Is Islam a Threat to every Free Person on the Planet?

Saturday, March 25th, 2006 11:38 am by Neal

Three takes on Afghani Christian Abdul Rahman who faces death for “converting from Islam.” Steyn poses the key question that we must address: “If Islam is a religion one can only convert to, not from, then in the long run it is a threat to every free person on the planet.”

That pretty much sums it up.

Mark Steyn: Will we stick our necks out for his faith?

The impending execution of Abdul Rahman for embracing Christianity is, of course, offensive to Westerners, and so around the world we reacted equally violently by issuing blood-curdling threats like that made by State Department spokesman Sean McCormack: “Freedom of worship is an important element of any democracy,” he said. “And these are issues as Afghan democracy matures that they are going to have to deal with increasingly.”

The immediate problem for Abdul Rahman is whether he’ll get the chance to “mature” along with Afghan democracy. The president, the Canadian prime minister and the Australian prime minister have all made statements of concern about his fate, and it seems clear that Afghanistan’s dapper leader, Hamid Karzai, would like to resolve this issue before his fledgling democracy gets a reputation as just another barbarous Islamist sewer state. There’s talk of various artful compromises, such as Rahman being declared unfit to stand trial by reason of insanity on the grounds that (I’m no Islamic jurist so I’m paraphrasing here) anyone who converts from Islam to Christianity must, ipso facto, be nuts.

On the other hand, this “moderate” compromise solution is being rejected by leading theologians. “We will not allow God to be humiliated. This man must die,” says Abdul Raoulf of the nation’s principal Muslim body, the Afghan Ulama Council. “Cut off his head! We will call on the people to pull him into pieces so there’s nothing left.” Needless to say, Imam Raoulf is one of Afghanistan’s leading “moderate” clerics.

Karzai is kept alive by a bodyguard of foreigners. The fragile Afghan state is protected by American, British, Canadian, Australian, Italian and other troops, hundreds of whom have died. You cannot ask Americans or Britons to expend blood and treasure to build a society in which a man can be executed for his choice of religion. You cannot tell a Canadian soldier serving in Kandahar that he, as a Christian, must sacrifice his life to create a Muslim state in which his faith is a capital offense.

As always, we come back to the words of Osama bin Laden: “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse.” That’s really the only issue: The Islamists know our side have tanks and planes, but they have will and faith, and they reckon in a long struggle that’s the better bet. Most prominent Western leaders sound way too eager to climb into the weak-horse suit and audition to play the rear end. Consider, for example, the words of the Prince of Wales, speaking a few days ago at al-Azhar University in Cairo, which makes the average Ivy League nuthouse look like a beacon of sanity. Anyway, this is what His Royal Highness had to say to 800 Islamic “scholars”:

“The recent ghastly strife and anger over the Danish cartoons shows the danger that comes of our failure to listen and to respect what is precious and sacred to others. In my view, the true mark of a civilized society is the respect it pays to minorities and to strangers.”

That’s correct. But the reality is that our society pays enormous respect to minorities – President Bush holds a monthlong Ramadan-a-ding-dong at the White House every year. The immediate reaction to the slaughter of 9/11 by Western leaders everywhere was to visit a mosque to demonstrate their great respect for Islam. One party to this dispute is respectful to a fault: after all, to describe the violence perpetrated by Muslims over the Danish cartoons as the “recent ghastly strife” barely passes muster as effete Brit toff understatement.

Unfortunately, what’s “precious and sacred” to Islam is its institutional contempt for others. In his book “Islam And The West,” Bernard Lewis writes, “The primary duty of the Muslim as set forth not once but many times in the Quran is ‘to command good and forbid evil.’ It is not enough to do good and refrain from evil as a personal choice. It is incumbent upon Muslims also to command and forbid.” Or as the Canadian columnist David Warren put it: “We take it for granted that it is wrong to kill someone for his religious beliefs. Whereas Islam holds it is wrong not to kill him.” In that sense, those imams are right, and Karzai’s attempts to finesse the issue are, sharia-wise, wrong.

I can understand why the president and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would rather deal with this through back channels, private assurances from their Afghan counterparts, etc. But the public rhetoric is critical, too. At some point we have to face down a culture in which not only the mob in the street but the highest judges and academics talk like crazies. Abdul Rahman embodies the question at the heart of this struggle: If Islam is a religion one can only convert to, not from, then in the long run it is a threat to every free person on the planet.

