KAY: Britain’s refusal of asylum to Asia Bibi is the modern equivalent of Canada’s rejection of the MS St Louis Jews
Almost ten years ago, Asia Bibi was an obscure farm worker in Pakistan, whose name would, in the normal course of events as we understand them in the West, remain completely unknown apart from her family and local fellow Christians throughout her entire life.
But if you are not Muslim in Pakistan, there is no such thing as a “normal course of events.” You keep your head down and your lips monitored to ensure that you do not offend the first tier citizens amongst whom you live. Otherwise quite abnormal things may happen to you.
In 2009 Bibi managed to give offence – it is not clear how exactly; it seems she expected to drink water from the same water supply as the Muslim workers – and her life exploded.
She was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 and sentenced to death according to Sharia law.
Her case wound its way through appeals until the Supreme Court (courageously, for justices have been killed by vigilantes for leniency) threw out the conviction. Justice was served, but the verdict inflamed “the street.”
Bibi’s only hope is to find asylum in the West
Ten million Pakistanis were willing to kill Bibi themselves, a poll revealed. So Bibi’s life is not worth a dime in Pakistan. Her only hope for a normal life was to find asylum in the West.
The logical place would have been the UK, whose former imperial relationship with India at Pakistan’s founding has meant Pakistanis have easy entry to Britain.
Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, released a video message saying, “I am requesting the Prime Minister of the UK help us and as far as possible grant us freedom.” But, although Bibi has reportedly found asylum in another western country (one of two that offered), the UK rebuffed the appeal.
Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, stated: “I’ve been lead to believe that the UK government had concerns that [Bibi] moving to the UK would cause security concerns and unrest among certain sections of the community and would also be a security threat to British embassies abroad which might be targeted by Islamist terrorists.”
Here was a moment for stepping up to the plate on national values, if ever there was one. Here was a moment for Britain to – in the memorable phrase of pundit Midge Dector – “choose the side you are on.”
What message does this send to democratic Pakistanis in Britain?
It says ‘We listen and take our political-action cues from the most hateful and violent among you,’ and ‘We will not protect you from those in your own community if you choose to live a secular life or choose to adopt another faith and your own co-religionists threaten to punish you for it.’
What message does it send to the Islamist radicals? ‘We are afraid of you. We are willing to sacrifice our foundational principles to appease you, even to the point of abandoning a member of our own “established” religion. You call the shots here.’
Canada’s rejection of the Jews on the MS St Louis
A few days ago, our Prime Minister offered a formal apology for a decision made in 1939 by his predecessor, Mackenzie King, to refuse entry to 907 Jewish refugees aboard the MS St Louis attempting to flee Nazi Germany. The refugees were turned away by Cuba and the U.S. before trying Canada.
Mackenzie King was anti-Semitic and so were his political associates. And so were many Canadians, perhaps a majority of Canadians. They doubtless assumed that accepting such a relatively large number of Jews at one time might be an unpopular decision, and that likely would have been the case.
King and his cabinet probably did not wrestle with their consciences for very long before making that decision.
In the context of the time and its prejudices, the refusal was not a heinous act. King did not know of the coming death camps. He was a bigot, not a war criminal. Time, the Holocaust and cultural enlightenment on racism worked to cast the incident in a more shameful light.
We have theoretically learned from such episodes, and understand that it would be dishonorable to repeat them.
Apologies are easy but governments need to learn from their mistakes
Formal government apologies for past actions are easy, especially those that do not involve reparations, like the St Louis (Germany paid out $89 billion to Holocaust survivors over six decades).
They make the government in power look good, the community receiving the apology feel closure, and other citizens feel virtuous by proxy.
But what use are such apologies for past wrongs if they don’t teach national lessons that are acted upon in the present to do right in similar situations?
The UK has made all kinds of formal apologies: for the 1919 massacre in Amritsar (2013); for the 1972 Bloody Sunday killings (2010); for the “child migrant” program from the 1920s-1960s that sent 130,000 children abroad for purported better lives (2010); and other wrongs, including Britain’s participation in the slave trade (2007).
I assume there will be a formal apology to all the children harmed for decades by Muslim rape grooming gangs in Rotherham and elsewhere. Kids who could have been saved but weren’t, because the entire social service and law enforcement systems, not to mention the political establishment, colluded in ignoring them so as not to appear racist.
Britain abandons the persecuted for the persecutors
The Asia Bibi case was an opportunity for Britain to “choose the side it’s on.” But it caved once again to fear of its own worst citizens, deliberately throwing a deserving asylum seeker under the bus in the process.
Unlike the MS St Louis Jews, who could not find refuge anywhere, Bibi did find asylum (reportedly somewhere in Europe). So that means that Britain’s failure to do the right thing will quickly fall into the oubliette of history.
There will be no need for a formal apology to her, and by extension, no message of British support, even moral support, to other Christians at risk of harm in Shariah-ruled countries.
Shame on the UK. And, if only for its symbolic value, I would have liked to see Bibi and her family and lawyer (also under death threat) find asylum in Canada. Moral action is always better than pious words.