Feature

Abdul Rahman

A heretic in the 21st century.

Is this why we "liberated" Afghanistan? asked The New York Times in an editorial. So that Abdul Rahman, who survived the murderous Taliban regime, could face death for apostasy? The 41-year-old Afghan man’s case shows, more than four years after our invasion, just how little progress his supposedly democratic nation has made toward "basic human rights." Originally a Muslim, like 99 percent of his countrymen, Rahman became a Christian 16 years ago. But this month, during divorce proceedings, his estranged wife told authorities about his conversion. Rahman was arrested for rejecting his faith; a prosecutor called him a "microbe" and said he should be "removed from the rest of Muslim society and killed." Afghan President Hamid Karzai refused to intervene; the State Department issued a feckless statement about respecting "the sovereignty of Afghan authorities." Only after an international outcry did Afghanistan’s supreme court reluctantly release him. But Rahman was so afraid of being lynched on the streets that he appealed to the U.N. for asylum abroad. This week, he resettled in Italy.

Sometimes "the groupthink of the Muslim world is frightening," said Richard Cohen in The Washington Post. What makes this case so alarming is that this wasn’t just the vigilante justice of a few religious zealots; it was the official law of a nation U.S. soldiers died to liberate. In the 21st century, killing someone for his religious beliefs "ought to be inconceivable." Yet Rahman’s plight sounds like something out of the Middle Ages. Why is anyone surprised? asked Andrew McCarthy in National Review Online. Despite "a few shiny human-rights ornaments," Afghanistan’s constitution proclaims the country "an Islamic state" where no civil law can conflict with sharia, Islam’s ancient, draconian system of law. To think that Afghanistan—or, for that matter, the supposedly modern Islamic nations of Egypt, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia—respects freedom of religion is "remarkable naïveté."

Rahman’s ordeal should end "any illusions" about the benefits of bringing democracy to the Muslim world, said Trudy Rubin in The Philadelphia Inquirer. The Taliban may be gone, but Afghanistan remains a deeply conservative nation, less influenced by America than by its own past, in which a king ruled in consultation with tribal chiefs and imams. "Liberal, secular democratic values as we know them are foreign to most people there." The neoconservatives who crafted the Bush administration’s foreign policy assumed that once the Arab world’s dictators fell, the populace would embrace freedom and human rights. Instead, in Afghanistan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, and now Iraq, voters are choosing Islamic extremism. We can no longer base our foreign policy on the messianic belief that "our values will soon triumph."

J. Alexander Thier

The New York Times

USA Today

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