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"Afghan Man Faces Execution After Converting to Christianity":

Pretty appalling. I'm glad that the U.S. government is pressuring the Afghan government to rescind this, and I hope that the behind-the-scenes pressure is more serious than the public pressure; according to the Chicago Tribune, "The Bush administration issued a subdued appeal Tuesday to Afghanistan to permit a Christian convert on trial for his life to practice his faith in the predominantly Muslim country. The State Department, however, did not urge the U.S. ally in the war on terrorism to terminate the trial. Officials said the Bush administration did not want to interfere with Afghanistan's sovereignty." It seems from my LEXIS search that the Voice of America News was the first to break the story, which I'm glad about; let's hope the drumbeat goes on, and influences the Afghan government.

Here, by the way, is an excerpt from the State Department press briefing on the subject; I can understand why the diplomats at State want to be circumspect about their statements, but I'm also pleased that the media is pressing them on it.

Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):
The Financial Times had a story about this today, which suggested that Italy has been pressuring the Afghan government as well:


The Italian government yesterday summoned the Afghan ambassador to Rome to express its concern over the issue. A foreign ministry statement said the Italian ambassador in Kabul would contact Afghan authorities to seek an explanation and was also in touch with other EU diplomats in the country.

Francesco Cossiga, former Italian president, has written an open letter urging Silvio Berlusconi, Italian prime minister, to withdraw Italian troops from Afghanistan if he fails to win assurances from Kabul over Mr Rahman's safety.

"It is not acceptable that our soldiers should put themselves at risk or even sacrifice their life for a fundamentalist, illiberal regime," Mr Cossiga wrote.


What struck me about Mr. Cossiga's letter, though, is that the story makes pretty clear that this sort of situation should not be a surprise, given Afghanistan's constitution:


The trial has highlighted the contradictions in Afghanistan's constitution, which enshrines religious freedom on one hand and upholds the supremacy of Islamic Sharia law on the other. Under Sharia law, renouncing the religion of Islam is a crime punishable by death although Islam respects the right of Christians and Jews to practise their faith.


It's a problem for anybody who supports democracy in this region, since it's not like Sharia is being foisted on Afghanistan and other countries by an illiberal minority.
3.22.2006 1:53pm
Taimyoboi:
The latest development seems to be that the man may be declared insane, and as result, no longer able to be prosecuted and punished.

While it would be nice to know that the Afghan gov't has sought a third route, I'm not sure how comfortable I am with such a precendent: all converts are, by definition insane...
3.22.2006 1:55pm
Taimyoboi:
Here's the AP's post.
3.22.2006 1:56pm
Nobody Special:
Does somebody have a translation of the current Afghan constitution?

I ask because news articles on this I've seen state that the constitution both provides freedom of religion and the death penalty for Muslim apostates.

I suspect that, like the article quoted in the first comment, this is actually a misrepresentation, and that the constitution actually affirms Sharia generally, rather than the apostate provision specifically.

That said, I want to check- pretty surprising if they let it through as represented in the news, and, if it is just bad reporting, I'd like to know that as well.
3.22.2006 1:57pm
ATL (mail) (www):
I thought we deposed the Taliban. Or was that all a good dream?
3.22.2006 2:16pm
Unamused:
I'm starting to understand the appeal of "To Hell With Them" hawkishness. I'm glad we spent billions of dollars and sent hundreds of Americans to their deaths to guarantee the rights of savages to be savage.

If this goes through, I say we immediately leave, take the last can of Who hash and even the hooks and some wire, and bomb whatever isn't in the paleolithic back there.
3.22.2006 2:23pm
Guest2 (mail):
Appalling, yes. But surprising? No. Western process doesn't mean Western morality.
3.22.2006 2:49pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
What I am unamused at is the conduct of our press corps here. They may be correct as a matter of factual assessment -- our complaint is the illegitimacy of the charge, not the lack of due process -- but that's beside the point. Isn't it obvious that while we do have a great deal of influence in Afghanistan, this is a rather sensitive subject there (as well as elsewhere in the Middle East), and that if we hope to succeed in protecting this guy (I assume this is our goal), it will be through back channel discussions where we find a face-saving approach, rather than through yelling really loudly and publicly?

So why is the press corps kvetching repeatedly that the government isn't being confrontational enough? Is all they care about a headline? (He asked, rhetorically.)
3.22.2006 2:51pm
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):
I suspect that, like the article quoted in the first comment, this is actually a misrepresentation, and that the constitution actually affirms Sharia generally, rather than the apostate provision specifically.

The article in the Financial Times to which I linked in the first comment above tends to confirm your suspicion.
3.22.2006 3:05pm
Nobody Special:
That's why I said that the first comment makes me suspect as much.

I love the Financial Times- it's good journalism.
3.22.2006 3:06pm
gramm:
This development is more than troubling.

If Afghan law allows for the execution of Christian converts for nothing more than the fact of their conversions, then it is time for US and Allied forces to withdraw from that country immediately. Not a single additional American or Allied soldier should be asked to die for a country and a people who would affirm a death sentence for such a "transgression."

