Attention to Abdul Rahmanâ€™s case is spreading. The Germans are complaining. Even the Americans had something to say, though the description makes the protest sound rather tepid.
The Bush administration issued a subdued appeal Tuesday to Afghanistan to permit Rahman to practice his faith in the predominantly Muslim country. The State Department, however, did not urge the U.S. ally in the war against terrorism to terminate the trial. Officials said the Bush administration did not want to interfere with Afghanistan’s sovereignty.
Ah, yes. Sovereignty. Wouldnâ€™t want to interfere with that, now would we? Why is â€œinterferingâ€ with our allyâ€™s trial of a man for conversion to Christianity a greater challenge to sovereignty than invading and overthrowing the government?
There is more than one theory of national sovereignty. While some might think all nations are sovereign by definition, the Rahman case in the larger context of Afghanistan illustrates that the current US leadership adheres to a different theory.
In our country, we describe our system as government â€œof the people, by the people, for the people.â€ We call it a democracy. We extrapolate from this to find sovereignty rooted in â€œthe people.â€ Thus if a nation is a democracy, i.e., â€œof the people,â€ then it is a sovereign nation.
Under the Taliban, Afghanistan did not have a government â€œof the people.â€ It was not a democracy. Now that we have invaded and cast aside the Taliban (we have not yet cast them out), we have installed a democracy. Now Afghanistan has a government â€œof the people.â€ Now it is a democracy.
And that democratically elected, i.e., a government â€œof the people, by the people, and for the people,â€ has put a man on trial for converting from Islam to Christianity. Surely we all know that Muslims make up a majority of the Afghan population. Surely we know that death to converts is a standard practice in other allied Muslim nations (Saudi Arabia, Pakistan). Ought we to be surprised when the majority â€“ the operative power in a democracy â€“ follows its conscience?
The AP article hints that there may be some division of opinion in Afghanistan.
The trial is believed to be the first of its kind in Afghanistan and highlights a struggle between religious conservatives and reformists over what shape Islam should take there four years after the ouster of the fundamentalist Taliban regime.
Iâ€™d like to see some evidence of this â€œstruggle.â€ Are there voices in Afghanistan calling for Rahmanâ€™s release â€“ and freedom to follow Jesus? The AP avoids specifics here.
At the very least, we Christians ought not to be surprised. The bible says, â€œAll who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.â€ Just because weâ€™ve been domesticated by a smiling Caesar, doesnâ€™t mean the world is a safe place for Jesus people.
As Americans we ought not to be surprised either. Some of our founding fathers (James Madison comes to mind) warned us against the power of faction and absolute majorities. More recently our love for democratic theory may have been chastened by Winston Churchill, â€œDemocracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.â€
Though we may not be surprised by the trial of Abdul Rahman, do we have to keep quiet about it? Do we have to keep paying for Afghanistan â€“ with our money and with the lives of our people? If we were a Christian nation, our approach would be different (assuming, of course, that there is such a thing as a Christian nation). But, weâ€™re not. So we keep propping up a nation because we believe the government of a sovereign (democratically elected) nation can do what ever it wants.
UPDATE: I see that there is a transcript of an interview with a State Department official at The Corner. Unfortunately the issue seems to be framed as one of Freedom of Religion. My guess is that Mr. Rahman’s persecutors will think Freedom of Religion is one thing, and Freedom of Conversion from Islam is another thing altogether. If this is so, as long as we keep the subject on Freedom of Religion, we will be missing the point.