The strange thing about the cloak of overt religiosity is that it squeezes its victims with laws – like a boa constrictor – with such mercilessness, that the victim in its crackling grip has no choice than to feel regretful. In the same way as that eerie sound of a click when you step on a landmine or that deathly noise animals make a few seconds before a large earthquake. You know that you could have taken a series of steps to avoid the misfortune, to achieve escape if it weren’t for a few inches, ounces or words. Those near-misses hurt the most and unleash the worst kinds of atonement.
Asia Bibi, the Christian woman accused of blasphemy, in her five years on death row must have been regretful. Had she not taken that tone in the argument; insisted on being treated as an equal when it came to drinking from the same glass as that of her Muslim neighbours and had she just make a run for it when the mob came for her. A few decibels, some oxytocin granules to help her think calmly and later slightly more adrenalin to make her run faster. From denial, to anger, to self-punishment to a relentlessness of the anger – the obsessions circling in her mind would be worse than the gallows themselves.
In what is a positive step to make that menacing grip be reined in with some reason, the Supreme Court in Pakistan has suspended her execution and will remain suspended until the decision of her appeal. The glimmer of hope now means that freedom is an option for her and others like her. The boa constrictor may loosen its grip and she can make a run for her life. Her escape will depend on her sorcery skills, on her ability to be invisible. For, in a victim-blaming culture anyone who escaped from a death-trap doesn’t deserve to be. She probably is not looking forward to blue skies, and if she is she had probably lost her ability to chart a strategy.
The blasphemy law is almost always used to settle feuds and domestic scores, yet few will miss an opportunity to maim an accused, even though they know he or she is likely to be framed. There is a war on those who don’t wear a specific brand of Sunni Islam on their sleeve. That leaves out many Muslims, non-Muslims and particularly the Ahmedis on whom this law falls on in the same frequency as monsoons. This Mcarthyism against the bad Muslim is now a sport, finding audience in every Friday sermon and every religious right’s pamphleteering.
At this rate we are not far away from the days where there is a shoot-at-site order for anyone who doesn’t wear the regalia of the Saudis. There will be even less relenting of the bone-breaking embrace of misrepresented Islam – death will seem sweeter. From 1987 to 2014 over 1300 people have been accused of blasphemy.
Interestingly, regret is not felt by the enforcers of this misused law. The mine planters are made to play the role of the destructors, it’s in their nature. The family of Asia Bibi is in hiding, just as are many others who try and live outside the shadow of that landscape. They play the role of tiptoeing around the traps which are ever present.
While those who are in the grips of its fury are regretful, they must also learn to grow some fangs of their own. Anyone who understand that the state-citizen relationship needs serious retrospection and eventual change must now raise their voice to ensure it is not that easy to frame someone. Even more important than overturning a law such as this, which has a purpose of ensuring religious sensitivities were not insulted, is taking steps towards preventing its abuse.
Only a gradual and slow precedence of judgements in favour of the falsely accused will make the law less misdirected. The Supreme Court judgement paves the way for more breathing space for possible victims.
So with 5 years of this woman waiting for doom in solitary confinement, wondering if her children are provided for and safe. Like a thousand others put away for similar charges, playing over that click of a landmine in their heads, there are a lot of man-hours taken away from our national productivity and put into our national misery vault.
We honour Asia Bibi and those like her for their regret, for the only ones who don’t have regret are the psychopaths that live outside the four walls of confinement and torture. Regret makes us human.