Death to Christians

bibi_1080924cl-31.jpgFor some Christians around the world, Christmas is not a time for celebration. It’s a time for mourning, and for fear.
This year in Iraq, there will be no Christmas celebrations, religious or otherwise. “Christmas mass has been cancelled as a consequence of the never-ending assassinations against Christians,” announced Louis Sako, the Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk. “We do not have the right to put people’s lives in danger.”
In recent years, Muslim extremists have stepped up their attacks on Iraq’s Christians, who used to number about a million (3 per cent of the population). Today, the Christians are fleeing, as the Jews once fled, and the population has been cut in half. Extremists have firebombed their homes, kidnapped their relatives, and shot them in cold blood. On Oct. 31, gunmen linked to al-Qaeda opened fire in a church in Baghdad, shooting Sunday worshippers and calling them infidels. Fifty-two people died, including two priests, and dozens more were wounded. One prominent jihadist website has posted a “hit list” of prominent Iraqi Christian clerics, with encouragement to kill them.
Perhaps the most reviled Christian in the world today is not a cleric. She is an illiterate Pakistani peasant woman named Asia Bibi, and she has been sentenced to death for blaspheming Islam. Leading Pakistani clerics are urging the government to carry out the sentence; they warn that, if it doesn’t, someone else surely will.
Asia Bibi and her family were the only Christian household in her village. One day, she got into an argument with two Muslim women in a field. It seems they refused to drink the water she had fetched because she was a Christian. They quarrelled. Later, the two Muslim women approached the local imam and accused Ms. Bibi of blaspheming the Prophet Mohammed. A local court convicted her on the charge, slapped her with a heavy fine, and sentenced her to death by hanging.
Ms. Bibi is now in jail awaiting execution. Her husband and five children are in hiding. In a brief public appearance, she protested her innocence and said, “In the village, they tried to put a noose around my neck, so that they could kill me.”
Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law is often used by feuding neighbours in land disputes, and Ms. Bibi said she was falsely accused to settle an old score. Even so, one radical cleric has offered 500,000 Pakistani rupees ($5,900) to anyone prepared to “finish her.” As one Pakistani Christian told the BBC, “in our churches, homes and workplaces, we feel fear. Even our little children are afraid that, if they say something wrong at school, they will be charged with blasphemy.”
The governments of both Pakistan and Iraq have vowed to protect their religious minorities. But neither can deliver. Pakistan’s minister for minorities (himself a Christian) has received death threats for saying the blasphemy law should be reformed. And last July, two Pakistani Christian brothers on trial for blasphemy were shot – inside the courthouse. In Iraq, says Archbishop Sako, “no one expects anything from the government as far as protecting Christians.”
Small Christian sects in large Muslim countries pose no threat to the neighbours and, for many years, they have co-existed in relative peace. No more. There is a new strain of Islam that can’t co-exist with anyone else, however harmless. And so, when Asia Bibi’s children ask their father if their mom is coming home for Christmas, he tells them no. She’s safer where she is.