In my view, the United States has accomplished its mission in Afghanistan by toppling the Taliban and exacting a measure of vengeance for the September 11th attacks. Unless we are truly prepared to take on the impossible task of imposing American-style democracy and Enlightenment values on the Afghani people, our job there is done.

Indeed, it is likely time to bring all of our combat troops home from that forsaken region; intensify our efforts to develop and deploy real, alternative fuel sources; and wean ourselves from the only legitimate tie that binds us to the Middle East - - - once and for all.

No More Blood For Oil.
3.22.2006 3:06pm
Anonymous Reader:
This is just to poke fun and stir the pot. (sarcasm/) Whatever happened to separation of church and state? Can the US make a political decision based on religion? Yeah, I know that this is Afghanistan, but we wouldn't want to "impose our morality" on anyone would we?

Anonymous Reader
3.22.2006 3:13pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Obviously the Muslims fear competition from other religions. This does suggest one way to confront radical Islam. Convert them. You cannot fight something with nothing, so we need to offer those who need some kind of spiritual salvation an alternative. If the radical Muslims were secure in their faith, they wouldn't be so intolerant.
3.22.2006 3:14pm
Rob J (mail):


A translation of the constitution is provided here, and after a quick glance it does not seem that death for converts is specifically called for. It does, however, provide in article 2(2) the right to practice another faith within the confines of the law.

Ironically, it also provides in article 119 the oath of office for the Supreme Court, "to support justice and righteousness in accord with the provisions of the sacred religion of Islam...and to execute the duty of being a judge with...nonpartisanship."
3.22.2006 3:16pm
Rob J (mail):
http://www.oefre.unibe.ch/law/icl/af00000_.html
3.22.2006 3:19pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
It seems to me that there are problems for the accused in the constitution.

Article 2 [Religions]

(1) The religion of the state of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is the sacred religion of Islam .

(2) Followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law.

Article 3 [Law and Religion]

In Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.

If somehow the accused has committed a capital offense under either the laws of Afghanistan or Islam, he might not get constitutional protections. It would be nice to hear from a legal expert on this matter.

Was not Afghanistan invaded, conquered and occupied by the US? Yet we approved or at least didn't oppose this constitution. Compare to our occupation of Japan. From Wikipedia:

"The Matsumoto Commission's recommendations, made public in February 1946, were quite conservative (described by one Japanese scholar in the late 1980s as "no more than a touching-up of the Meiji Constitution"). MacArthur rejected them outright and ordered his staff to draft a completely new document."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_constitution

So why couldn't we do the same thing for Afghanistan?
3.22.2006 4:04pm
John Wayne:
If George Bush really cared about freedom, he would immediately renounce all ties with this disgraceful so-called ally.
3.22.2006 4:09pm
chris (mail):
When the Afghan constitution calls for the right to practice faiths other than Islam while simultaneously calling for Sharia, which calls for death for those who renounce Islam, it likely that these are not seen as in conflict by many Muslims. That is, the former is seen at the right of someone born a Christian to practice Christianity. Islam does set up a minority (and oppressed) status for such people. Islam has no mechanism (other than death) for treating Muslim converts who unconvert or those born to Muslim families who renounce Islam. Coming soon to a theater near Europe.
3.22.2006 4:10pm
Unamused:
A. Zarkov:

Different circumstances. Japan, at the time of its surrender, was an ethnically homogenous state with a functioning, legitimate government. That government surrendered unconditionally but generally remained intact and became an instrument through which MacArthur, as the commander of the U.S. military government, could manage the country and propogate his will.

It's really hard to govern an occupied country when the previous government disappears instead of surrendering. Call it a problem with wars that don't generally follow the norms of international relations established in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
3.22.2006 4:21pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
The USG does apply behind the scenes pressures to solve particular problems when a systemic solution is not available.

When American women and children, for example, resident in Saudi Arabia and therefore subject to Saudi law, seek to exercise certain rights--as in the right to leave the country--the US Embassy (and sometimes the President) will work things out of public view.

The fact is that Saudi law is the law of the land. Something that is clearly not legal in Saudi Arabia, though perhaps legal everywhere else, presents a serious problem of sovreignity. The Saudi gov't cannot be seen to go against its own laws and people, but needs to find a solution to an international problem.

Generally, they do this by putting pressure on the obstinate party. A husband refusing to permit his adult daughters to travel, for instance, might be informed that his gov't benefits will disappear, that he will have no hope for any sort of commercial success, that he will be hounded every living, breathing moment of his life. That sometimes works. Sometimes, it takes a sizeable cash payout. Sometimes, he can be reasoned with.

These things don't work when they're headline news, though. Public pressure--particularly in a shame-based society--is almost always counter-productive. Keeping the problem "in-house," as it were, keeps it amenable to solution. By making it everyone's business, then everyone has a say, including the most hidebound reactionaries.

