Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian woman who spent eight years on death row in a Pakistani jail, having been convicted of “blasphemy” on the testimony of Muslims, has at last been freed by a decision of the Pakistani Supreme Court. But her latest ordeal has only just begun, for she cannot possibly live safely in Pakistan, where massive crowds have been calling for her to be executed and where, during this past year, two high officials of the government who had criticized her prosecution were, as a consequence, murdered by Muslim fanatics.
The United Kingdom has refused to offer Bibi asylum, prompted by fears of violence by Muslims. The UK high commissioner in Islamabad is reported to have warned he could not protect his staff if asylum were granted by the UK. This led the Foreign Office, in turn, to ask the Home Office not to grant Asia Bibi’s request. And there was another fear as well. That was the concern that if Bibi were granted asylum by Her Majesty’s Government, Muslims could well riot in the U.K. itself.
In a demonstration of widespread pusillanimity, no country has yet stepped forward to offer this woman asylum.
So where can Asia Bibi go? There are two places where she just might be safe.
The first is the United States, where she could be offered not just asylum, but a place in the Witness Protection Program. Between 1971 and 2013 (the latest year for which figures are available), that Program has successfully protected 8,500 people (“witnesses”), along with 9,900 family members. The American government is unlikely to be worried about possible Muslim unrest should Asia Bibi be given asylum. While Muslims in the UK make up 5% of the population, in the US they make up only 1%, where, likely as a consequence, they are better behaved. The U.S is also 40 times bigger than the U.K. Should Asia Bibi come here, there’s more room to disappear in, with a government that has a ready network of safe houses, new identities, and, if need be, plastic surgery.
The second place where Asia Bibi should consider requesting asylum is the Vatican. By doing so, Asia Bibi would be putting the islamophilic Pope Francis on the spot. He who has been insisting that “authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence” would be confronted with the reality of a Christian woman who, living in a Muslim land, falsely accused by Muslim coworkers of blasphemy against Muhammad, was sentenced to death. After spending eight years of her life in prison waiting for that sentence to be carried out, she was finally acquitted by the Pakistani Supreme Court. Two high-ranking Pakistani officials who had criticized the prosecution of Asia Bibi, the Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer, and the Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, were both assassinated as a result.
But how could Pope Francis, who has been endlessly critical of the West for not admitting all the migrants who want to be admitted, who has even compared those he calls “populists,” who wish ill to nobody, but only want to be able to control the number and kind of migrants admitted to their own countries, to Hitler, now turn down Asia Bibi? How could he who has insisted that Christ would have welcomed with open arms all those who might have asked him for asylum, no matter what their background or views, now turn down Asia Bibi’s request for asylum? Can he, who has claimed that a failure to welcome migrants is “rooted ultimately in self-centeredness and amplified by populist rhetoric,” now reject Asia Bibi, a genuine martyr for her faith who refused to convert to Islam, which might have ended her suffering? If the Pope were to reject her plea for asylum, could he ever again lecture those who want to limit the migration to their own countries, and especially to limit the number of Muslim migrants because of the menacing ideology that they bring with them in their mental baggage?
If the Pope were to decide to give her refuge, as a good Christian should, he would immediately be subject to a barrage of ferocious criticism from Muslims around the world, including many death threats, which might make him start to recognize, as hitherto he has not, the violence that is so essential a part of Islam.
It’s hard to know what it will take to open the Pope’s mind to the meaning, and menace, of Islam. But the case of Asia Bibi just might do it. He should answer her plea by inviting her, and her family, to live in the Vatican, pop. 1000, one of the best-protected places on earth. Contrary to popular belief, the Swiss Guards are not merely ceremonial, but are carefully chosen Swiss army veterans, often in plainclothes, armed with, and highly trained in using, the latest weaponry. There are about 125 of those Guards, and the same number of Vatican Police, who together equal one-fourth of the total population of Vatican City.
As for weaponry, the Pontifical Guards have the Sig P220 semi automatic pistol as their standard issue. It is made by famed firearms manufacturer Sig Sauer, and has one of the best reputations for reliability and quality. (Today, the Navy SEALs are known for their similar Sig Sauer P226 pistols). The Swiss Guard also uses Austrian-built Glock 19 pistols for deep concealment.
