Friday, January 25, 2008

Remember the 23-year-old Afghan journalist I mentioned last week, the one detained in a Mazir-i-sharif jail for three months on “blasphemy” charges? Well, his limbo is over, his cased resolved. For “insulting” Islam, the Afghan court has sentenced Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh to death.

According to the law of that land, which, not incidentally, is supported and protected by U.S. troops, only Afghan President Hamid Karzai — only U.S.-supported, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, that is — can do anything on the young man’s behalf. Will he?

That’s the first question that comes to mind. But there are others, including two for all presidential candidates currently perusing this column: Should the United States force Mr. Karzai into leniency? Also, given post-Taliban Afghanistan’s dependency on U.S. troops for survival, would the implementation of this Shariah (Islamic law) death sentence against Mr. Kambakhsh make us a party to a Shariah crime against universal human rights?

This last question takes us to a topic I wish someone in power would consider — particularly those Americans now vying to lead this country for the next four years. (I regret to say the current administration is hopeless on this vital matter.) Does our “war on terror,” which currently includes stabilizing U.S.-fostered governments that enshrine Shariah in Afghanistan and Iraq, in effect place the United States in the role of making the world safe … for Shariah? That’s one debate question I’d certainly like to see asked. And: Given Islamic terror groups’ shared predilection for spreading Shariah, does this current U.S. strategy best serve what we like to think of as the cause of liberty?

Consider the Afghan blasphemy case. Calling on Mr. Karzai to intercede “before it’s too late,” Reporters Without Borders issued a statement saying, “We are deeply shocked by this trial, carried out in haste and without any concern for the law or for free expression, which is protected by the [Afghan] constitution.” Just to make sure all presidential candidates still reading this column are paying attention: Is the journalist rights group correct? Is it true that free expression is protected by the U.S.-midwifed Afghan constitution? The answer is no. (And aren’t you candidates lucky this isn’t a nationally televised debate?) Sure, the Afghan constitution dubs freedom of expression “inviolable,” but, like the U.S.-fostered constitution of Iraq, it makes Shariah supreme. “No law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam,” says the Afghan constitution. Goodbye, freedom of expression.

Of course, Islamic reasoning says otherwise. The attorney general of Balkh Province, Hafizullah Khaliqyar, defended the Kambakhsh blasphemy trial for being “very Islamic.” In a most instructive interview with Radio Free Afghanistan, he made it clear that he considered blasphemy to be in a separate category from “inviolable” journalistic freedoms. “This was not a violation of human rights or press freedom, not a violation of rights of a journalist,” he said. The defendant “violated the values of Islam,” the attorney general continued. “He did not make a journalistic mistake; he insulted our religion. He misinterpreted the verses of the Koran and distributed this paper to others. All ulama [clerics] have condemned his act.” Off with his head, naturally.

More questions for presidential candidates, beginning with: Well? What do you say to that? After all, this wasn’t some wild-eyed Taliban mullah shooting off his gun over perceived insults to Islam, but an attorney general employed by the Afghan government that is supported by the United States. In other words, candidates, what is your opinion of the current policy which forges anti-jihadist alliances ultimately designed to thwart the spread of Shariah with countries that are, no matter how we want to cut it, themselves based in Shariah? In order for the Westerner to grasp the Islamic line of thinking, as expressed by the Afghan attorney general, he must appreciate the difference between the Western understanding of freedom, which is rooted in the workings of the individual conscience and naturally gives rise to such institutions as a free press, and the Islamic understanding of freedom, which describes a state of divine enthrallment, even slavery, to Allah, and finds expression in the dictates of Shariah.

Heavy stuff? Not really. If the candidates could just drop the schoolyard sniping, they might have time to bone up on it before the next debate — certainly before one of them moves into the Oval Office. Or is that too much to ask the next leader of the Free World?

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