[Note: I'm using Saudi Arabia as an example because that's where I most recently observed/took part in these negotiations. I've seen the same, however, throughout the Middle East and South Asia. I've even seen it in the UK.]
3.22.2006 4:37pm
BU2L (mail):
This travesty provides a good opportunity to reflect on moral subjectivism. For everyone out there who believes that each culture is merely different, but none are better than others, please defend that notion in the face of this.
3.22.2006 4:39pm
Peter Wimsey:
It would seem like freedom of religion should be protected by the reference to the universal declaration of human rights in article 7 of the constitution, which provides:

Article 7 [International Law]
(1) The state shall abide by the UN charter, international treaties, international conventions that Afghanistan has signed, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
(2) The state prevents all types of terrorist activities, production and consumption of intoxicants (muskirat), production and smuggling of narcotics.

Does Islam actually provide for death to converts? I know it prohibits proselytizing by christians and Jews (or this was historically prohibited), but I was unaware of the death-to-converts bit. Does anyone know if this is discussed in the koran and generally accepted to be a part of sharia?
3.22.2006 4:57pm
Ed Dodd (mail):
Cultures are "merely different" as indicated in the above posting. Although we, in our American Way, would like to think that we can make every government and society look like ours - we can not. What we must do however is be willing to stand on our principles. we should not provide aid to governments which do not protect individual rights, human dignity, and be basis of common law. Although at times is seams that we bend the law here so much that we have a hard time defining dignity.

We should tell the afghan government that we will stop all aid if this individual is placed on trial. It is the right thing to do!
3.22.2006 5:02pm
gramm:
BU2L said: "This travesty provides a good opportunity to reflect on moral subjectivism. For everyone out there who believes that each culture is merely different, but none are better than others, please defend that notion in the face of this."

I think you are mistaken, BU2L. The fact that Sharia law might sanction an apostate with death, alone, is not objective evidence of the superiority of western culture, or Christian values, over middle eastern culture, or Islamic values.

What makes this case stink is the context.

I don't much care about whatever particular nonsense a theocratic governments that represent and reflects the views of the broad majority of its citizens dreams up. Nor am I much concerned with the level of depravity to which those citizens willingly succumb in the name of their government.

What riles me up about the possibility that this particular man might be executed for converting from Islam to Christianity is that the United States has committed hefty financial and human resources toward the goal of securing a DEMOCRATIC government in Afghanistan.

The "travesty" here is made such because of our attempt to secure democracy and its attendant civil liberties in Afghanistan, a place where democratic imperatives seem permanently subordinate to theocratic traditions. It is only because my neighbors children have sacrificed their lives -- with mine waiting to make a similar sacrifice -- that this case inspires such loathing.

I don't care about differing moral standards among cultures until I have been asked to turn over my money and my young people in an effort to alter those standards, and the result is abject failure.
3.22.2006 5:21pm
Vovan:
To Mike

This travesty provides a good opportunity to reflect on moral subjectivism. For everyone out there who believes that each culture is merely different, but none are better than others, please defend that notion in the face of this.

I guess a reasonable explanation would have to do, not with the culture of a particular society, but with the degree of fundamentalism present in every culture gaining control of the more moderate elements. I do not believe that in Turkey, or even the central Asian states, muslims who want to convert are faced with the same problem.
3.22.2006 5:24pm
Justin (mail):
I hope this gets forwarded to our GMU booster squad, but congratulations are in order for George Mason and Professor Kimberly Moore, who is George Bush's most recent judicial nominee.
3.22.2006 5:48pm
BobN (mail):

So why couldn't we do the same thing for Afghanistan?


Because we have a president who "respects" religion, especially fundamentalist religion.

The truth is that as the world grows ever smaller, the only solution for everyone is secular rule. We need to trumpet it, like we used to.

We also need to practice it.
3.22.2006 5:53pm
BobN (mail):
I'm glad to see so many people, including noted "conservatives" stand up and voice opposition to this cruel imposition of religious "morality" on an innocent person.

Let's hope that they remember their outrage next time one of our allies imprisons or puts to death yet another gay man or disobedient woman.
3.22.2006 5:56pm
The General:
Where's the Afghani Civil Liberties Union when you need them?
3.22.2006 6:02pm
bluecollarguy:
Plenty of wiggle room for Karzai if he wants it and I guarantee he'll want it.
Surah 2:256 There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is henceforth distinct from error. And he who rejecteth false deities and believeth in Allah hath grasped a firm handhold which will never break. Allah is Hearer, Knower.

Surah 2:257 Allah is the Protecting Guardian of those who believe. He bringeth them out of darkness into light. As for those who disbelieve, their patrons are false deities. They bring them out of light into darkness. Such are rightful owners of the Fire. They will abide therein.


3.22.2006 6:33pm
Brian Macker (mail) (www):
Gramm,

The "travesty" here is made such because of our attempt to secure democracy and its attendant civil liberties in Afghanistan, a place where democratic imperatives seem permanently subordinate to theocratic traditions.


Repeat after me, "A democracy is not a limited republic. A democracy is not a limited republic. ...".

Democracy is compatible with permanent subordination to theocratic traditions. All you need is a majority willing to vote for the execution of any who violate those theocratic traditions.

