Thursday, December 8, 2005

Now they want to put him to death — Mohaqeq Nasab, the Afghan editor already sentenced to two years hard labor for “blasphemy” against Islam. Now, Afghan prosecutors want to put him to death.

Why? The Muslim editor of Women’s Rights magazine published articles in post-Taliban Afghanistan that criticized aspects of Islamic law, including the penalties of stoning for adultery, amputation for theft, and death for leaving Islam.

“Sometimes the whole religion and the rules of the religion were attacked,” explained Muhammed Aref Rahmani, who sits on Afghanistan’s council of Islamic scholars.

Attacked? “For instance,” Mr. Rahmani told the Chicago Tribune, “he says one woman should be equal to one man, as a witness in a case, which is completely against our religion.”

Yes, those seismic vibrations rolling across your eardrums are the sound of culture clash. Under Islamic law, a woman’s court testimony is worth half as much as a man’s — another rank inequality Mr. Nasab’s magazine opposed — so I guess you could say Mr. Rahmani has an Islamic point. Of course, such Islamic “crimes” equal Western virtues. This, it seems, leaves Afghan officials unimpressed.

“The decision made by the lower court on Mohaqeq Nasab will in no way satisfy the public prosecutor’s office,” Zmarai Amiri told the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. Mr. Amiri ought to know: He’s Kabul’s chief prosecutor. “Nasab must be punished more severely, up to and including execution.” There are sure to be more arrests, Mr. Amiri continued rather Stalinistically, if anyone, including government officials, comes to Mr. Nasab’s defense.

So much for post-Taliban — and, come to think of it, post-Operation-Enduring-Freedom — life in Afghanistan. Maybe the more useful exercise here is not to wonder how we became midwife to a theocratic police state but to see what we can learn from it. One thing is clear: where Islam is protected from so-called blasphemy, freedom of conscience and freedom of speech — let alone women’s rights — are not.

This same notion of Islam’s “protection” came up when Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini sentenced Salman Rushdie to death in 1989 for his “blasphemous” novel “The Satanic Verses,” pitching the Western world into craven fits of appeasement. As Daniel Pipes has written, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) not only endorsed Iran’s charges of “blasphemy” and Mr. Rushdie’s “heresy,” it also called for “necessary legislation to insure the protection of the religious beliefs of others.” Saliently, the OIC declared that “blasphemy cannot be justified on the basis of freedom of expression and opinion.”

Some things never change. As we see in Afghanistan — and, increasingly, elsewhere — this fundamental tenet of Islamic society is one of them. And it is on this point that the West and Islam are struggling to come to terms.

For example, the Islamic furor over a dozen Mohammed cartoons published in a Danish newspaper — and Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s refusal to meddle with his country’s freedom of speech — continues to rise up the food chain, from death threats and street riots, to ambassadorial protests, to heads-of-state deliberations at the December OIC meeting in Mecca.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s reaction not only sums up the official Islamic response but is also highly significant given Turkey’s bid to become the European Union bridge between the West and Islam. On a recent trip to Denmark, as recounted in the internet edition of the Turkish newspaper Zaman, Mr. Erdogan addressed the Mohammed-cartoon issue, saying, “Freedoms have limits, what is sacred should be respected.” As columnist Mustafa Unal put it, Mr. Erdogan “indicated that respect towards what is considered sacred is more important than the freedom of expression.”

Meanwhile, Denmark’s Berlingske Tidende, via the blogger Fjordman (, reports that the 56 countries of the OIC have now written the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to “help contain this encroachment on Islam, so the situation won’t get out of control.” In response, U.N. commissioner Louise Arbour emphasized her “regret” over “any statement or act that could express a lack of respect for the religion of others.” Which sounds like the Danes are in U.N.-trouble. But what about the statements or acts — from censorship to death sentences — of the religion that encroach on the rights of others? That’s a question no one dares to ask.

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