Thursday, March 23, 2006

Religious tolerance in the new Afghanistan

Wingnuttery, of course, is by no means limited to the US or the Western world. In "post-Taliban" Afghanistan, 41-year old Abdul Rahman is facing execution for converting from Islam to Christianity. It appears that Rahman, who converted 15 years ago during his tenure as an aid worker in Pakistan, was reported to authorities by members of his estranged family, with whom he is involved in a custody dispute.

Rahman has apparently been charged under Article 130 of Afghanistan's post-Taliban constitution, approved by the Loya Jirga in 2004, and based on sharia law. According to Amnesty International:

Article 130 enables prosecutors to bring forward cases of alleged crimes about which there is no codified law “in accordance with the Hanafi jurisprudence”. The same article, however, calls on courts to rule “within the limits of the constitution” and “in a way to serve justice in the best possible manner”.
And Article 7 of the same constitution, as Amnesty points out, declares that "the state shall abide by the UN Charter, international treaties, international conventions that Afghanistan has signed, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights." Furthermore,
As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the government of Afghanistan is bound to uphold Article 18, which provides that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” and that “this right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice”. In its General Comment on this Article, the Human Rights Committee, the panel of independent UN experts which examine states’ implementation to the ICCPR, has stated* that “the freedom to ‘have or to adopt’ a religion or belief necessarily entails the freedom to choose a religion or belief, including the right to replace one's current religion or belief with another or to adopt atheistic views, as well as the right to retain one's religion or belief”. It further stated that “the use of threat of physical force or penal sanctions to compel believers or non-believers to adhere to their religious beliefs […], to recant their religion or belief or to convert” is prohibited.
The case has given rise to an interesting discussion on Ed Brayton's blog regarding the tension between liberty and democracy, and the perils of imposing democracy on hitherto non-democratic states. Brayton forcefully argues that "liberty is infinitely more important than democracy"; some of his interlocutors maintain that you can't have liberty without democracy. This then translates into a debate over whether the occupying forces should have intervened in the shaping of the Afghan constitution to a greater degree in order to safeguard human rights, or whether they should step back and allow Afghanis to--as one commenter puts it--"learn how to be free" (with the occupiers' role being to "put pressure on them to steer them in the right direction"). Perhaps Rahman finds himself in such an unfortunate situation because the latter view has prevailed among US policymakers.

(It should be noted that the debate on Brayton's blog also canvassed Iraq: where, as Brayton indicates in his initial post, Shi-ite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has declared that gays and lesbians "should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing." The constitution of Iraq, Brayton points out, declares that "no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.")