faith.”
Certainly prayers are needed for Asia Bibi; action is needed as well – action by Western Christian leaders and the international “human rights community” to marshal world opinion and call on Pakistan to drop its inhuman blasphemy laws, under which so many innocent have been victimized. Or will Asia Bibi and all the others who have suffered under those laws continue to be sacrificed on the altar of a spurious and fruitless “dialogue”?
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