Thursday, March 23, 2006

Outrage in Afghanistan

Editorial
The New York Times
March 23, 2006

What's the point of the United States' propping up the government of Afghanistan if it's not even going to pretend to respect basic human rights? President Bush himself said it was "deeply troubling" that an Afghan man is facing the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity.

In fact, the case is more than deeply troubling; it's barbaric, and we were glad that Mr. Bush promised yesterday to press for religious freedom in Afghanistan. The Afghan man, Abdul Rahman, was arrested two weeks ago. His parents reported him to the police for converting to Christianity 16 years earlier while working for a Christian aid organization in Peshawar, Pakistan. He was hauled before a judge, where he said he had no regrets. "If he doesn't revert back to Islam, he's going to receive the death penalty, according to the law," an Afghan Supreme Court judge told Agence France-Presse.

And maybe Afghanistan should also return to stoning women to death for adultery? The United States, Britain and every other country helping the Afghan government should take a hard look at its legal institutions. Muslim leaders would also do well to condemn this strongly; those who continue to hold the teachings of Islam hostage to intolerance do grievous harm to their religion.

There appears to be a move afoot to declare Mr. Rahman mentally incompetent as a way to avoid the mess. That would be a cheap trick because the law would remain on the books. Afghanistan is not the only American ally that enforces cruel religious laws. But this is a country that was liberated from the Taliban by American troops and whose tenuous peace is enforced by those troops. If Afghanistan wants to return to the Taliban days, it can do so without the help of the United States.

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