Here is the religion news question that haunted me over the long Thanksgiving weekend: Why is the unfolding story of threats to Asia Bibi of Pakistan a major story in England and Europe, but not here in the United States? (Click here for recent podcast linked to this topic.)
Let me be more blunt: Are journalists on this side of the Atlantic waiting for you know who — Donald Trump — to address this tense, deadly situation in a tweet?
OK, I will be more blunt: At what point will leaders of the pro-Trump evangelical niche show up at the White House and demand that this Christian woman — cleared of blasphemy charges, but now in hiding, trapped in house arrest — be granted asylum? What if the president sent his own private plane to Pakistan to retrieve her? Maybe this would be awkward with the violent drama on the US-Mexico border?
One more blunt thought: Is part of the problem that Bibi is Catholic, not evangelical? I keep watching the headlines for evidence that Pope Francis might intervene. Right now, the main news on that front consists of fake photos circulating online claiming to show a Bibi meeting with the pope. Let me stress: The reports are fake.
For those seeking an update, here is the top of a recent Daily Mail report. Do I need to note that this outlet is considered “conservative” news?
Asia Bibi may have escaped the hangman, but her freedom comes with a heavy price. Today, when she should be reunited with her five children, she is being hunted across Pakistan, forced to scuttle under cover of darkness from one safe house to another in fear of her life.
It is a desperate situation — and one not helped by Britain which refuses to offer the mother-of-five sanctuary.
Last month the Supreme Court in Pakistan decided that Asia, 52, who spent eight years on death row, had been falsely accused of blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed. While most of the country erupted in fury at her release, nowhere did the anger burn more fiercely than in her home village of Ittan Wali, 40 miles south-east of Lahore, where her extraordinary ordeal began. Following news of her reprieve, women took to the streets to protest, a bus was torched and children ran riot.
Until now, beyond a few sketchy details, little about Asia’s persecution has been forthcoming.
The Mail team sent reporters to Bibi’s home village and came back with plenty of harrowing details about her history and the current crisis. For example, on the day when she was seized and accused, villagers paraded her through the street with a noose hanging around her neck.
You can find news about Bibi outside the silo of conservative and religious media. Just left of center, at The Guardian, there is this headline: “Asia Bibi family being hunted 'house to house' in Pakistan.”
Here is a large chunk of that report. Note, in particular, that those trying to save her life believe that publicity and news in the West is absolutely crucial:
Bibi’s lawyer, relatives and supporters have appealed for the family to be given asylum in a European or north American country. Several countries have indicated their willingness to offer a home, but nothing concrete has emerged.
John Pontifex, of Aid to the Church in Need UK (ACN), which has campaigned on Bibi’s behalf since she was convicted and sentenced to death in 2010, said he had been in almost daily contact with her family over the past three weeks and they were very frightened.
“They have told me that mullahs had been reported in their neighbourhood going from house to house showing photos of family members on their phones, trying to hunt them down,” he told the Guardian. “The family have had to move from place to place to avoid detection. Sometimes they can only operate after sundown. They have had to cover their faces when they go out in public. They have had to remove the rosary that hangs from their car rear-view mirror for fear of attack.” …
Bibi’s lawyer, who fled Pakistan shortly after the court ruling saying his life was in danger, said this week that talks on asylum were under way with several European countries. “I hope the western world is trying to help her,” Saiful Malook told reporters in Frankfurt.
I realize that this is an old, familiar issue — the lack of coverage of international news in the American press. The assumption is that Americans are simply not interested in seeing this kind of reporting in their shrinking newspapers.
When I am tempted to cynicism, I tend to see a slightly different equation that goes something like this: If many American consumers do not care about international news, and far too many American journalists in strategic editorial offices do not “get” religion, does this explain the often tragic reality that next to zero reporting is done about religion issues on the other side of the planet?
Maybe that is the case, although GetReligion has praised many, many solid examples of elite media coverage of complicated religion stories in global news.
So what gives with this particular story? Is there some way to link the Bibi case to, I don’t know, Christmas coverage?
FIRST IMAGE: Photo of Pope Francis and the daughter of Asia Bibi, which is being circulated online as an image of a new meeting between the pope and the persecuted mother of five, who remains under house arrest in Pakistan.