March 24, 2006

Abdul Rahman: the Killer Cost of Conversion

Hatched by Dafydd

The question of what the United States should do -- and even what it actually is doing, since none of us actually knows -- about the potential death sentence against Abdul Rahman in Afghanistan, for the "crime" of converting to Christianity sixteen years ago, is not as easy as we might wish it were.

Let's start with a basic distinction that is typically lost, even when the president or members of his cabinet speak: we never did attempt to "nation build" in Afghanistan the way we did in Iraq. Rather, we deposed the Taliban, encouraged Hamid Karzai to run for president, and that was about it.

It was hardly a democratic election, in the sense of a campaign with strong, competitive candidates from different parties. Karzai became the Chairman of the Transitional Administration about a month after we booted out the Taliban; the Loya Jirga appointed him Interim President in June, 2002; and in the 2004 elections, Karzai crushed his 22 "opponents," winning 21 of the 34 provinces, despite worries that he had no support outside the capital, Kabul. Karzai is to Afghanistan as George Washington was to the United States of America, or as Ho Chi Minh was to Vietnam (how's that for a comparison?)

There is a reason we did not expend anywhere near the effort to "democratize" Afghanistan as we have in Iraq: Afghanistan is such a primative, tribal country that it's highly unlikely democrazy will ever be anything but a tribal electoral college. Karzai is sort of an honorary member of nearly all the tribes in Afghanistan and the only person perceived as being simultaneously a quintessential Afghan -- yet so outside the normal tribal politics that he won't throw his weight behind any one tribe over the others. He's "safe," probably the only man in Afghanistan who makes the tribal chiefs feel secure.

Afghanistan is not a democracy in the sense that Iraq is now, nor the sense of an Indonesia, a Philippines, or a Turkey. Likely it never will be... or at least not in the forseeable future. The Pashtun -- the tribe from whose ranks the Taliban mostly come -- are still the most powerful tribe in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the Pashtun control many areas (the tribe, not the Taliban, which was a popular group within the tribe).

If we were to withdraw from Afghanistan, Karzai would simply turn to other countries: Russia almost certainly, but perhaps also India (as Pakistan's mortal enemy; Kabul and Islamabad don't work or play well together). That would hurt us far more than Karzai or Afghanistan... and Karzi knows it. Thus, he knows that any such threat is just hot air on our part, and he will not be impressed.

Therefore, there simply is nothing we can do to force Afghanistan not to execute Abdul Rahman... other than trying to take over the entire country and hold it -- just as the Russians tried -- or else a "rescue" (kidnapping), which would amount to the same thing in the end. We won in 2001 because we explicitly did not try to do that; instead, we concentrated on booting out the Taliban and handing the country over to Hamid Karzai. We consulted, aided, funded, and rebuilt; we kibbitzed, and out of respect and gratitude, Afghans more or less listened to us.

And it was a miraculous success: the Taliban are gone; al-Qaeda fled to Pakistan, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, and other places, fragmenting and falling into backbiting and infighting; and Afghanistan has not returned to its terrorist ways... so far. But we just don't have the same hold over Afghanistan that we do over Iraq, where most folks are desperate for us to stay, if only to protect them from each other.

We cannot force them not to execute Rahman; but we can probably persuade them... provided we do so quietly, backchannel, sotto voce, and in a way that nobody loses his face. And that, I hope, is what Bush is doing right now. As the Washington Post notes, the groundwork is already being laid for a face-saving way out:

Diplomats from several countries said yesterday that Rahman, 41, now seems unlikely to be tried or executed. Prosecutors in Kabul said he might be mentally unfit to stand trial, a sign that the government may be seeking to avoid confronting its Western allies without giving ground on Islamic law, under which conversion to another religion is punishable by death.

Strident demands that Bush "confront" the Afghans, threaten them, or even send Special Ops in to extract Rahman are very counterproductive in the long run. It's a sad fact, but we may have to turn our backs on the individual (whether Christian or Moslem shouldn't make a difference) in order to maintain an al-Qaeda-free zone in Afghanistan. Just as "we go to war with the Army we have, " as Donald Rumsfeld explained, we also must pick carefully the wars we go to at all.

