Saturday, March 25, 2006

Religious Intolerance Alive and Well in Post-Taliban Afghanistan.

A sobering view of how little has changed in Afghanistan since the United States "toppled" Taliban forces in that country can be found in the trial of Abdul Rahman, who converted from Islam to Christianity, and who is on trial for his life for doing so. Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

KABUL, Afghanistan - Under mounting foreign pressure, President Hamid Karzai searched on Saturday for a way to free an Afghan man on trial for converting from Islam to Christianity without angering Muslim clerics who have called for him to be killed.

Karzai and several Cabinet ministers discussed the case of Abdul Rahman, who faces a possible death sentence for alleged apostasy, an official at Karzai's palace said. But she declined to comment on the outcome of the talks on Saturday.

Hours earlier, another official said Rahman "could be released soon." Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter with the media.

Pope Benedict XVI
has sent a message to Karzai asking that the case be dropped, citing respect for religious freedom, the Vatican said Saturday. But clerics have questioned Karzai's authority to order Rahman's release and have warned of a possible revolt if he tries.

"The Quran is very clear and the words of our prophet are very clear. There can only be one outcome: death," said cleric Khoja Ahmad Sediqi, who is also a member of the Supreme Court. "If Karzai releases him, it will play into the hands of our enemy and there could be an uprising."

Rahman is being prosecuted under Afghanistan's
Islamic laws for converting 16 years ago while working as a medical aid worker for an international Christian group helping Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

The case has put Karzai in an awkward position. While the United States, Britain and other countries that prop up his government have demanded Rahman's release, the president would be reluctant to offend Islamic sensibilities at home or alienate religious conservatives who wield considerable power.

Diplomats have said the Afghan government is searching for a way to drop the case without inflaming tension here. Authorities said Rahman is suspected of being mentally ill and would undergo psychological examinations to see whether he is fit to stand trial.

The trial highlights a conflict of values between Afghanistan and its Western backers — notably American Christians who cheered the administration of President Bush
when it toppled the oppressive Taliban regime in late 2001.

Bush expressed alarm about the case this week, but Christian lobby groups have urged him to do more.

As much as I'd like to blame Preznit Flight Suit Fantasy for this development, the truth is that in a region dominated by religious extremists, it makes no difference whether the Taliban is running things or not. I will, however, call the Preznit on his insistence, in his mid-week press conference, that things are just swell in Afghanistan these days.

In that pitiful appearance, the Preznit called on Helen Thomas for the first time in his second term, and she, being the only member of the "liberal press" who dares to ask the obvious questions, asked him, very directly, why he wanted to go to war in Iraq. In typical Bush fashion, the Preznit avoided answering the question by talking about how great things are in Afghanistan.

Well, I'm quite certain Mr. Rahman would differ with that view (as would other Christians and Muslim women). And I find it hard to believe that the troops we sent over there to straighten things out would view this development in a good light. I just hope that saner minds can get their points across and resolve this mess quickly and safely for Mr. Rahman.

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