This Thanksgiving weekend in America it’s important to ponder Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian woman imprisoned for eight years under allegation of blasphemy against Islam. She’s been formally acquitted but still under detention for her own safety as demonstrations across Pakistan demand her death.
Bibi’s lawyer has already left Pakistan for his own safety. Protests have also demanded death for the judges who acquitted Bibi. Certainly she and her family have no future in their own country and will have to flee to the West.
Meanwhile the Pakistani government has detained several hundred Islamists to hinder further violent protests. Yet the prime minister has been accused of pandering to the protests by not yet permitting Bibi’s departure.
Pakistani law stipulates death for blasphemy but has avoided actual executions. So sometimes mobs and assassins do what the government declines to implement.
Bibi was arrested after resentful neighbors accused her of attacking Islam’s Prophet after disputing at a village well. Though ultimately declared innocent she spent most of a decade in prison.
Americans, especially Christians, should consider living in a society where malevolently gossipy allegations can result in prison, where the law stipulates death for insulting Islam, where even after exoneration thousands of your countrymen demand your death, creating a political crisis, and ultimately forcing you, your family and your defenders to flee your own nation, likely forever.
Pakistan is not terribly unique. Bibi could have faced similar horrors in many other societies. Religious freedom, free speech and rule of law are historically exceptional.
Thanksgiving recalls the Pilgrims, who like Bibi had to flee their own country because religious beliefs placed them under threat. America’s religious freedom was achieved after centuries of struggle for which many suffered and perished. We should cherish this liberty of conscience above all else.
Yet any Americans do not. Even Christians in America often seem, at least in their public chatter, ungrateful. Christian activists on the left loudly denounce America as incorrigibly racist and oppressive. Even Thanksgiving has been denounced as a celebration of colonialism. (The few score Pilgrims who landed on Plymouth Rock after escaping their own government likely didn’t feel very colonial.)
Christian voices on the right sometimes deride America as almost irretrievably decadent and secular, on the precipice of a war against Christianity. There are real threats against religious liberty, faced by almost every generation. Yet our freedoms remain strong and vibrant relative to most of history and the rest of the world.
No American faces imprisonment or death because neighbors accuse them of blasphemy. Such a prospect is so alien to the American experience that we cannot even fathom, much less relate to Bibi’s still ongoing ordeal.
But the Pilgrims, most of whom died during the one year before the first Thanksgiving, would better understand Bibi’s plight. Let’s recall their legacy, esteem our freedoms and pray for Bibi. In different historical circumstances, all of us could have been Bibi.