- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 23, 2006

Q: What’s worse than Afghanistan’s barbaric prosecution of Abdul Rahman for the Islamic crime of converting to Christianity? A: The muffled US.. reaction.

The president is “troubled, deeply troubled,” a response that doesn’t exactly ring the red phone, and the State Department really isn’t troubled, that is, deeply or otherwise. On the contrary, responding to this Afghan assault on freedom of conscience (indirectly enabled by the best intentions of the U.S. military), Foggy Bottom actually tried to look on the bright side: “Previously, under the Taliban, anybody considered an apostate was subject to torture and death,” spokesman Sean McCormack said. “Right now,” he continued, “you have a legal proceeding that’s underway in Afghanistan.” Which means, I guess, thanks to Uncle Sam, nobody has to submit to “torture and death” anymore without first getting his day in court.

Welcome to U.S.-liberated Afghanistan, a place where, as far as freedom of conscience goes, the Shariah-based constitution is well worth the paper it’s written on (nothing), and process trumps principle every time. “It’s a constitutional matter,” Mr. McCormack explained, “so it’s a legal matter. So what that tells you is that there are two sides to this.” Two sides meaning that Mr. Rahman may or may not be guilty as charged? It’s hard to believe that any American, even a State Department spokesman, could buy into a “proceeding” that makes religion a matter of state control. On the other hand — and this is where things get truly shamefulno representative of the Bush administration has denounced, critiqued or even questioned U.S.-liberated Afghanistan’s right to try, let alone take the life of, any person for leaving Islam.

Instead, we talk about Afghanistan’s “judicial case”— as if it had one — and the need for “transparency”— as if it’s not clear that Afghanistan is merely enforcing Shariah (Islamic law). We also tend to “hope very much,” as Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns put it, “that … freedom of religion will be upheld in Afghan court.” But how can freedom of religion be upheld in Afghan court when freedom of religion isn’t written into Afghanistan’s constitution? Yes, the constitution’s preamble talks up the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose Article 18 guarantees freedom of conscience; and yes, Article 2 in the Afghan constitution guarantees limited freedom for non-Muslim-born Afghans (although anyone promoting a religion other than Islam is thrown out of the country, said Father Giuseppe Moretti, Afghanistan’s lone Catholic priest). But here’s the salient point: According to Article 3, “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.” Because Islam’s “beliefs and provisions” prohibit Muslims from leaving Islam on pain of death, and because the Afghanistan constitution is bound to follow Islamic law, converts from Islam have no freedom and no protection under the U.S.-supported Karzai government.

Similar provisions entrenching Shariah are included in both the Iraqi and the Palestinian Authority constitutions, two other U.S.-assisted exercises in nation-building-or, rather, Islamic-nation-building. Maybe now, thanks to Abdul Rahman, more Americans will see that the seeds of Islamic theocracy are planted when a nation’s founding document is rooted in sharia, thus outlawing what we think of as “universal” human rights. It could be that, having signed off on such Islamic-nation-building — inspired by a heady mix of optimism, confusion or naiveté — the U.S. isn’t working itself into a liberty-affirming lather over Mr. Rahman from a sense of strategic resignation, or even embarrassment over the results.

But that shouldn’t condemn us to indefinite and deferential silence about the chasm that opens up when basic Islamic law overrules fundamental Western liberties. Rather than sinking into a “deeply troubled” and non-communicative funk, rather than pretending the Afghan constitution doesn’t contain a blueprint for a Shariah state, the president and his people should explain the fundamental conflict between emerging Islamic democracies and the Western world — a conflict that looms larger than any military front in the so-called “war on terror”: Sharia and liberty don’t mix.

Mr. Rahman may avoid prosecution by being declared mentally incompetent. That might defuse the immediate crisis, but not the long-term conflict-and it certainly wouldn’t guarantee Mr. Rahman’s safety. (It’s grisly to imagine him in an Afghan mental hospital for Christian converts and other state-diagnosed lunatics.) Nor would it guarantee ours. Sugar-coating Shariah and underplaying liberty doesn’t win any wars. It just wins more Shariah and less liberty.

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