Bush gave us exactly what he said he would democracy, not a republic limited by the individual rights of it's citizens.
3.22.2006 6:46pm
David Timothy Beito (mail) (www):
I am glad Eugene is finally on the case. Unfortunately, he is still dancing around a fundamental quandry, a quandry that needs to be eventually faced by those VC bloggers who are pro-war.

How can they support, often just by their silence, the Wilsonian effort to spread democracy while, at the same time, call on the Bush admininistration to undermine the autonomy of these democracies just because the voters don't think the "right" way? This is a contradiction.

Perhaps the antiwar Hayekian libertarians had a point, after all, when they warned about the dangerous unintended consquences of going down the Wilsonian road. Perhaps this is also time for libertarians to reopen their debate on this policy.
3.22.2006 7:02pm
David Timothy Beito (mail) (www):
That should be spelled "quandary."
3.22.2006 7:32pm
Brian Macker (mail) (www):
Bluecollarguy,

Surah 2:256 There is no compulsion[2] in religion. The right direction is henceforth distinct from error. And he who rejecteth false deities and believeth in Allah hath grasped a firm handhold which will never break. Allah is Hearer, Knower.

As a competent speaker of the English language I don't see how this surah is in any way tolerant. Compulsion is not a word with a single meaning.

Apologists for Islam utilize the fact that even most English speakers don't know of the more archaic meaning. The first and dominant meaning that comes to mind for most English speakers is the one that means to be forced. However that meaning makes no sense in context. There is a less well-known meaning of compulsion, which means an irrational in irresistible impulse. That meaning makes sense in context.

Here is the definition from the American Heritage dictionary. The proper meaning of this word in the context of the Surah is meaning 2 of compulsion.

compulsion Noun:1a. The act of compelling. b. The state of being compelled. 2a. An irresistible impulse to act, regardless of the rationality of the motivation: "The compulsion to protect the powerful from the discomfort of public disclosure feeds further abuse and neglect" (Boston Globe). b. An act or acts performed in response to such an impulse.

The word compulsion is related to the word compel which has additional meanings.

Let me make a compelling[2][2. Drivingly forceful] argument.

Look at the second sentence of the surah. The right direction is henceforth distinct from error. This sentence is talking about Islam itself. It is talking about the compelling[2] nature of Islam. This would seem to contradict the first sentence if we took the first sentence to mean that there was no forcefulness involved in religion. What about if we instead use the second definition of compulsion? Then the first sentence would be saying that there is no impulsiveness in religion. Which harmonizes with the second sentence.

In other words it really says:

Surah 2:256 There is no irrational impluse[2] in religion. The right direction is henceforth distinct from error. And he who rejecteth false deities and believeth in Allah hath grasped a firm handhold which will never break. Allah is Hearer, Knower.

Muslims are using an equivocation between the two meanings of the word compulsion in order to deceive the non-Muslim as to the nature of the Qur'an.

Muslims hold that Islam is a rational and error free religion. This surah is not about tolerance, but is instead asserting the error free and rational nature of Islam.

I hope that clarifies things for you.

Note that other Surahs have also been used to claim that Islam is tolerant such as these:
109:1 Say: O disbelievers!
109:2 I worship not that which ye worship;
109:3 Nor worship ye that which I worship.
109:4 And I shall not worship that which ye worship.
109:5 Nor will ye worship that which I worship.
109:6 Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion.

This might sound tolerant if you forget the context, the Qur'an. A tolerant interpretation is out of place, since the Qur'an itself is dominated by intolerant statements and sets up a multi-rung hierarchical ladder of human worth with Muslims on the top, Christians lower down, Jews below that, and Idolaters wallowing in the mud below the ladder.

I think the meaning becomes clear if instead of thinking in terms of religious belief you think in terms of skin color. The Qur'anic hierarchy of worthiness is very similar to the US southern racist notions of worthiness with regard to skin color, with whites on the higher rungs, Hispanics, Jews somewhere in the middle, and blacks on the bottom rung. On the Islamic scale idolaters do not even deserve to live showing that their position is even less than that of a black slave. In this light the message of the above surah is not one of tolerance but instead one remembrance of the superior station in life of Muslims over non-Muslims.

Here is my metaphoric substitution in this light. I have substituted race for religion.
109:1 Say: O niggers!
109:2 My skin is not that which is your skin;
109:3 Nor is your skin that which is mine.
109:4 And my skin shall not be that which is yours.
109:5 Nor will your skin be that which mine.
109:6 Unto you your race, and unto me my race.

Now you might think that this is colored by my translation of disbelievers to niggers, but that would be to ignore the copious use of the word disbeliever as a derogatory term throughout the entire Qur'an. Disbelievers [non-Muslims] are scorned, called liars, called evil, losers, deaf, dumb, and blind. Muslims are warned not to befriend, trust, or marry disbelievers. Muslims are counseled to kill them. Jews are greedy apes and pigs. Christians and Jews are corrupters of Allah's truths. Remember also that these are the inerrant commands and revelations of Allah, not just some guy's opinion.