Diane West: Masking Terror

The president is “troubled, deeply troubled,” a response that doesn’t exactly ring the red phone, and the State Department really isn’t troubled, that is, deeply or otherwise. On the contrary, responding to this Afghan assault on freedom of conscience (indirectly enabled by the best intentions of the U.S. military), Foggy Bottom actually tried to look on the bright side: “Previously, under the Taliban, anybody considered an apostate was subject to torture and death,” spokesman Sean McCormack said. “Right now,” he continued, “you have a legal proceeding that’s underway in Afghanistan.” Which means, I guess, thanks to Uncle Sam, nobody has to submit to “torture and death” anymore without first getting his day in court.

Welcome to U.S.-liberated Afghanistan, a place where, as far as freedom of conscience goes, the Shariah-based constitution is well worth the paper it’s written on (nothing), and process trumps principle every time. “It’s a constitutional matter,” Mr. McCormack explained, “so it’s a legal matter. So what that tells you is that there are two sides to this.” Two sides meaning that Mr. Rahman may or may not be guilty as charged? It’s hard to believe that any American, even a State Department spokesman, could buy into a “proceeding” that makes religion a matter of state control. On the other hand — and this is where things get truly shamefulno representative of the Bush administration has denounced, critiqued or even questioned U.S.-liberated Afghanistan’s right to try, let alone take the life of, any person for leaving Islam.

But here’s the salient point: According to Article 3, “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.” Because Islam’s “beliefs and provisions” prohibit Muslims from leaving Islam on pain of death, and because the Afghanistan constitution is bound to follow Islamic law, converts from Islam have no freedom and no protection under the U.S.-supported Karzai government.

Nina Shea: Sharia Calling

The State Department, however, didn’t seem to notice the significance of the case — either with respect to what it said about the character of the Afghan government or its impact on domestic politics. At a press conference on Tuesday, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns was asked about the U.S. response to the case. He answered something garbled about process, about needing to “respect the sovereignty of Afghan authorities,” hoping for a “transparent” trial, and, under follow-up questioning, seemed to be making a distinction between Afghan values and the “American point of view” in favor of religious freedom. His annoyance with the persistent line of questioning was his only betrayal of emotion in discussing the case. If Mr. Rahman met up with the sword of sharia, well, it was regrettable, but the democratization project was proceeding apace if the trial was transparent, and the rule of law followed. Whether “self-evident” freedoms were guaranteed or not was simply not a concern.

Burns’s response was very familiar to those of us who had been pressing for an unambiguous assertion of individual freedoms and rights over the past three years during the drafting of Afghanistan’s and Iraq’s constitution. It was this same exclusive focus on process over values — the same impatient shrug of the shoulders-that was given by key officials in the administration whenever the drafts were criticized for containing provisions that ushered in sharia or otherwise negated or clouded individual rights. (For example, the so-called “repugnancy clause,” found in both the Afghanistan and Iraq constitutions, which asserts that no law can contradict Islam.) At that time, our criticism found no echo. In fact, it was drowned out with near universal acclaim from law professors involved in the drafting and from the media. The New York Times editorial page on January 6, 2004, called the new Afghanistan constitution “one of the most enlightened constitutions in the Islamic world” and applauded it on the basis that it “balances the goal of an Islamic state with the promise to abide by the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

By Wednesday, President Bush had received the message. In a public statement, he spoke to values and was unequivocal about where he stood: “It is deeply troubling that a country we helped liberate would hold a person to account because they chose a particular religion over another.”

Rahman is not the only case where execution has been threatened over beliefs and ideas in the new Afghanistan. Last year, an Afghan journalist who argued against the heresy law was found guilty of it, and escaped death after international pressure. Before then, a female cabinet member was charged with blasphemy for criticizing Islamic law, but was also spared after international protest erupted. Other journalists were imprisoned for blasphemy after debating the compatibility of sharia law with democracy, but then quietly allowed to leave the country. It is even reported that other Christian converts are in prison there but not much is known about them.

The administration needs to rescue Rahman as he is determined not to be found “innocent” as Undersecretary Burns had hoped.

But this is about more than Mr. Rahman. This will be a persistent, recurring problem under Afghanistan’s sharia apostasy and blasphemy laws. The administration also needs to do more to ensure the reform Afghanistan’s judiciary. President Karzai must be encouraged to wrest it from the control of Islamists like Supreme Court Chief Justice Fazl Hadi Shinwari, who once told our National Public Radio that it is his duty as a judge to “behead” those who do not conform to Islamic law. Americans continue to give billions of dollars, and sacrifice their lives to support the Afghan government. It not only serves compelling humanitarian interests to use this leverage now, but it would be a betrayal of America’s deepest national values not to.



Michelle Malkin’s article on Abdul Rahman
Afghanistan, Iraq: Freedom or Islam?
Afghanistan: Convert from Islam and Die

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