While the attempted murder of an American Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, has prompted an outpouring of grief and soul-searching, the fatal shooting of a prominent elected official in another country around the same time has provoked a very different reaction. After Salman Taseer, governor of the Pakistani province of Punjab, was murdered by his own bodyguard, there was a wave of support for the murderer -- from religious figures and ordinary citizens, from several political parties, and even from a group of lawyers. The reason? Taseer had spoken out against Pakistan's blasphemy laws and in support of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
Such harrowing stories cannot be ignored in the discussion of Islam and religious tolerance. Last year, the controversy over Cordoba House, the planned Islamic cultural center and mosque near Ground Zero, turned into a debate about Islam and "Islamophobia." There is no question that some of the rhetoric in that debate crossed the line into anti-Muslim bigotry -- the portrayal of all or most Muslims as "the enemy" -- and that the self-proclaimed "anti-jihadists" who spearheaded anti-mosque campaign, such as bloggers Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugs and Robert Spencer of JihadWatch, routinely traffic in gross caricatures of Islam as inherently and uniquely evil, oppressive, and violent. But all too many in the pro-mosque camp argued as if violent extremism in Islam today was as much of a fringe phenomenon as in Christianity or Judaism. This month's events in Pakistan remind us that is simply not the case.
There is not a single majority Christian nation today that executes or imprisons people for blasphemy or apostasy. Several leading majority-Muslim countries punish these offenses with death, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan. The Aasia Bibi case is a frightening example of the precarious position of religious minorities under these laws. Bibi, a rural laborer, was asked to bring water to a group of other women with whom she was working in the fields. Some of the women refused to drink the water after it had been touched by an "unclean" Christian. Bibi got into an argument with them and defended her faith -- and was reported for blaspheming against Mohammed. The mother of five was sentenced to death after a trial during which she apparently had no access to a lawyer. Leading Pakistani clerics have urged President Zardari to reject her clemency petition.
Don't neglect to read the whole thing. Only by reading it all do you get to her final takeaway, which is that opposing bigotry against muslims here will be a fruitless task until Islam faces its own intolerance.
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