Aasia Bibi – the scandal of Western press coverage

Last week, Pakistan’s Supreme Court postponed hearing Aasia Bibi’s appeal against her death sentence for blasphemy. As soon as the court hearing commenced, one of the three judges excused himself on the grounds that he had judged the case of Mumtaz Qadri. Salman Taseer, a Muslim who was governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, had been murdered by Qadri because he had supported Aasia Bibi and called for changes to Pakistan’s “blasphemy laws”. It is now likely to be several months before another judge is appointed to hear the case. Meanwhile Aasia Bibi has almost completed her sixth year on death row and is in her seventh year in prison.

Asia Bibi
Aasia Bibi

However, what is equally disturbing is the reporting of this case in much of the Western press. In some countries, major national newspapers and TV simply did not cover the story at all. In those which did, rather than explaining why Aasia Bibi and hundreds of other Christians have suffered under the “blasphemy laws”, some Western media twisted themselves in contortions to avoid making any link between Islam and Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which specifies a death penalty for defiling the name of Muhammad. 

Only in Australia were there widespread calls in the press to support Aasia Bibi, with some newspapers also showing a clear understanding that persecution of Christians by use of the “blasphemy laws” is driven by Islamic sharia. The Australian aptly summarised the crisis that Aasia Bibi’s appeal presents for the future of Pakistan:

“If her appeal is successful, it is likely to set off rioting across the country, led by hardline Islam­ists; the lives of the judges, lawyers and human rights activists involved in the case could also be in peril.

"If her appeal against the death sentence is rejected, it would ­confirm what many fear — that Pakistan is steaming towards ­becoming an Islamic autocracy of the sort that Afghanistan was under the Taliban, a place where even the Supreme Court genuflects to the mullahs.”

The Australian Daily Telegraph went further and suggested that in the West liberal elites exhibited “bigotry and hypocrisy towards Catholics and Christians”, observing how their focus on “Islamophobia” leads them to neglect the plight of persecuted Christians – such as Aasia Bibi:

“But it’s no surprise that left-wing elites despise Catholics and Christianity, in general. That’s why we are berated constantly about Islamophobia while the plight of the most persecuted religious group in the world is ignored. Christians could soon be extinct from whole swathes of the Middle East and Africa, ethnically cleansed by Islamists. In Pakistan, for instance, Christian mother of five Aasia Bibi has been on death row for six years, convicted of blasphemy…”

The term “Islamophobia” is used both by conservative Muslims and by many Western liberals to mean not simply opposing anti-Muslim hatred but also seeking to prohibit any criticism of Islam. This means that campaigns against “Islamophobia” are in effect seeking to create a Western Islamic blasphemy law – albeit with somewhat lesser penalties than in Pakistan.