The Obama administration has declared a “struggle against violent extremism,” but it has little to say when it comes to extremism practiced by governments. Blasphemy laws in Pakistan and Afghanistan are being used to sanction judicial murder in the name of Islam. The United States refuses to condemn these practices, apparently believing this would amount to an unwarranted imposition of American values on foreign customs. Even in these backward countries, however, there are brave political leaders who are standing up to legal persecution.
The point was illustrated vividly Tuesday in Pakistan when Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab Province, was gunned down by a member of his own security detail. Taseer was an opponent of Pakistan’s blasphemy law and recently requested a pardon for Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five who was found guilty of blaspheming Islam and sentenced to death. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned Taseer’s assassination but chose not to delve into the motive of his assassin or raise the blasphemy issue. Instead, Mrs. Clinton offered the bland assurance that the United States “remains committed to helping the government and people of Pakistan as they persevere in their campaign to bring peace and stability to their country.” Meanwhile, radical supporters of accused assassin Malik Mumtaz Qadri rallied at his arraignment yesterday, showering him with rose petals and chanting “death is acceptable in the service of the Prophet.”
The law under which Mrs. Bibi was condemned is conspicuously vague. It enjoins “words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly, [that] defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed,” which in practice could extend to anything. Taseer was an outspoken critic of the law as a relic that was preventing Pakistan from moving into the modern world. He lost his life because he wasn’t afraid to stand up for religious freedom in a dark place.
Afghanistan’s blasphemy laws also are deplorably strong. All Muslim converts and members of the Baha’i faith are legally apostates. In 2008, Ghaws Zalmai was sentenced to 20 years in prison for creating an unauthorized translation of the Koran into Dari. Currently, 45-year-old Sayed Mossa languishes in prison without a lawyer, facing a capital charge of apostasy for converting from Islam to Christianity.
International intervention in such cases can make a difference. Afghan college journalism student Sayed Pervez Kambaksh was arrested in 2007 for distributing the writings of Iranian Islamic dissident Arash Bikhoda, who criticized the status of women in Muslim societies. Mr. Kambaksh was originally sentenced to death, which was reduced to 20 years on appeal. A concerted campaign was mounted on his behalf by foreign media and government representatives, including then-U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. President Hamid Karzai granted a pardon in 2008, and Mr. Kambaksh fled the country.
America could stand up for Mrs. Bibi and Mr. Mossa and give meaning to Taseer’s sacrifice, but the Obama White House apparently is more fearful of offending the chanting mobs than it is willing to inspire the secularists and others seeking progress in the Islamic world. The extremism that imposes the death penalty for purported affronts to Islam should be as offensive to the United States as the extremism that kills with suicide vests, and equally worthy of condemnation. Instead of pretending this evil doesn’t exist, the Obama administration should openly side with opponents of this form of state terrorism.