By Daniel B. Clendenin Ph.D.
Our most recent book review is featured below. This and all of our reviews may be found in the Comprehensive Index of Book Reviews.
Asia Bibi, Blasphemy: A Memoir. Sentenced to Death Over a Cup of Water (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2013, 2011), 137pp.
Asia Bibi is an illiterate farmer's daughter from the small village of Ittan Wali in Pakistan. In June of 2009 she was picking berries in the sweltering summer heat, when she stopped for a drink of water at the well. Her fellow villagers were incensed. They accused Bibi, a Christian, of contaminating their well and blaspheming their Muslim religion. Bibi and her family were attacked by a village mob. After a police investigation, Pakistan's courts convicted her of blasphemy, imprisoned her in a filthy and solitary cell, fined her the equivalent of $1100, and sentenced her to death by hanging.
But that's just the beginning. Bibi's case attracted worldwide attention. Both Muslim extremists and democracy-minded citizens adopted her cause, and she became a symbol for both sides. Tens of thousands of extremists marched in Lahore, Islamabad, and Karachi, demanding her death. Her attorney contacted Hillary Clinton, and the Pope asked for her release in a public address. Adding fuel to the fire, both the Muslim Governor of Punjab (Salman Taseer) and the Christian Minister for Minorities (Shahbaz Bhatti) were brutally assassinated for their public opposition to the blasphemy laws and support of Bibi's release. Taseer's son was also kidnapped.
And let's be clear. Although Bibi is a Christian, the vast majority of Islamist violence in the Middle East is targeted at Muslims. As best as I can tell at the time of this writing, Bibi is still in prison four years later, hoping for a pardon. Her husband and five children have gone into hiding after receiving death threats. If executed, Bibi would be the first woman in Pakistan to be "lawfully" executed for blasphemy by Pakistan's courts. She told her story to the French journalist Anne Isabelle Tollet, who has lived in Pakistan since 2008. Proceeds from the sale of the book go to help Bibi's cause.