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Asia Bibi and the Pakistani black hole



Martine Gozlan (*)

Asia has finally been able to flee Asia. Asia Bibi, a Christian Pakistani, left her native country after ten years of nightmare. Ten years on death row in the prison where she was thrown in 2009 for “blasphemy”. In Pakistan, “blasphemy” is a crime: it allows everyone to accuse their neighbour of insulting Islam and its prophet.

A knife, a rope, a torment hanging over the unfaithful heads. For Asia Bibi – whose tragic odyssey in the West would probably not be known without the energy of a journalist, Anne-Isabelle Tollet, who campaigned and wrote for her – it all began with a story about water. Water that will turn to blood for her enemies. On a sweltering day in 2009, Asia leans towards a nearby well and takes a sip of water. Neighbours approach screaming that this well is reserved for Muslims and that she, the Christian, defiles its purity. Let us remember that Pakistan means “the land of the pure” in Urdu language. Dangerous purity. Did its founder, the reform lawyer Ali Jinnah, imagine that this nation would be damaged by tribalism and Islamism? Jinnah was married to a Parsi Indo-Persian from the Zoroastrian community, the worshippers of fire. He promised: “Pakistan will not be a theocratic state governed by clerics entrusted with a divine mission”. The inspired speaker has been betrayed for a long time. During General Zia’s dictatorship between 1977 and 1988, political Islam hit the country. Tens of thousands of madrassas, Koranic schools, have been created, paving the way for a single education for children: obscurantism. This is when the legislation punishing with death this primitive concept called blasphemy was passed.
In a country where the pure persons are majority and dictate the law in people’s assemblies and in daily life, minorities considered impure are in great danger. Christians constitute 2% of the population. Their churches are regularly hit by attacks, as are the Shia mosques. I remember a Pakistani Christmas, a long time ago, when despite the children in bright costumes, prayers and gifts, a poorly disguised concern was floating in the air. Since the Benazir Bhutto’ assassination in December 2007, everything has gone from bad to worse. Jihadism has flared up, Islamist parties have held successive governments as complacent hostages by openly supporting the Afghan Taliban. The entire border province of Afghanistan is under Taliban rule, including the Swat Valley where attempts were made to kill the heroic schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, survivor of the attack and 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner. Pakistan is a disarticulated nation whose current Prime Minister Imran Khan, despite his pseudo-modernist protests, swore allegiance to the enemies of freedom, women and minorities in order to get elected in July 2018.
A former cocaine addicted playboy, he defended blasphemy legislation and showed up with a new, fully veiled wife.
Asia Bibi was thrown in jail on charges of hateful gossipers whose words had a right to life and death over the young Christian girl. Her round, smiling face has lost weight and aged. It took an international campaign for the Pakistani Supreme Court, where some consciences valiantly resist, to acquittal him on 31 October 2018, nine years after his imprisonment. But at the news, tens of thousands of fanatics across the country demonstrated by brandishing a sign with her portrait on it: “Hang her! ». Islamist organizations appealed, they lost and Asia Bibi was finally able to leave her dungeon. But she had to hide under good guard night and day to avoid being murdered. She was denied the right to leave Pakistani soil.
At the beginning of May, the prisoner finally flew to Canada. In September, her confidante and her support Anne-Isabelle Tollet will publish her story with Editions du Rocher. Today Asia has the right to breathe, to kiss her family and to pray according to her faith. But we must not forget that the country where she lived through hell is a great power. A nuclear power in the hands of the obscurantists. Its arsenal has tripled in ten years. We know nothing about the precautions surrounding this program, officially launched to compete with India, the hereditary enemy, also in possession of the Bomb and now governed by Narendra Modi, a Hindu extremist who is entering his second term. On the other hand, Pakistan, where half the population is still illiterate, can fall into anarchy from one day to the next. The West seems to care little about this black hole.

* Journalist and essayist, editor-in-chief at the weekly Marianne, specialist in Islamism and the Middle East.