There is only one valid reason for the United States to go to war: to protect the security of the United States or our allies (by extension, since alliances keep us safer than isolation). Every call to military action -- and a threat is a call to action in potentia, with identical moral value -- must be judged against this standard: will such action or such a threat make us safer or less safe?

If Rahman is executed, Bush should call a press conference to report the tragedy (so it won't look like he's trying to hide anything), but then make the point that we are not trying to turn Afghanistan into a democracy the way we are in Iraq. He can express disappointment and even anger in the decision... but he should still note that, brutal as it may be, neither the Taliban nor al-Qaeda control Afghanistan anymore, and that is what we set out to do. We have not invested in democracy in Afghanistan; our national honor is not at stake here.

Iraq is another question: Bush's strategy is to plant democracy in the heart of the Middle East... not Southern Asia.

There may simply be nothing we can do -- officially. Let's leave the president to quiet, whispered conversation with Hamid Karzai and hope that "something" can be worked out. I think that is the best course for America in the long run.

Demanding Bush make public threats would be "unhelpful," both for America and even Rahman himself.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 24, 2006, at the time of 4:56 AM

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» Abdul Rahman : Infidel from Opinionated Voice
Under mounting foreign pressure to release Abdul Rahman, several Afghan authorities have suggested the man could be released within 48 hours. Even Pope Benedict XVI has asked the Afghan president to show clemency, although I don’t see his pictu... [Read More]

Tracked on March 25, 2006 6:01 PM

» Christian Conversion Case Dismissed - Rahman to Be Released from Big Lizards
The death-penalty case against Abdul Rahman -- for daring to reject Islam -- has been dismissed because of "problems" in the prosecution's case. While the district attorney "investigates," Rahman is to be freed. An Afghan court on Sunday dismissed a... [Read More]

Tracked on March 26, 2006 6:36 AM


The following hissed in response by: Eg

Don't forget this was a fully sanctioned mission of the UN who were to assume responsibility in two areas; the first being in Relief, Recovery and Reconstruction. The second, the electoral process, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) as well as the verification of the exercise of political rights related to elections as well as human rights, respectively.

This was formally commissioned UNAMA(United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) March 2002.

The above hissed in response by: Eg [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 24, 2006 6:39 AM

The following hissed in response by: levi from queens

Hamid Karzai's life has little value without U.S. security. If he does not issue a pardon, I do not think that there will be the votes in the H.R. to continue the effort in Afghanistan.

The above hissed in response by: levi from queens [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 24, 2006 8:07 AM

The following hissed in response by: BigLeeH

Rahman converted to Christianity about the time the Russians were driven out of Afghanistan -- four years before the spring of 1994 which the Taliban mark as the start of their movement, and six years before they took over effective control of Afghanistan in 1996. He was a Christian during the entire period when the Taliban ran Afghanistan. His prosecution for apostasy now, sixteen years after the event, is clearly an attempt to use him to drive a wedge between the rather-more-moderate, generally pro-western national government and the Islamic community.

While it is admirable of Rahman to be willing to die for his faith, the advantage it would give to the Islamic extremists would be good for neither his faith nor his country. One hopes that for the good of both he will be content to quietly allow himself to be thought mad -- and possibly be sent to the United States for 'treatment'.

The above hissed in response by: BigLeeH [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 24, 2006 9:18 AM

The following hissed in response by: Mr. Michael

Is this a minor point? The guy is NOT being prosecuted for converting to Christ, he is being prosecuted for turning his back on Islam.

It would not mattered if he had said he wasn't a Christian, as long as he still maintains that he no longer believes the Koran holds Truth about God: THAT is his crime. He could have become an agnostic, or a Buddhist, or a Scientologist... the crime isn't about what he BECAME, but what he has renounced.

So what we are asking the Afghanistani government to do is to officially sanction one of its citizens rights to publicly dishonor Islam. Somehow I do not see this coming to pass.

The ONLY way that we could save this man is to find a way to keep the government from addressing his rejection of Islamic religious beliefs... if they address that issue, he's dead... and we are just not going to be able to make the Afghanistani Government reject the laws of Islam by using "Strong Words". So while I take issue at your framing of the problem, I agree with your conclusion: I hope my President is working quietly to help this man, since that is the ONLY way we can even dream to have success.

