March 23, 2006

Abdul Rahman- What Is Freedom Worth

Some of you may not have yet heard about Abdul Rahman. He is Afghani convert to Christianity who has been sentenced to death for the offense of converting from Islam to Christianity.

The US and a number of our allies have been pressing Karzai and company to free him and rightly so, not because we overturned the Taliban but because there are some core values in life that are worth trying to impose on others.

Yes, I said impose and I said it deliberately. Freedom of worship is a core value and of exceptional importance. At a later date I might expand upon this concept of "imposition of values" but for now let's keep it simple. There are times in which war is the moral act. There are times in which it would be immoral not to use force to help others.

It is a troubling situation. If you read the rhetoric and comments about this case there are a number of things that merit attention.

First, there was news that the Afghan government was going to try and have Rahman released by having him declared mentally incompetent as this gave them a way to spare him from execution. But it is not a smart precedent to establish and not something that alleviates the problem as seen in this AP quote.
"Diplomats have said the Afghan government is searching for a way to drop the case. On Wednesday, authorities said Rahman is suspected of being mentally ill and would undergo psychological examinations to see whether he is fit to stand trial.

But three Sunni preachers and a Shiite one interviewed by The Associated Press in four of Kabul's most popular mosques said they do not believe Rahman is insane.

"He is not crazy. He went in front of the media and confessed to being a Christian," said Hamidullah, chief cleric at Haji Yacob Mosque.

"The government is scared of the international community. But the people will kill him if he is freed."

Raoulf, who is a member of the country's main Islamic organization, the Afghan Ulama Council, agreed. "The government is playing games. The people will not be fooled."

"Cut off his head!" he exclaimed, sitting in a courtyard outside Herati Mosque. "We will call on the people to pull him into pieces so there's nothing left."

He said the only way for Rahman to survive would be for him to go into exile.

But Said Mirhossain Nasri, the top cleric at Hossainia Mosque, one of the largest Shiite places of worship in Kabul, said Rahman must not be allowed to leave the country.

"If he is allowed to live in the West, then others will claim to be Christian so they can too," he said. "We must set an example. ... He must be hanged."

That last sentence is particularly chilling and an example of the ideology that we are fighting. Look at this next quote:

"The clerics said they were angry with the United States and other countries for pushing for Rahman's freedom.

"We are a small country and we welcome the help the outside world is giving us. But please don't interfere in this issue," Nasri said. "We are Muslims and these are our beliefs. This is much more important to us than all the aid the world has given us."

Afghanistan's constitution is based on Shariah law, which is interpreted by many Muslims to require that any Muslim who rejects Islam be sentenced to death."

If we lived in a world in which we had no concern about the impact of other thoughts and beliefs that might give us an opportunity to ignore something like this ideological disconnect. But the reality is that we live in a global community and that prevents us from ignoring ideologies that are so dramatically opposed to our own.

I am not sure that we can afford to raise the flag of tolerance and multicultural acceptance on this one.

4 comments:

Stephen (aka Q) said...

I am not sure that we can afford to raise the flag of tolerance and multicultural acceptance on this one.

We certainly can't. This issue comes back to what I describe as the struggle for the soul of Islam. Islam must be reformed to cast off its use of violence and summary execution as instruments of religion.

Ultimately, only Muslims can make the decision to carry out a reformation of Islam. But the West has to do its part, by taking a stand on certain principles that are simply non-negotiable.

We have to send a signal to Muslims about the direction that their religion must reform, if they expect to have any kind of relationship with the West.

Jack's Shack said...

Ultimately, only Muslims can make the decision to carry out a reformation of Islam. But the West has to do its part, by taking a stand on certain principles that are simply non-negotiable.

We have to send a signal to Muslims about the direction that their religion must reform, if they expect to have any kind of relationship with the West.


Well said.

Ben Sutherland said...

I completely agree with you on principle, Jack. There is no room for equivocation on these matters, I agree. Freedom of religion is the better value. Killing people or oppressing people because people disagree with their religious choices is abominable, obviously. This execution obviously shouldn't go forward.

Having said that, there are arguments and strategies that are likely to keep this guy alive and those that aren't, is the sad reality.

If the Afghan government can get him off on mental incompetence, it's not ideal, but it's better than him dying in the name of purism in our principles.

Ideally, they should get rid of the law, obviously, and guarantee freedom of religion. That's probably not going to happen soon enough to save this guy. So they're going to have to do something that saves his neck, in the meantime, and work on the rest, long term. They will, I think (as long as we don't let the Taliban take over, again), if they have a democracy and the benefit of choosing governments and values that will guide their culture, over time.

That is the real stakes in this war, actually, I'm convinced. Whether we really believe that liberal democracies are worth fighting for or not. I think they are. And so I support the war. Others, obviously, are not as convinced.

But defending the value of freedom of religion needs to be defended in our own country on the honest grounds that we fight it for: to liberate people to live with values like freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, etc.

The problem in our own country is that we have lost track of how fundamental those freedoms and all of our freedoms are to our lives, I think. And we start to debate these matters like somehow it doesn't matter if we're fighting for freedom or fighting to impose our values.

And that isn't so. If we are just there to impose our values, then we need to leave. Because that game is exactly what's created the mess that we see there, today, and have seen there for most of the 20th century history of Afghanistan.

But if we're fighting to liberate Afghanistan so Afghanis can enjoy freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to protest their government, and all the rest, then we have a worthy fight. And one most Americans could get on board with.

When we get more honest with ourselves that it is freedom we are fighting for, that is, I think.

Ben Sutherland said...

Agreed, Stephen. Well said.