Where the rubber meets the road

Published 12:20 am Monday, April 3, 2006

By By Tray Smith
Working with an international Christian aid group in Pakistan during the 1990's, Abdul Rahman was simply trying to help his fellow Afghan refugees. But in the process, he did something terribly wrong. He became a Christian.
Sixteen years later, he was arrested and forced to stand trail for this decision after police caught him with a Bible. If convicted, he would have faced death.
Luckily, he was released after a court dismissed the case under the premise that "he may not be mentally fit to stand trail" and a lack of evidence on behalf of the prosecutor. Rahman is now free while the Afghan Attorney General reviews his case.
"If I must die, I will die," the incarcerated Christian said in an interview with the Rome La Repubblica, which channeled questions through a human rights worker who visited Rahman in prison. After all, he continued, "Somebody, a long time ago, did it for all of us."
Foreign pressure placed on the Afghan government will likely prevent Rahman's case from coming back to trial. Nevertheless, the incident will continue to be a black eye on Afghanistan in its quest for freedom. It also may be a black eye on United States foreign policy.
Freedom for Afghanistan has come much sooner and much easier than it is coming for Iraq. The people of Afghanistan suffered horrifically under the Taliban, and they quickly aligned themselves with the United States military during the incursion following the September 11 atrocities. Today, the Afghans have a democratic Constitution in place, a democratically elected President in power, and both a legislature and government has been formed. The fledgling Afghan government is beginning to confront that nation's many problems. However, this incident forces us to reconsider whether Afghanistan has seen freedom at all.
Because clerics make up a large part of the nation's judiciary, there is no guarantee that Christians like Rahman will be freed in the future. There is no separation of Church and State. However, even if there was such a separation, the safety of Rahman and his fellow Christians cannot be guaranteed. Afghan fanatics who have demanded Rahman's death as a punishment for rejecting Islam are now threatening to take the law into their own hands and kill him upon his release from prison. Afghans have staged protest against his release.
While President Hamid Karzai is a worthy leader, he was caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, he had foreign governments whose support is critical to the Islamic state demanded that Rahman be let go. On the other, he was forced to contend with radical forces in the conservative Muslim country who demanded Rahman's death. Struggling within the confines of a weak national government, Karzai was forced to let the situation play itself out on its own.
This incident appears to be resolved, so long as Rahman is able to be protected outside of jail. But the incident raises new and serious doubts about whether freedom can thrive in Islamic countries.
Speaking in support of his Iraq policy, President Bush has often commented, "Now, once again, freedom is confronting the followers of a murderous ideology, and like the hate-filled ideologies that came before it, the darkness of terror will be defeated, and the forces of freedom and moderation will prevail throughout the Muslim world." That line summarizes his entire foreign policy doctrine, which is to spread freedom to all places in order to spread peace. Yet, despite a tremendous financial and military commitment on behalf of the United States and our allies, freedom is not coming easily to Iraq.
In his second inaugural last January, the President also said, "Freedom, by its nature, must be chosen, and defended by citizens, and sustained by the rule of law and the protection of minorities." Thus, by the President's own definition, the promise off freedom is not being fulfilled in Afghanistan, where they are certainly not protecting minorities.
I have supported this President in his efforts to bring freedom to the Middle East. I have often thought it was racist to say that while freedom can flourish in East Asia, Europe, Australia, and North America it cannot survive in the Islamic world. I have also consistently been optimistic about our chance of success in spreading democracy through the Muslim world.
Freedom has definitely had its triumphant moments in recent years. Three elections in one year in Iraq and two in the Palestinian territories, as well as national elections in Lebanon and Afghanistan, have turned out to be indisputable successes. Yet, incidents like Abdul Rahman's in supposedly free countries like Afghanistan are where the rubber meets the road. The ideology that leads this people to call for a Christian's death is the same ideology that led them to fly planes into buildings on September 11. If we are trying to beat that ideology by spreading freedom to Muslims countries, events like this suggest that freedom cannot be tolerated in those countries. They raise the possibility that our entire military engagements may have been a colossal failure of judgment and a tremendous misuse of effort and resources. They also may prove that President Bush and I have been wrong all along. I desperately hope the Afghans and Iraqis will prove us right. They still have a chance. That is the bottom line.
Tray Smith is a freshman for Escambia Academy. He writes a political column for the Atmore Advance. He can be reached for contact tsmith_90@hotmail .com. His column appears weekly.

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