The Qur'an is also full of double standards that show the second-class nature on non-Muslims. For instance Surah 4:92 states that if you kill a believer then you have to pay restitution plus release a believer slave. What about a non-believer slave? There are surahs that say a non-believer should never be in a position of authority over a Muslim. Muslim men can take non-Muslim women but not vice versa. Sound familiar?

Here is one of the many Surahs that show that non-Muslims are considered of lower station.

4:89 They long that ye should disbelieve even as they disbelieve, that ye may be upon a level (with them). So choose not friends from them till they forsake their homes in the way of Allah; if they turn back (to enmity) then take them and kill them wherever ye find them, and choose no friend nor helper from among them


Other Surahs allow for the "protection" of Jews and Christians so long as they live in Islamic society in a position of Dhimmitude. Dhimmitude is in every way a subhuman state of existence.

So don't be fooled by claims of tolerance. They just aren't true. The empirical evidence is in the way they actually treat non-Muslims. Every Muslim country treats non-Muslims as less worthy. This religious racism is not merely an attitude but is enshrined in law. Christians, Jews, and others are not allowed to build or repair places of worship, are killed for advocating their religion, for falling in love with a Muslim, and it is all enshrined in law.

Islam is a religion founded on double-speak and the double standard. Don't expect words spoken by Muslims to mean what you think they do. Tolerance means intolerance, martyrdom means murder, peace means conquest, persecution means criticism, and so forth.

Muhammad was the Charles Manson of major religious prophets and Islam reflects his warped thinking.
3.22.2006 9:54pm
Brian Macker (mail) (www):
David Beito,
How can they support, often just by their silence, the Wilsonian effort to spread democracy while, at the same time, call on the Bush admininistration to undermine the autonomy of these democracies just because the voters don't think the "right" way? This is a contradiction.


That's just so wrong on so many levels. They support something by their silence? Oh, please.

I haven't read much by the VC bloggers but it is entirely possible to support the war without supporting Bushes policy of setting up theocratic democraies. It is not undermining anyones autonomy to require them to respect individual rights.

The Afghanistan constitution is fatally flawed because it in no way respects individual rights. One can support the war effort, an effort that got rid of a tyrannical theocracy, without supporting every aspect of it. On balance it was the right thing to do.

Besides, we're talking about Afganistan here not Iraq and presumably some large percentage of non-republicans were for this action also. At least they claim to have been.

I have to say that the new form of government instituted is really little better than what the rest of the Islamic world has, and will lead to similar to results.
3.22.2006 10:09pm
Brian Macker (mail) (www):
Vovan,
I do not believe that in Turkey, or even the central Asian states, muslims who want to convert are faced with the same problem.

You would be mistaken.
3.22.2006 10:11pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
Peter Wimsey: Islamic states do not recognize the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Instead, the members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (i.e., all countries which identify themselves as "Muslim") issued in 1981 the Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights, sometimes called the "Cairo Declaration".

This declaration notes the ultimate authority of Sharia' law.

You might want to compare and contrast the two human rights declarations. They are both uttered with the same belief that they are, indeed, universal. They each respresent the world as seen through particular eyes.
3.22.2006 10:15pm
Brian Macker (mail) (www):
Chris,

You are exactly right that Muslims see no conflict between "religious freedom" and the execution of apostates from Islam. Using my racial metaphor, you are free to be a color you are just not free to change your color to one of the unapproved colors.
3.22.2006 10:15pm
Rob J (mail):
How can they support, often just by their silence, the Wilsonian effort to spread democracy while, at the same time, call on the Bush admininistration to undermine the autonomy of these democracies just because the voters don't think the "right" way? This is a contradiction.

I believe that these two points can be reconciled. While democracy is a "majority rule" system, it also must provide some sort of basic protections for all members of its respective society, especially if its constitution claims such protections.

One can advocate the spread of a liberal democracy and still insist that the rulers abide by those basic tenets of a democracy, such as one's freedom to worship a deity of their choice. I do not see a grave contradiction between advocating a democracy in a particular state and then speaking out against the ruling majority when they are (possibly on their way to) reaching a wholly undemocratic conclusion to a religious conversion case.

If we are indeed interested in spreading true democracy to Afghanistan and the rest of the Middle East, we should have no reservations about speaking out against this abomination of both democracy and human decency.
3.22.2006 10:17pm
Brian Macker (mail) (www):
John Burgess,

They are both uttered with the same belief that they are, indeed, universal.


Ethical standards are usually considered universal when they treat everyone as equals. That is they do not enshrine any form of double standard.

Thus a ethically universal prohibition against murder would require that no person is allowed to murder any other. Not that some class of people are allowed to murder while others are not.

The universality of Islamic law is not an ethical universality. Islamic universality is a universality of applicabililty and it doesn't matter if the applied rule contains a double standard. Thus an Islamic prohibition against murder of a Muslim is applicable to all people. Notice how the rule doesn't say that murder of an idolator is in force. In fact, the full rule commands the murder of idolators by Muslims. It is universally applicable in that the rule applies to every idolator whether they like it or not.