For heavier hitting longer-range modern firepower, the Swiss Guard has an array of Sig SG550 series assault rifles in different configurations. This includes some with short barrels and folding stocks (Sig SG552 Commando) for close-quarters battle (CQB) and vehicle carry, and others with longer barrels and scope setups for extended range engagements. They also have the Heckler & Koch MP7 personal defense weapon (PDW) that fires armor piercing small caliber rifle rounds. This weapon is extremely popular with elite units ranging from SEAL Team Six to presidential protection units around the globe. It would take too long to list all of their top-of-the-line weapons, but the point has been made: they are not relying on defending the Pope with those ceremonial halberds. They are as well-equipped as any comparable guard unit anywhere in the world. The Pope cannot claim he lacks the ability to protect Asia Bibi.
Asia Bibi is now, and will be as long as she lives, a standing reproach to the world’s Muslims, who stood by while she was first charged, and then convicted, of “blasphemy,” and who, during the past eight years of her monstrous imprisonment, have not raised the matter even once with any Pakistani official, nor at meetings of the O.I.C. Their silence signaled Islamic solidarity with the original persecutors of Asia Bibi. And her travails in not finding a final refuge are a standing reproach to the world’s non-Muslims as well.
The Pope could now do the very thing he usually calls on others to do: welcome this desperate asylum seeker. For he should be reminded of his own words, when in October 2016 he said “it is hypocritical to call yourself a Christian and to chase away a refugee, or anyone who needs your help.” He should, as both a simple Christian and as the Vicar of Christ, become the one protector who did not turn her down. The Pope could learn a lot about “authentic Christianity” from this martyr for her faith, and learn, too, about “authentic Islam” which millions of hate-filled rioters in Pakistan believe they are upholding when they bay for Bibi’s blood.
So, let the request for asylum be made quite publicly by Asia Bibi to the Pope. A martyr for her faith, she might have avoided the charge of blasphemy, and saved herself from the death sentence, and the eight years in prison waiting for the sentence to be carried out, had she at the very beginning been wiling to convert to Islam. But Asia Bibi was unwilling to leave the Christian faith. The Pope will have a hard time turning her away from his door, as Christ would never have done. And if he does that, he will have lost all moral authority — for those who think he still has any to lose — and be unable to pontificate, as has been his wont, on the need for the West to welcome migrants.
So let us imagine that the Pope offers, and Asia Bibi accepts, his permission for her to live at Vatican City, under his protection. He will be subject to every sort of abuse from Muslims, including death threats — which have already been coming his way from Muslims unaware of how supportive he has been of what he calls “authentic Islam.” He will now expose him to the threats of Muslim fanatics, the very people whom he has managed to overlook so far in his incessant reproaching of the West. And Asia Bibi herself, of course, will continue to be subject to the same death threats she had been receiving in Pakistan.
Asia Bibi’s request for asylum in Vatican City would be salutary, whether that request is accepted or turned down. If the Pope turns her away, his own hypocrisy will be exposed, and he will no longer be able to lecture or hector the West for its “un-Christian” behavior toward mostly-Muslim migrants. He will be permanently shamed by his stunning failure to follow his own prescriptions.
If he grants her asylum, on the other hand, Pope Francis will be rescuing a high-profile Christian victim of Muslim persecution, putting the cruel application of Islamic “blasphemy” laws front and center on the world’s agenda, and in offering Bibi shelter, he will be taking a stand against those unjust laws himself. He will no longer be seen as the Defender of Islam that he has too often appeared to be. His own eyes might open wider as he learns more about the mistreatment of Christians and other non-Muslims, based on Qur’anic commands, and finds out about other Asia-Bibis, some of them imprisoned, with others martyred — put to death — for their faith, all over the Muslim-ruled lands. And if he could take in that knowledge, make sense of it, study the Qur’an and hadith — a tall order for this Pope who clearly has not felt the need — and manage to grasp how Muslims regard non-Muslims, as his more learned predecessor Pope Benedict did, he might help in the long struggle to save Europe, Christian and post-Christian, from the Jihad that now threatens it, and that so far Europe’s political and media elites have failed to recognize, out of fear of offending the tens of millions of Muslims already in their midst.