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  Paul's Column Archive

March 22, 2006

Afghan Democracy Stumbles With Arrest of Christian Convert


There is no doubt that the only way to effectively defeat religious extremism in the Muslim world is through the spread of democracy in the region. As is demonstrated in several existing cases and is imminent in many more, countries where moderate Islam is the dominant force are very much capable of sustaining democracy. While at times a move to democracy must be instigated through diplomatic pressure or, as we have recently seen in two cases, military force, it is clear that such a colossal change in the political structure of the Middle East must be achieved in order to ensure victory against terror in the long run.


But sometimes, extremism is a lot more ingrained in a society than one would expect. Afghanistan, the first Muslim nation that the United States took upon itself to democratize shortly following the attacks of September 11th, is one example of how freeing certain societies can be thornier than it looks. Once the Taliban regime, one of the most despotic regimes of the modern era, was removed, assumptions had it that moderate Islam would prevail in Afghanistan. Turns out we were a bit off.


A man is currently on trial in Afghanistan for committing a crime so serious that a guilty ruling would warrant putting him to death. Abdul Rahman’s crime was not murder, nor treason, not even rape. The man simply decided to convert to Christianity. For doing so, he was accused of violating Afghanistan’s new constitution, which is based on Shariah law, the radical interpretation of which necessitates the execution of Muslims who choose to change religions.


So – let me get this straight – we went into Afghanistan, lost American lives on the ground, spent large amounts of money rebuilding the country, invested our citizens’ morale, and put the reputation of the United States on the line just so that we can replace a regime that would immediately kill a Muslim convert to Christianity with one that would only kill such a convert after due process and a trial? Clearly, something, somewhere, went terribly wrong.


The Bush administration is at fault not for assuming that Islam cannot coexist with a democratic system, since it can and should in its moderate form. The United States has instead erred by assuming that the defeat of the Taliban would lead to a takeover of moderate Muslims of the society and of the religious culture in the country. Or else, why would you let go of the administration of a country’s judicial system if you knew that it would fall in the hands of radical Muslims who would so strictly interpret Shariah law?


It might have been a mistake to have the remnants of Islamic extremism in the judicial branch of the Afghani government go unchecked so soon after the invasion of the country, but such move is not completely irreversible. Our troops are still in Afghanistan, we are still the most influential military and foreign power there, and we still have a friendly government in place. In short, there is nothing that should stop us from preventing such a terrible violation of human and religious rights from taking place in a country we just freed.


The Afghanis are indebted to the United States for giving them their freedom. Now that does not necessarily mean that they are eternally obliged to give us thanks or money or services, but we should have the complete right – if not the duty – to interfere in a situation such as this one. Not only would we be preventing the illegitimate and inhumane death of Adbul Rahman, but we would be making sure that such a horrendous standard is not set within the Afghan judiciary and culture.


Whether or not he is executed, even simply punishing Abdul Rahman for converting to Christianity would render our invasion and “democratization” of Afghanistan completely useless. We are teaching the Afghanis democracy, and our version of democracy is not selective. Our version of democracy is not limited to elected government and the education of young girls. True democracy involves the elimination of extremism from the judicial system, and the promise of freedom to those who wish to select their own religion. If America wants to maintain credibility for its campaign to democratize the world, it must demonstrate that what it is spreading is actual democracy, and not a likeness thereof.


© 2006 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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