Universally applicable rules are not neccesarily ethical. There is justice inherent in ethically universal rules because its equal applicabitily tends to make if fair, even when the rule doesn't make sense on ethical metrics. For instance, if a law were to exact a punishment that was non-proportional then it would not be fully ethical even if it were universally applied. Matters would be worse if it were applied with a double standard. So ethical universality gets you part of the way there.

The problem with universal applicability is that it cannot make an unethical law more just, in fact it makes it less just. The more widely the unethical law is applied the more injustice it causes.

There are many differences in the interpretations of words from the perspective of Western and Islamic standards that make it next to impossible for a non-muslim to understand exactly what a Muslim is advocating. It sounds like the Muslim is advocating ethical positions but the problem is he has different meanings in mind.

This reminds me of a major difference in understanding between leftists and classical liberals on the meaning of the word "equality". One has equality of outcome in mind while the other has equality of justice and opportunity. Both sides advocate "equality", "justice", etc. but have completely different understandings of what the rules should be to acheive these goals. They aren't really advocating the same thing.

So when you hear a Muslim advocating an end to persecution, religious freedom, justice, and equality, you should be frightened, very frightened.
3.22.2006 11:05pm
Vovan:
To Brian Macker

The Koran was written in the 8th century, by 8th century standards its a liberal piece of work. Now you espouse with vigor, that I personally find a little disturbing, that Islam is some sort of a plague to civilization. You have every right to do so, but think for a minute what happened when the last time Christianity was interpreted LITERALLY - well we had the Inquisition.

And you know the only place in the Western World where jews escaped during the inqusition to? Well guess what, the unholy and evil Ottoman Empire - sure they were forced to pay tax, but hey at least they weren't killed en masse.

Now you might say, well that was like 500 years ago, and the Christians have done nothing bad to the jews since then (dang Germans, but hey at least the Pope apologized right). And well you might be right, except that in the Western World Christanity went out of style for around 300 years now, and once it gets back in - G-d knows what will happen then.

If you put a Fundamentalist of ANY religion, in charge of ANYTHING - bad things happen, I cannot understand for the life of me, how some people are unable to grasp that simple fact.

And other thing, for every "evil" and "dangerous" and "hateful" sura that you quote, there is another one that says the opposite, and for 8th century Saudi Arabia those suras sound pretty good too.
3.23.2006 12:53am
Adil Haque (mail):
Peter Wimsey: I don't think anyone ever answered your question: The Qur'an does not prescribe a worldly penalty for apostasy. The legal basis for criminalizing apostasy and punishing it with death comes from two statements (hadith) attributed to Muhammad. One statement is permissive ("No Muslim may be killed unless he or she . . . reverts from Islam and leaves the Muslims"); the other is mandatory ("kill whoever changes his religion") but clearly imprecise (obviously Muhammad did not mean that converts to Islam should be killed). The apostasy debate in Islamic jurisprudence focuses on the evidence that Muhammad actually said these things; the interpretation of the two statements considered individually and in relation to one another; and their continued applicability. I've said a bit more on the subject on Prawfsblawg, if you're interested.
3.23.2006 11:27am
Anderson (mail) (www):
On cultural relativism, I stumbled upon this from Sir Charles Napier, when Indians he was governing were complaining about the prohibition of suttee:
"You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours."
3.23.2006 12:24pm
David Timothy Beito (mail) (www):
One can advocate the spread of a liberal democracy and still insist that the rulers abide by those basic tenets of a democracy, such as one's freedom to worship a deity of their choice. I do not see a grave contradiction between advocating a democracy in a particular state and then speaking out against the ruling majority when they are (possibly on their way to) reaching a wholly undemocratic conclusion to a religious conversion case.

If we are indeed interested in spreading true democracy to Afghanistan and the rest of the Middle East, we should have no reservations about speaking out against this abomination of both democracy and human decency.


Until recently, the favorite term of the warbloggers has been "democracy" with no ifs, ands, and buts. Only recently, after their misguided faith in the ballot has been dashed in Egypt (Muslim Brotherhood gains), Iraq (Shi'ite fundamentalist victory), Palestine (Hamas victory), have they finally began to began to use the term "liberal democracy." Before they generally depicted it as a simple matter of letting the people (who were assumed to be liberty loving) rule and then we could step back. This reflected much sloppy thinking and unreflective optimism. Perhaps you are an exception.

Now with the new emphasis on ensuring "true" or "liberal" democracy....the justifications and pretexts of intervention have become endless. Do you suggest we send troops to defend liberty in Hamastan, or prevent Shi'ites from imposing the veil in Basra, or free journalists now being prosecuted in Kurdistan, or prevent ethnic cleansing in Kirkuk. Do you think we have the financial and human resources to micromanage these new democracies to ensure they stay on the "liberal" straight and narrow? Even if you do, how can you expect the American people (who now think the Iraq war was a mistake) to expend the necessary blood and treasure? Warbloggers can no longer brush aside this can of worms.
3.23.2006 12:43pm
Alan (mail):
As has been widely reported, the U.S. government (as well as governments of other Western nations) is putting tremendous pressure on Afghan authorities to prevent this individual from being criminally sanctioned for conversion.

