Monday, April 03, 2006

Afghanistan Needs to Grow Up, Amnesty Needs to Speak Up

Abdul Rahman Jawed, a resident of Afghanistan, committed the serious crime of converting from Islam to Christianity. In most of the Western world, such an act would be ignored, as it is generally regarded as one's own business what faith one chooses to practice, and how they choose to practice it.

But not in the new Afghan Republic. There, Jawed was put on a fast track to the death penalty. Having converted to Christianity in 1990, and having survived the wrath of the Taliban government, the people of the successor democratic state want to put him to death for what they consider the crime of "apostasy".

Islamism remains a very powerful force among the Afghan people, and the government under Hamid Karzai, recognizes this, as well as his countervailing responsibility to the law and the expectations of a free world. Karzai is in a very tough position, and his dilemma is one that should cause the West some serious concern.

Democracy is a powerful thing. It allows people to consent to their own government, and at appropriate times to revoke that consent. But it is inconsistent with the medieval attitudes that the Afghan people seem to be retaining. To be certain, nobody could expect them to abandon those attitudes overnight, and certain things will likely never completely pass away. But to seek to bring the force of law against someone because he changed religions is antithetical to freedom. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with the Afghans not liking this man's choices, even though I think that the intolerance that this behavior reflects is unfortunate. And while it is a bad thing to have religious strictures as the governing law in a free society, the people of free societies can shape and enforce community standards by doling out peaceful social consequences for those who engage in entirely legal, but socially unwelcome behavior.

In our society, it is perfectly legal to be a racist and to express racist attitudes, but likewise, most Americans refuse to socialize with racists. Similarly, O.J. Simpson lives freely in America, as he was acquitted by a jury of his peers. Nonetheless, most Americans believe that O.J. committed the acts for which he was tried and as a result he remains a social outcast. So while it is not appropriate to legislate our own faiths, we can still shape mores by making clear that we will not welcome individuals who violate our sensibilities.

But the thing that gets me is that the Afghans did not want ostracism--they wanted an execution, to wit this comment from a man in Afghanistan as reported in the Salt Lake Tribune:

"I thank my God that I am a Muslim," said Ahmad Farhad, 25, who sells car parts
in a Kabul market. "We hate people like Abdul Rahman. He should be killed. If
they give him to me, I will cut him into small pieces with a knife."
Rather than expurgating the man, they wanted to get him back to make him suffer. It is just this kind of barbaric attitude that makes one wonder if the people of the Muslim world can rise above medievalist attitudes to make democracy work and to become a respected member of the international community.

But there were a few voices that were remarkably silent, namely the folk who relentlessly complained about nonexistent human rights violations at Guantanamo Bay. Amnesty International cried for months, until their accounts were debunked, about mistreatment at the prison, while terrorists enjoyed the jail equivalent of white glove service. We feared offending their hostile sensibilities for reasons that still remain unknown. But here, Afghanistan threatens to take a man's life for having nothing more than a difference of opinion, and these human rights groups remain silent.

So, I suppose the question becomes whether they are concerned about the rights of people, so long as those people are the enemies of the United States. There was no hesitation to apply the strictest standard to the world's biggest peacekeeper, donor and nose-wiper, when anti-civilization terrorists complained about the slightest nuance, but they felt safe ignoring the the very life of a man who was being persecuted for his religious beliefs by a people who hold differing and extremist religious views. Their silence speaks much about their politics.

What we are left with are two things: a nation that needs to grow up, to let people live peaceably, and to accept a more civil notion of treatment of others, despite differences. Put simply, they need to step up to gain international credibility. Conversely, we have human rights groups who have lost theirs by their failure to apply the same standards to the Islamic world that they do to the West, confirming that humans have rights, only if they are the right humans.

We can only hope that the lesson of Abdul Rahman Jawed is not lost on the people of the world, nor on those in Afghanistan.

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