"Afghan Man Faces Execution After Converting to Christianity":
Pretty appalling. I'm glad that the U.S. government is pressuring the Afghan government to rescind this, and I hope that the behind-the-scenes pressure is more serious than the public pressure; according to the Chicago Tribune, "The Bush administration issued a subdued appeal Tuesday to Afghanistan to permit a Christian convert on trial for his life to practice his faith in the predominantly Muslim country. The State Department, however, did not urge the U.S. ally in the war on terrorism to terminate the trial. Officials said the Bush administration did not want to interfere with Afghanistan's sovereignty." It seems from my LEXIS search that the Voice of America News was the first to break the story, which I'm glad about; let's hope the drumbeat goes on, and influences the Afghan government.
Here, by the way, is an excerpt from the State Department press briefing on the subject; I can understand why the diplomats at State want to be circumspect about their statements, but I'm also pleased that the media is pressing them on it.
MR. MCCORMACK: ... Thank you for bringing it up because we did raise this particular case with Foreign Minister Abdullah. We are watching this case closely and we urge the Afghani Government to conduct any legal proceedings in a transparent and a fair manner. Certainly we underscored -- we have underscored many times and we underscored also to Foreign Minister Abdullah that we believe that tolerance and freedom of worship are important elements of any democracy. And certainly as Afghanistan continues down the pathway to democracy these are issues that they are going to have to deal with. These are not things that they have had to deal with in the past. Previously under the Taliban, anybody considered an apostate was subject to torture and death. Right now you have a legal proceeding that's underway in Afghanistan and we urge that that legal proceeding take place in a transparent matter and we're going to watch the case closely.
QUESTION: Well, I don't want to quibble but it sounds like you're asking for fair play and good procedure. Why don't you simply ask that it be cancelled? I mean, what possible justification is there for putting someone on trial for changing his religion?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, Barry, this is a question of the Afghan constitution and its laws. There are differing interpretations of it and I think that that's the issue with which they're trying to grapple with. That's the allusion that I made to -- of Afghanistan being a new democracy and coming to terms and dealing with these issues.
So it is, in the eyes of Afghanistan, the Afghan Government now, a legal issue that we are going to watch very closely.
QUESTION: I mean, it does seem a little lukewarm to just say you hope that they treat him fairly in this court case when it's questionable whether that is even a moral grounds to hold a proceeding. Is that something that the U.S. Government has pressed the Afghan Government to do is just to allow people to convert their religion?
MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, in the sort of -- within the Afghan -- confines of the Afghan constitution, this becomes a legal question. We have underscored the importance of freedom of worship, tolerance and freedom to express oneself as a core element of democracy. Like I said, we raised this issue with Foreign Minister Abdullah and I think that he and the Afghan Government understand very clearly where we stand on this issue. But as I said, this is, at the moment, a legal issue for the Afghan Government and that we would urge the Afghan Government to proceed in a fair and transparent manner.
QUESTION: Do you feel that that's all it's appropriate for the U.S. Government to do is just to hope the court case goes --
MR. MCCORMACK: At this point, we have raised it with the Foreign Minister and we're going to continue to watch the case very closely.
QUESTION: But I guess my question is: Are you raising the fact that you want the court case to go transparently or raise the fact that there should even be a legal question?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think that the concerns that I have expressed in public are the ones that we have expressed to the Foreign Minister.
QUESTION: Isn't there something wrong with the constitution of Afghanistan if it's -- I mean, the Secretary of State goes around, you know, telling countries which have, you know, bad human rights records to respect the freedom to worship, and here's a country where America has gone in and tried to help, has been praised by the President, praised by the Secretary of State for its democratic progress, and here it is persecuting somebody because they've converted to another faith.
MR. MCCORMACK: Jonathan, as I said, this is right now -- it's a constitutional matter so it's a legal question. So what that tells you is that there are two sides to this. There are those that believe that this is absolutely this person's right within Afghanistan, Afghans who believe that. So right now this is -- I believe certainly this is the first case that I have heard of of this type. So it is a test of the Afghan constitution. It's a test of Afghanistan's democracy. And so as I said, we will watch the case very closely. We have raised it with the Foreign Minister.
QUESTION: Is there anything at stake if they choose to prosecute -- choose to actually take -- persecute, perhaps, this man for his faith?