I'm curious, though, whether there's been any discussion of those efforts in light of the rather heated criticism laid on to the U.S. Supreme Court for its reliance on foreign law in Roper v. Simmons. Conservative observers of the Court were quite put out by the majority's reliance on international legal norms. Kennedy was roundly criticized for having "imported" international jurisprudence into the Constitution.

In light of that criticism, is it appropriate for the U.S. and other governments to try to pressure the Afghan authorities to intervene? We might believe that Afghan law ought to adhere to some generally accepted notion of "freedom of religion." But is it even appropriate for an Afghan court to take international norms into account in adjudicating this case? Is that consistent with what a judiciary is supposed to do (as opposed to changes to the actual Afghani laws or amending the Constitution)?

Albaby
3.23.2006 4:46pm
Brian Macker (mail) (www):
Peter Wimsley,
Does Islam actually provide for death to converts?
Yes.
I know it prohibits proselytizing by christians and Jews (or this was historically prohibited), but I was unaware of the death-to-converts bit. Does anyone know if this is discussed in the koran and generally accepted to be a part of sharia?

The quran is not the only holy book of the Muslims. There is also the al-Hadith. Which is collected testimony from witnesses as to what Mohammed said. Which is more similar to the Christian bible in nature, because it is written by men. The Quran is believed to have been written by a special Pen that Allah commanded to write it prior to the existence of the world.

In the Hadiths Mohammed is quoted as requiring the killing of apostates.

Regarding Surahs on Apostates in the Quran.
Sahih of al-Bukhari has recorded in part 9, p. 18 that:

"The apostate has to be killed based on God's saying in the Qur'an: 'And whosoever of you turns from his religion and dies disbelieving..."' (the Chapter of Cow: 217).

So this is an example of an early Muslim thinks so. You'd think he'd understand the nature of the Quran better than someone a thousand years later.

Here is another section that seems to be even more clear on this. Interpret at will.:

004.089
YUSUFALI: They but wish that ye should reject Faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing: But take not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of Allah. But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them; and take no friends or helpers from their ranks;-
PICKTHAL: They long that ye should disbelieve even as they disbelieve, that ye may be upon a level. So choose not friends from them till they forsake their homes in the way of Allah; if they turn back then take them and kill them wherever ye find them, and choose no friend nor helper from among them,
SHAKIR: They desire that you should disbelieve as they have disbelieved, so that you might be alike; therefore take not from among them friends until they fly in Allah's way; but if they turn back, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them, and take not from among them a friend or a helper.

I intepret this as saying that:

Non-Muslims desire that you convert from Islam because they want you to be the same as them. So don't be their friend until they become Muslims. But if the then turn back from Islam to their old ways, then capture and murder them where ever you find them, and certainly don't take them as friends or helpers.


I could see other interpretations.

You can always do a web search on Islam and apostacy and come up with links like these:

Law
http://answering-islam.org/Books/Zwemer/Apostasy/index.htm

Penalty
http://www.light-of-life.com/eng/ilaw/

Apostasy and Mohammad
http://www.hraic.org/apostasy_and_prophet_muhammad.html

Punishment
http://answering-islam.org/Hahn/Mawdudi/index.htm
http://answering-islam.org/Hahn/2statements.htm
http://www.yahoodi.com/peace/apostacy.html
http://answering-islam.org/BehindVeil/btv1.html
3.23.2006 10:06pm
Brian Macker (mail) (www):

The Koran was written in the 8th century, by 8th century standards its a liberal piece of work.

This is an unsubstantiated claim, and is really so vague that it is meaningless.

As an ethical standard the Koran was a step backwards since around 700 years before there were ethical teachings that were far superior. Things about not throwing the first stone and the like. Furthermore if you consider Confusianism and other ethical traditions it is an even further backsliding.

Now for Arabs of the time it might have been more liberal than existing culture but that isn't saying much.

I assume you are not comparing the behavior and teachings of what was suppose to be a great ethical scholar (at a minimum if not a guy who talks with god), Mohammed, with the typical behavor of the average warlord of the time. Is that what you intend? Did you intend to say that his behavior and or belief is better than the average absolute ruler of the time? That is surely about the lowest standard one can possible come up with considering the rulers were often the least ethical examples of their times. Often the average "Joe ancient" behaved better than their rulers. Similar to modern times with "Great Leaders" like Stalin, Mao, Hitler, and Pol Pot, behaving much worse than millions of the subjects they lorded over.

Now you espouse with vigor, that I personally find a little disturbing, that Islam is some sort of a plague to civilization.

I find the truth about Islam disturbing also, although I don't know what a "plague to civilization" means.
You have every right to do so, but think for a minute what happened when the last time Christianity was interpreted LITERALLY - well we had the Inquisition.

Well, actually I think that conversation is a little beyond the depth of where I would like to go. I'm an atheist and I do believe that certain aspects of the bible are dangerous to civilized behavior. I certainly don't believe that the last time the Bible [not Christianity] was taken literally was as long ago as the inquisition In fact go visit the Westboro Baptist Church Home page and you will see it was yesterday. The literal interpretation of the old testament biblical command to not suffer a witch to live has quite a bit of suffering long after the Inquisition. Are you going to chastise me for bringing up and objecting to that verse?

