Amidst wars and rumors of wars, the eyes of the world have understandably fixed themselves on the Middle East.
In Iraq and Syria, untold thousands have died and hundreds of thousands of refugees are fleeing their homes and homelands. Myriad Yazidis, Kurds, Turkomen, Shia Muslims have escaped with the only the clothes on their backs.
And Christians – as it is often said – are being driven out of the Cradle of Christianity.
Those of us who pay close attention to the persecution of Christians and other minorities continue to report and update daily abuses in the Middle East. But that is far from the only place such atrocities happen.
Nigerians are being slaughtered by the hundreds in their homes and churches; children are kidnapped, raped and sold into sex slavery.
North Korea’s believers are warehoused and starved in cruel labor camps and prisons, most of them never to be heard from again.
Mariam Ibraheem, who was imprisoned and sentenced to death for refusing to deny her Christian faith, exposed the depths of Sudan’s hardcore Sharia regime. Thankfully she is safe and free at last.
And then there is Pakistan, where a Christian mother of five, Asia Bibi, has been on death row for more than five years.
At times, much has been written about her. But these days, massacres and carnages elsewhere have stolen the headlines again and again.
With ISIS sweeping across the Middle East, who remembers Asia Bibi?
But remember we must. Because for years, Asis Bibi’s infuriating story and sorrowful face have embodied the unfairness of Pakistan’s deadly blasphemy laws.
And despite all the other troubles in the world, Ms. Bibi particularly deserves our thoughts and prayers right now. Her appeal hearing (rescheduled 7 times) has been set for October 16.
Summing up her case, Independent Catholic News reported,
“In June 2009, Asia was involved in an argument with a group of Muslim women with whom she had been harvesting berries, after the other women became angry at her for drinking the same water as them. She was subsequently accused of insulting the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, a charge she denies, and was arrested and imprisoned. In November 2010, a Sheikhupura judge sentenced her to death. If executed, Asia would be the first woman in Pakistan to be lawfully killed for blasphemy.”
Many have appealed to the Pakistani government on Asia Bibi’s behalf, including Pope Benedict.
Two prominent and courageous Pakistanis, Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister for Christian minorities, and Salmaan Taseer, Governor of Punjab, were assassinated in 2011 for opposing Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws and for speaking out on Asia Bibi’s behalf.
Another brave Pakistani, journalist Farahnaz Ispahani, served as a member of the Pakistani parliament while her husband, Husain Haqqani, was Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S from 2008 to 2011.
Today – shadowed by death threats – the two of them live in exile in the United States.
I asked Ms. Ispahani why Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are so controversial and perilous to those who oppose them:
“Pakistan's blasphemy laws have become more pernicious and dangerous as the society at large has become more extremist and unwilling to share space with those of other beliefs like Pakistan's Christians, Hindus and Sikhs -- and even those of the same faith but of different sects like Ahmadi and Shia Muslims.
“Even religious and conservative Sunni Muslim scholars of Islam, like Professor Shakeel Auj of Karachi, have been gunned down for having a more nuanced and sophisticated understanding and interpretation.
“There is still a majority of Pakistanis who will not kill someone who believes or practices differently, but they have become fearful of armed and jihadi groups, and the madrasahs the killers come from.
“The protection by the Pakistan establishment of many of these 'good' extremists has given them a powerful place and voice in the society - both urban and rural.
“Pakistan and Pakistanis have paid for this militant mindset in their midst in the blood of innocents.
“As in the case of Asia Bibi, from the very outset, the other danger of these laws is that groups or mobs can exact petty personal revenge by a mere accusation of blaspheming.”
Because of such draconian rules and widespread fear of vengeful extremists, since 2009 Asia Bibi has awaited her fate in a grimy prison cell. Will her death sentence be reversed on October 16?
Or will she continue to live in limbo while the legal system postpones her hearings yet again?
Or will Asia Bibi be the first woman in history to be executed for allegedly breaking Pakistan’s treacherous blasphemy laws?
Far away from this nightmare scenario, most of can only watch. And wait with her in spirit. And pray for the speedy deliverance of an innocent woman.
May God have mercy on Asia Bibi. Kyrie eleison.
Lela Gilbert is author of "Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner" and co-author, with Nina Shea and Paul Marshall, of "Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians." She is an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute and lives in Jerusalem. For more, visit her website: www.lelagilbert.com. Follow her on Twitter@lelagilbert.