MR. MCCORMACK: Let's deal with the situation as we have it right now. This is the -- it is at an initial stage and, like I said, we're going to watch it closely.
QUESTION: But by waiting until the results of the trial come out, you're not casting judgment on whether there should be one in the first place.
MR. MCCORMACK: Teri, I've provided the answer that I'm going to provide to you on it.
QUESTION: Let me try it a slightly different way, though the answer may be the same. Are you troubled in any way by the case?
MR. MCCORMACK: Charlie, again, I've answered the question
... At a news conference in Washington with Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah said officials of his government 'know that it is a very sensitive issue and we know the concerns of the American people.'"
Another Reason to Like the Danish Government:
Danish politicians have shown a remarkable amount of backbone in the case of Abdul Rahman who is on trial in Afghanistan for having converted from Islam to Christianity.
Read the post for the details; some of the statements seem somewhat undiplomatic, and there's always the danger that they'll therefore be counterproductive -- but sometimes being too diplomatic can be counterproductive, too.
It's Not Islamophobia When There Really Is Something To Fear:
The striking thing about the Abdul Rahman prosecution — in which an Afghanistan court is considering whether to execute Rahman because he converted from Islam to Christianity — is how Establishment the prosecution is. The case is before an official Afghani court. The death sentence is, to my knowlege, authorized by official Afghani law. The New York Times reports that the prosecutor, an Afghan government official, "called Mr. Rahman 'a microbe' who 'should be killed.'" The case is in a country which is close to the West, and is presumably under at least some special influence from Western principles (whether as a matter of conviction or of governmental self-interest).
We're not talking about some rogue terrorist group, or even the government of Iran, which is deliberately and strongly oppositional to the West. We're talking about a country that we're trying to set up as something of a model of democracy and liberty for the Islamic world. And yet the legal system is apparently seriously considering executing someone for nothing more than changing his religion.
This is telling evidence, it seems to me, that there is something very wrong in Islam today, and not just in some lunatic terrorist fringe. Doubtless many, I would hope most, Muslims would not endorse executing converts. But a strand of the religion, and a strand that is not far from the levers of political power in at least some countries, does seem to endorse such a position. This is deeply dangerous, most obviously to residents of countries in which radical Islamism has broad support, but also to residents of Western countries as well.
Nor can this easily be dismissed as an aberration that's not reflective of Real Islam. Real Islam, as I've argued before, is not a coherent whole, but a collection of many strands. Yet some of those strands, and not unimportant strands, represent an ideology that is deeply antithetical to freedom.
Given this, what should the West do? Believing as I do in religious freedom, I emphatically do not think that the bad views of some Muslim movements should lead us to restrict the ideas that Muslims generally — whether moderate Muslims or Islamists — teach in the West.
But neither can we ignore such teachings, when they aim at spreading fundamentally illiberal ideas. We need to criticize those teachings, both ourselves and, when effective, through our own influential institutions. We need to defend those who are getting into trouble for criticizing those teachings (consider the cartoons affair).
We need to call on moderate Muslims to criticize those teachings (just as I have called and would call on moderate Christians to criticize the harmful teachings of Christian radicals). If there's reason to think that some of the extremist Muslim organizations are going beyond teaching to criminal action, we need to keep those organizations under close lawful surveillance. And of course we need to do what we can to protect those outside the West, as well as ourselves, from the sometimes lethal excesses of those teachings.
I was particularly put in mind of this point by the juxtaposition of the Rahman trial and the report by UN special rapporteur [on racism and xenophobia] Doudou Diéne criticizing the publishers of the Mohammed cartoons, and the Danish government for allowing the cartoons' publication. The report says, among other things (some paragraph breaks added):
[T]hree of [the Mohammed] caricatures show: the head of the Prophet wearing a turban in the shape of a bomb with a lit wick, the Prophet in the likeness of a devil holding in his hand a grenade, and the Prophet offering virgin girls to committers of suicide bombings. This constitutes an illustration of three significant tendencies at the heart of the recrudescence of islamophobia.
