Asia Bibi is a Pakistani Christian which, apparently, in some parts of the Muslim world, relegates one to the status of an untouchable. Mrs. Bibi was working in the fields of Ittan Wali, a village 60 miles west of Lahore, when agricultural workers picking berries with her protested that she had been asked by a landlord to fetch water for them to drink.
The other workers refused to touch the water bowl because Ms. Bibi had carried the container.
“Suddenly she saw men and women walking towards her with angry gestures,” Mr. Masih, a laborer, said in a telephone interview. “They started beating her and shouting that she had made derogatory remarks against the Prophet Muhammad.”
A mob then dragged Ms. Bibi to a local police station, where she was jailed and charged with blasphemy.
Subsequently, she was sentenced to death and has been in jail for more than a year. The sentence has not yet been carried out, at least not on her. The governor of the province, a brave Muslim by the name of Salmaan Taseer, petitioned the country's President on her behalf and criticized the draconian nature of the blasphemy laws. Mr. Taseer was promptly shot 20 times in the back by one of his bodyguards as retribution for his enlightened views.
The assassin's name was Mumtaz Qadri. Mr. Qadri, one might think, would be seen as the Pakistani equivalent of Jared Loughner, but that's not how things work in Pakistan. Sarah Topol at Slate reports that Mr. Qadri is in fact considered a hero among the Pakistani masses:
In the busy commercial market of Rawalpindi, Islamabad's twin city, the narrow alleyways of cloth dyers, jewelers, and shoe peddlers are crammed with shoppers. At a roadside food stall, men sitting at small, rickety tables warm themselves with steaming cups of chai.As Christopher Hitchens notes in another article at Slate Mr. Taseer was murdered not for committing blasphemy himself but for criticizing a law that forbids it for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Amid the swirling chaos on a frigid Sunday afternoon, everyone at the makeshift tent unanimously agrees: Mumtaz Qadri, the 26-year-old security officer who killed Punjab's governor, Salman Taseer, is a hero.
"It was the perfect action," says Malik Khan as he flashes me a thumbs up, "any Muslim would do the same thing." The bundled-up patrons clustered around us nod in agreement. And they aren't the only ones; I've been hearing the same refrain all afternoon as I traversed the bustling market.
This weekend in Karachi, 50,000 people came out in support of the blasphemy law Qadri was supposedly defending when he shot Taseer more than 20 times in the back.
Little wonder that Muslim moderates are reluctant to confront the extremists. Debate with such people is not conducted on the level of ideas but in terms of who is most willing to murder his opponent. On that level the extremists certainly win.
Meanwhile, Asia Bibi continues to languish in prison for the crime of being Christian. That's not the official charge against her, of course - she is accused of slurring the Prophet - but anyone who has seen the movie The Stoning of Soroya M. knows how such accusations work in that part of the world. Nevertheless, even if it's true that she uttered something defamatory about the revered figure, sentencing her to execution for the offense certainly suggests that the Pakistani judicial system has a long way to go before Westerners see it as anything but barbaric.