President Karzai is in a terrible situation. He has no easy way out of the looming beheading of Christian convert Abdul Rahman. Karzai's decision will affect not just Afghanistan and his own political future. It also will have huge impact on the exorbitant foreign policy gamble perpetrated by the Bush administration.
Our 200 Billion dollar effort at militarily exporting democracy has given us Hamas and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, leading even the devout to wonder. In such a climate the possibility of formally putting a Christian to death in Afghanistan is the last thing we need.
Unthinkable cartoon wars, Iraq's death count ringing like winning slot machine, and France burning down from the inside out might all be less harmful to relations between Islam and “the West,” than what now will happen to this otherwise quite insignificant 40 year old who turned to Christ at the young age of 24. Why? Because the fate of this solitary fellow lies not in the hands of the mob, but in the hands of a modern Bush built democracy and a US favored elected representative.
It is good and proper that the international community do everything in its power to stay the execution of Rahman. It is good that places like Germany and France stumble on to the right side of religious freedom for a change. It is also good that people in the West begin to learn about Islam, and its schools of interpretation. So what if it took us 3 years of war and 200 billion dollars trying to build irresistible democratic utopias to discover that Islam has apostasy laws. But these are not the important point.
The most important thing is that now is the time to help and support President Karzai. He is in a horrible dilemma and he needs support from the whole world including Muslims everywhere.
This is the situation:
1. Karzai is damned if he does damned if he doesn't
2. The dilemma is created by the tension between the modern concept of the State, and the social reality of clan and tribal norms and conventions
3. The insufficiently debated Muslim doctrines on apostasy must be settled in favor of the humane and visionary side of Islamic interpretation
Why is Karzai's situation so difficult?
1. It is almost impossible to rule a Muslim society when at odds with the Mullahs (who are behind the pro-execution stand on Rahman). Karzai's domestic political base and power are tied to these Mullahs. If Karzai acts to protect Rahman he will be seen to controvert Islam and he will lose his power to govern, lose his political base, and very possibly even become an assassination target by extremists.
2. On the other hand, If he fails to protect Rahman he will be seen to uphold a version of Islam deemed unacceptable to the “West,” and he will stand in violation of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The chasm over which Karzai dangles stretches from Afghanistan's modern, constitutionally guaranteed, human rights on the one hand, and the traditional practices of the tribal society over which he attempts to govern on the other.
He has NO political out. He canNOT win. WhatEVER he decides, he fails absolutely by the measure of one side or another. Thus is the first thing Karzai must do is come to grips with the fact that there is no political solution. The only thing that remains is conscience. Karzai finds himself on the stage in which the bizarre situation sparked by the conversion of a 24 year old, in another country long ago has become the single point at which Huntington gets to write his epilogue.
The sooner Karzai recognizes he has no solution, the freer and truer he can be. The Beatles accurately described it as a magic feeling, “nowhere to go.” Only at such a point can Karzai finally make his choice. Such moments create statesmen and women and historical figures. When history checkmates us, only conscience remains. This is why greatness always lies in personal decision.
Now is not the time to pressure Karzai. Now is the time to help him. We already know what he as a person believes about the situation. OF COURSE he is not of the opinion that a human being should be beheaded for looking at Jesus a touch differently from his fellows. The problem for Karzai is that acting on his beliefs threatens everything in his life, including the possibility of losing his very life itself. The US and the world, including all Muslims must give Karzai every possible chance to make his quiet inner, personal decision, that final, greatest act of courage when a man or woman decide with their conscience at the risk of their life.
What must Muslims do to help? Current (widespread) apostasy laws throughout the Muslim world are built on shady and tenuous interpretation and faltering standards for the establishment of Hadith. Any Muslim who can read knows Suratan Nisa', Ayah 48 (there is no compulsion in religion). Every Muslim who can read knows Surah An-Nisa', 4:137 that warns against multiple apostasies (how can the Qu'ran speak of multiple apostasies if even one is punishable by death?). There is no reference to the death penalty in any of the 20 instances (!) of apostasy mentioned in the Qur'an (S.A. Rahman). The Hadith upon which these apostasy laws are built is weak (This hadith was only transmitted by one individual. It was not confirmed by a second person, and lacking such corroboration should not be sufficient to contradict law grounded in the Qu'ran itself.)
What President Karzai must do is give Rahman safe passage out of Afghanistan. If Rahman remains in Afghanistan he will probably be killed anyway. If Rahman insists on remaining in Afghanistan to pursue the child custody case that caused his troubles in the first place, then his life or death is his own business. Nobody blames Bush or Christian jurisprudence because people get shot on the streets of Los Angeles.
President Karzai did not ask to be put in this terrible situation. He does not need a bunch of hot headed ranting from the so-called “civilized” world. He needs the support of Muslims who want to show the beauty of Islam, and he needs the support of his friends in Europe and America with whom he has labored mightily to try to build up his nation, under horrible and adverse circumstances.
March 24, 2006