The publication of the caricatures is, in its chronology, its initial motivation and with regards to the public concerned, revealing of the vulgarizing of defamation of religions. The caricatures published are the result of a contest launched by the newspaper in answer to allegations according to which the Danish cartoonists were so frightened by fundamentalist Moslems that they wouldn’t illustrate a biographical work on Muhammed. Thus the original motivation of the contest is the expression of a challenge and of an opposition to a group, the fundamentalist Moslems, suspected of causing an atmosphere of self-censorship. The identity of the public aimed at by the biographical work, children, reveals a concern for influencing the perception of a religion by a particularly significant and vulnerable age group. The object of the publication, a biography, showed the intention to present not a fiction but the life of the Prophet.
The dominating message of the caricatures was therefore to associate Islam with terrorism. The caricature relating to the sexual gratification of suicide bombers with virgin women suggests the return of a age-old historical islamophobic Western imagery: the association of Islam and its prophet with sexual depravity. The way in which these caricatures defames Islam has now been defined....
On the political level and with regards to the ethics of international relations, the Danish Government has not shown in this question, in the alarming context of the recrudescence of the defamation of religions, in particular of islamophobia as well as anti-semitism and christianophobie, the engagement and vigilance which it usually shows with regards to counter-acting religious intolerance, counter-acting religious hatred and promoting religious harmony. These values are precisely those which give direction, legitimacy and opportunity to the recent launching by the Secretary General of the initiative for an “Alliance of civilizations”.
The accusations of "islamophobia," "defam[ation]," "religious intolerance," and promotion of "religious hatred" strike me as quite damaging to serious, sensible Western consideration of the threat that some strands of Islam in fact pose. There really is something to be afraid of. There are true, not false, criticisms being made of important strands of Islam. Religious tolerance and a desire for religious harmony does not require silence about the dangers that those strands pose. And substantive criticism of an ideology (even criticism that I have argued is in some instances unfair
, albeit in a way that is probably inevitable in heated public debate) shouldn't be tarred with the charge of "religious hatred."
I would say exactly the same, of course, about the need to criticize and be wary of radical Christian/Jewish/Hindu/etc. groups that preach death to infidels. And of course some centuries ago Christian religious extremism of the sort that we see among some Muslims today was regrettably commonplace. Fortunately, though, it has been some time since Christian governments have threatened to execute apostates. Unfortunately, one cannot say the same about modern Islam.
UPDATE: The New York Times reports:
Afghan clerics used Friday Prayers at mosques across the capital to call for death for an Afghan man who converted to Christianity, despite widespread protest in the West.
Thanks to Michelle Malkin
for the pointer.
Assault Against Islam?
The New York Times reports on the Afghan reaction to Western objections to the Abdul Rahman prosecution. Rahman, you may recall, faces death for converting from Islam to Christianity:
The case had fueled feelings among many here of a sense of assault against Islam worldwide, coming after widely publicized cases involving the desecration of the Koran in Guantánamo Bay in 2004 by American soldiers interrogating prisoners and, more recently, cartoons published in Europe of the Prophet Muhammad.
Dr. Mohammad Ayaz Niyazi, an Egyptian educated in Islamic law, who attended one of the gatherings today, said, "There have been serial attacks on the Islamic world recently, starting with insulting the Holy Koran Quran, insulting the prophet of Islam, and now converting to Christianity by an Afghan."
Trying to prevent people from being killed for their religious beliefs is not an "assault against Islam." It's defense against Islam, or to be precise against a certain strand of Islam that regrettably cannot be dismissed as just some unimportant lunatic fringe.
Afghan Charges Against Christian Convert Dismissed:
After days of international outcry, an Afghan court has dismissed the case against a man threatened with being put to death for having converted from Islam to Christianity, a court official said Sunday.
The charges of apostasy against Abdur Rahman, a 41-year-old medical aid worker, were being dropped for lack of evidence, said Abdul Wakil Omari, a spokesman for the Afghan Supreme Court.... Omari, the court spokesman, cited two factors for the case's dismissal: signs that Rahman might be mentally disturbed and the possibility that he had become a German citizen.
Naturally, a "dropped for lack of evidence" result is far from perfect. But here the perfect may be the enemy of the good. Sometimes liberty progresses through small steps and legal fictions. That's better than liberty not progressing at all, which is what might have happened had Rahman's defenders insisted on all (a rousing decision affirming religious freedom) or nothing.
What's worth remembering about the case, though, is that "even moderate Muslim clerics, as well as members of Rahman's own family, have said that death is the only fair and logical punishment for him." If that's "moderat[ion]" as Muslims go, that's mighty troubling.