Mr. Michael

The above hissed in response by: Mr. Michael [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 24, 2006 10:05 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

Levi from Queens:

If he does not issue a pardon, I do not think that there will be the votes in the H.R. to continue the effort in Afghanistan.

That may well be true... but if they do, they will be opening the door to Afghanistan returning to Taliban control -- and al-Qaeda.

I hope Congress will be savvy enough to realize that the value of the Afghanistan War was not that we "democratized" the country -- we certainly did not -- but that we de-fanged aQ and Mullah Omar... which will be true, even if Afghanistan allows sharia law.

Afghanistan will never be Iraq, but we can stop it from becoming Iran.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 24, 2006 1:30 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

Mr. Michael:

This is why Judaism is so successful: they too have always had absolute religous law, until quite recently. There are still many "ultra-Orthodox" who try to live by the Jewish equivalent of sharia.

But the Jews have always been adept at coming up with complicated chains of reasoning to justify exceptions in order to accomodate such religious beliefs with reality. We call it "Talmudic reasoning."

In this case, any good rabbinical Imam would reason thus:

  1. The Koran is the revealed word of Allah, of God.
  2. This is clear to all sane men who see it, for otherwise God would be tricking people.
  3. Therefore, only two types of people reject the Koran: those who have never seen it, and those who are mad.
  4. Since an apostate has, by definition, been exposed to and taught about the Koran, then logically, he must be insane.
  5. Sharia law does not allow us to execute the insane.
  6. Therefore, apostates cannot be executed. Some other method must be found.
  7. Since Islam is compassionate, the only viable alternatives are either to give apostates their own area to live, as we would give lepers or other contagious people, or else send them somewhere where they can get treatment for their mental disorder -- like Europe, America, Iraq, Turkey, Israel, or much of the rest of the world.

See? No conflict between Western values and sharia!

I hope Bush has a couple of staff rabbis who can explain this technique to the Afghans.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 24, 2006 1:44 PM

The following hissed in response by: Mr. Michael

And I thought that getting Afghanistan to change Islamic Law over tough wording would be a challenge... getting them to take guidance from Talmudic Reasoning!?! :D

Okay, take away the reference to the Talmud and Judaism, and it may present an avenue of escape for all. This, after all, is what Diplomats are SUPPOSED to be doing; coming up with ways that a Just end can be obtained through popularly acceptable methods.

Maybe if we explained to our diplomats that in doing so, they can claim to their friends that they got Christianity labeled as Insanity... it's not going to insult any Christians (who will just laugh it off, probably) and it would make the Foggy BottomDwellers think they are sticking it to Bush...

Yes! I think we could make that could work!

The above hissed in response by: Mr. Michael [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 24, 2006 1:56 PM

The following hissed in response by: MTF

If Sharia isn't subject to interpretation via reason, then what's the difference between it and mob rule? Not much. If the holy men of Afghani Islam spent the day sweating hard to keep a step ahead of the angry mob, like the imams of Kabul did today, then how serious and how stable can this religion prove to be if ever modern life hits Afghanistan?

Abdul Rahman's predicament (not to mention Karzai's predicament) says a lot about the frightening nature of Islam. The reformation and the enlightenment are way past due over there, that's for damn sure.

Karzai needs to find a way to bust him out and spirit him away. And we can't be anywhere near the jailbreak or we'll take the blame, making life much tougher for our guys in-country.

The above hissed in response by: MTF [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 24, 2006 6:55 PM

The following hissed in response by: hunter

This is why the Prez has it exactly right:
The GWOT is going to be tough and long. We are dealing with a truly diseased form of Islam that has allowed such merciless, graceles and ignorant theology to take over state functions.
Where do you see Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, Christians ar any other religious community, as a matter of policy, condoning this kind of behavior?
The sad fact is even Islam, in its glory days, was a tolerant belief system. It is only in its malignant forms that any religious thought would promote such inhumane and hyretical treatment of people.
This is why we fight: to build a world where no one is being killed or imprisoned for their beliefs. To stop the the lefty wing, the islamofascist and the extreme right ideologies that kill as a matter of policy those who do nothing more than disagree or believe differently.
This is why we must win.

The above hissed in response by: hunter [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 25, 2006 8:01 AM

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