- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Threat in Afghanistan

An Afghan judge’s threat to impose the death penalty on a man who converted from Islam to Christianity undermines religious freedom for all Afghans and damages U.S. efforts to promote democracy in Muslim countries, a key U.S. religious watchdog group warned President Bush yesterday.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said the trial of Abdul Rahman on charges of violating Islamic law against religious conversions shows that “the door is open for a harsh, unfair or even abusive interpretation of religious orthodoxy to be officially imposed, violating numerous human rights and stifling political dissent for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.”

In a letter to Mr. Bush, the commission added, “The U.S. government has been working with the Afghan government to develop democratic political systems that will break from the experiences of the previous regime.

“Yet the arrest of Mr. Rahman indicates that religious extremists still have significant influence in Kabul, threatening not just the religious freedom of this one man, but the fundamental rights of each and every Afghan citizen.”

A U.S.-led coalition in 2001 overthrew the extremist Taliban regime that imposed severe penalties for the slightest infraction of its radical form of Islam and sheltered Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network.

Commission Chairman Michael Cromartie cited several other cases of religious intolerance since a democratic government was elected with a constitution that recognized Islamic law. Sima Samar, the former minister for women’s affairs, faced blasphemy charges in 2002. She was not prosecuted. Supreme Court Chief Justice Fazel Hadi Shinwari disqualified a presidential candidate in 2004 over purported “anti-Islamic” remarks. He was later allowed to remain in the race. Journalist Ali Mohaqiq Nasab was arrested last year on charges of “insulting Islam.” His trial ended when he apologized for his remarks.

Reviving Germany

After years of economic stagnation, Germany needs a “strong stimulus” to create jobs and boost growth, according to a member of Berlin’s new economic team.

“We need efficiency at home if our country and its companies are to perform well on the international stage,” Hartmut Schauerte, state secretary for the Ministry of Economy and Technology, told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce this week.

Mr. Schauerte noted that the “economy in Germany has stagnated for various reasons. However, this year Germany’s economic barometer is looking more positive than it has for a long time.”

He said the new conservative-led government of Chancellor Angela Merkel is determined to “modernize our tax system and make it more internationally competitive” to create jobs and attract more foreign investment.

Under the previous socialist government, growth declined to 0.8 percent last year from 1.7 percent in 2004. Unemployment stood at 11.6 percent, while inflation remained at 2 percent.

The government will “improve the environment for innovation in the fields of biotech and genetic technology, information and communications technology, chemicals, medicine and pharmaceuticals, and in energy and transport,” he said.

Mr. Schauerte said bilateral trade, which totaled $140 billion last year, is a key to improving Germany’s economy.

“For the United States, Germany is the leading trading partner in Europe. In the opposite direction, the United States is Germany’s leading trading partner outside Europe,” he said.

Nearly 3,400 German firms have U.S. operations and provide about 760,000 jobs, while more than 2,000 American companies have offices in Germany and employ more than 450,000 people, he said.

Mr. Schauerte, a conservative member of the German parliament, also emphasized the new political attitude in Berlin, where the previous government used anti-American rhetoric to win votes.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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