First, a chronology. On Nov. 8, 2010, a court in Pakistan's Punjab Province sentenced Asia Bibi (also known as Aasya Bibi Noreen) to death by hanging for blasphemy. Bibi, 45 and a mother of five, was asked to fetch water by Muslim co-workers in a field where she worked. Then they told her it was unclean because she is a Christian. "Are we not all humans?" she claims to have said, which led to her being accused of insulting the prophet Muhammad. She's been jailed since June 2009.
Nov. 20: the governor of Punjab Province, Salman Taseer, visited Bibi in prison and called Pakistan's blasphemy provisions a "black law." He said he was petitioning Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari to pardon her.
Nov. 23: On television Taseer repeated his assertions and said Bibi was innocent.
Nov. 24: Pakistan's conservative Muslim leaders-religious and political-exploded with condemnation. At least 10 leading clergy in Lahore, the capital of Punjab and Pakistan's second-largest city, declared Taseer no longer a Muslim and called for his removal. One mufti went so far as to declare Taseer's marriage void.
Nov. 25: Activists staged demonstrations against Taseer, and the governor fought back, saying blasphemy laws were "man-made, not God-given." He said his statements on Bibi's behalf were being politicized, as Pakistan's parliament is debating even now bills to reform or annul the laws.
Dec. 30: Addressing a convocation at Fatima Jinnah Women's University, Taseer said mullahs cannot expel anyone from Islam: "I am answerable to Allah and not to mullahs."
Dec. 31: Taseer posted to his Twitter account, where he had over 6,700 followers, "I was under huge pressure sure 2 cow down b4 rightist pressure on blasphemy. Refused. Even if I'm the last man standing."
Jan. 4: Taseer was shot dead by one of his bodyguards.
Jan. 5: Taseer's accused killer, Mumtaz Qadri, appeared in court and onlookers showered him with rose petals. A trained member of state security charged with protecting the governor, Qadri sprayed him with 26 bullets as he prepared to enter his car. Yet 300 Pakistani attorneys have expressed hopes of defending Qadri, and a Facebook page received over 2,000 fans to his cause before it was shut down. On Jan. 9, over 50,000 Pakistanis demonstrated in the streets of Karachi in support of the blasphemy laws and Qadri.
Governor Taseer, 66, was a leading Muslim political figure of long standing. He received an English education in Lahore and then studied accounting in Britain. His views of democracy and law were Western though he remained a devoted Muslim. But within days of expressing his views on controversial blasphemy laws, he became an apostate in the eyes of his own-no better than, say, an unclean Christian.
Pakistan's blasphemy laws have been on the books only since the 1980s. A 1986 amendment to the penal code made defiling the name of Muhammad a crime punishable by death. The laws are a recent political invention (though rooted in the Quran) backed by the fascist cadre of Islamic clergy, scholars, and militants who spread violence against not only the West but its own. I say "fascist" with reason because-as the killing of Taseer (and likely the continued jailing of Bibi) demonstrates-they do not tolerate individual thought or expression, demand absolute adherence, and will impose it violently (and without regard to other laws) to make authoritarian government the rule. As religions go, this version has an iron-fisted cast.
Islamofascists brought down Benazir Bhutto three years ago, are holding hostage democratic progress in Afghanistan, threaten India, and wish continued harm on Western targets. Yet we in the United States are practiced now at condemning acts of terror without confronting the ideology behind them. We were told in the Ground Zero mosque debate that it's un-American to do so. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Taseer's death "a great loss" without mention of his killer, the accomplices, or the absurd case of fetching water that started it all. As Douglas Murray, director of the Center for Social Cohesion, has observed, "It is as though we had fought the Cold War while disallowing any criticism of communism."
Email Mindy Belz