And you know the only place in the Western World where jews escaped during the inqusition to? Well guess what, the unholy and evil Ottoman Empire - sure they were forced to pay tax, but hey at least they weren't killed en masse.

Now this is an outright lie for several reasons. Jews who were expelled from Spain, they didn't "escape", escaped implies they were being chased down. Secondly, they didn't only resettle in the Ottoman Empire. They when to many different Christian countries. In fact the Pope himself invited them in.

Now you might say, well that was like 500 years ago,

I might and that certainly would be accurate.
and the Christians have done nothing bad to the jews since then

No, I have a better grasp of history than you.
(dang Germans, but hey at least the Pope apologized right).

So are you of the opinion that Jesus wrote Mein Kampft. You seem to be thinking that. Is there someplace in the bible where it says to exterminate the Jews.
And well you might be right, except that in the Western World Christanity went out of style for around 300 years now, and once it gets back in - G-d knows what will happen then.

That inaccurate statement would only bring pleasure to my heart if it were true. It isn't.

If you put a Fundamentalist of ANY religion, in charge of ANYTHING - bad things happen, I cannot understand for the life of me, how some people are unable to grasp that simple fact.

Wow. I better tell my company to fire all those fundamentalist christians and muslims that we have working for us. NOT. In fact one of the best programmers I know is a fundamentalist muslim, and I'd be more than happy to put him in charge of most any development project.

And other thing, for every "evil" and "dangerous" and "hateful" sura that you quote, there is another one that says the opposite, and for 8th century Saudi Arabia those suras sound pretty good too.

This is just an ignorant statement. The bible is much more contradictory than the Quran. The old testament and the new are quite at odds on a number of things. The Quran is not quite the same.

You know the Nazis had all sorts of good stuff too. You know like their concerns with health, animal welfare, social problems, fair labor practices, helping orphans, etc.

Adolph pleas for orphans in Mein Kampf:
teach our European humanity that where parents are not healthy it is a deed pleasing to God to take pity on a poor little healthy orphan child and give him father and mother,


Now the wise man takes into account the fact that the rest of the document is about making orphans and causing havoc. So this good stuff really doesn't count.

After the Koran lays out a systematically invade and plunder non-muslim lands in order to terorize, subjegate, exterminate, pillage and rape, then do the sections that tell you to not cheat any of the Muslim orphans created in the process really count? The Koran has sections title "The Ranks [of War]" and "The Spoils [of War]" and spells out an entire process of Jihad that involves conquiring others killing the men and turning their women into baby factories. The fact that Mohammed banned a few bad practices that other cultures of the times were not practicing in the first place doesn't make him some kind of ethical savior. The problem is that whatever good stuff there is doesn't balance out the bad stuff.

I am sure the Aryan Nation teaches not to murder other racist white people. When it does so it doesn't say it that way. It says, "Kill black people" in one part of their philosophy, and "Do not murder" in another. These do not balance out just because it is opposite. The phrase "Do not murder" has meaning within the context of the philosophy as a whole. In context that same sentence means something quite different when a white supremacist says it than when a Unitarian Universalist says it.

My problem with Islam is that it still is in the 8th century. Christianity has progressed thanks to skeptics like me. Now we need to do the same for Islam. Islam is not peace and it does not provide some superior uber ethical god given set of rules. It's a set of rules by a fanatic who was a member of a tribe that was backwards for it's time. When muslims embrace the fact that it is they who were and are in error in the way they spread their religion in the way the Christians embrace their errors then maybe I will start to be less concerned.

There are many other reasons why I believe Muslims are not currently on the same path that Christians have followed over the past 300 years. They aren't just uninformed petty worries either. There are serious flaws and differences between Islam and the other Abrahamic religious that will not allow them that path.
3.23.2006 11:20pm
Rob J (mail):
David Beito:

I could not agree with your point more. I realize from that post I may have come off sounding like a "warblogger", but, with all due respect, you actually could not be further from the truth. I do not particularly support the military action in Iraq, but do think that the overthrow of the Taliban was a necessary use of force. This thread was also the first time I have ever posted anything in a blog, so that pretty much clears up the "blogger" portion of it.

I completely agree that conservatives often change their tune once free elections result in situations such as this, however, I don't feel that "liberating" people simply includes providing free elections; it goes beyond that into securing these rights once the "democracy" is in place. Democracy, in this case, does include securing those rights for minorities in regions which we have sought to liberate, hence the "true democracy." I have never held the belief that spreading (true) democracy merely involves providing free elections, since this is clearly not always the case, a fact which is evidenced by this situation.

This is one reason that I am so outraged by this situation, because it is a country we have been occupying, and troops have been dying in, all in the name of spreading democracy. If, as I previously stated, we are interested in spreading "true" democracy and ensuring that religious minorities are not arbitrarily (by liberal democratic standards) executed, we must intervene in this situation and make sure that true democracy is being practiced.
3.24.2006 4:58pm