The striking thing about the Abdul Rahman prosecution — in which an Afghanistan court is considering whether to execute Rahman because he converted from Islam to Christianity — is how Establishment the prosecution is. The case is before an official Afghani court. The death sentence is, to my knowlege, authorized by official Afghani law. The New York Times reports that the prosecutor, an Afghan government official, "called Mr. Rahman 'a microbe' who 'should be killed.'" The case is in a country which is close to the West, and is presumably under at least some special influence from Western principles (whether as a matter of conviction or of governmental self-interest).
We're not talking about some rogue terrorist group, or even the government of Iran, which is deliberately and strongly oppositional to the West. We're talking about a country that we're trying to set up as something of a model of democracy and liberty for the Islamic world. And yet the legal system is apparently seriously considering executing someone for nothing more than changing his religion.
This is telling evidence, it seems to me, that there is something very wrong in Islam today, and not just in some lunatic terrorist fringe. Doubtless many, I would hope most, Muslims would not endorse executing converts. But a strand of the religion, and a strand that is not far from the levers of political power in at least some countries, does seem to endorse such a position. This is deeply dangerous, most obviously to residents of countries in which radical Islamism has broad support, but also to residents of Western countries as well.
Nor can this easily be dismissed as an aberration that's not reflective of Real Islam. Real Islam, as I've argued before, is not a coherent whole, but a collection of many strands. Yet some of those strands, and not unimportant strands, represent an ideology that is deeply antithetical to freedom.
Given this, what should the West do? Believing as I do in religious freedom, I emphatically do not think that the bad views of some Muslim movements should lead us to restrict the ideas that Muslims generally — whether moderate Muslims or Islamists — teach in the West.
But neither can we ignore such teachings, when they aim at spreading fundamentally illiberal ideas. We need to criticize those teachings, both ourselves and, when effective, through our own influential institutions. We need to defend those who are getting into trouble for criticizing those teachings (consider the cartoons affair).
We need to call on moderate Muslims to criticize those teachings (just as I have called and would call on moderate Christians to criticize the harmful teachings of Christian radicals). If there's reason to think that some of the extremist Muslim organizations are going beyond teaching to criminal action, we need to keep those organizations under close lawful surveillance. And of course we need to do what we can to protect those outside the West, as well as ourselves, from the sometimes lethal excesses of those teachings.
I was particularly put in mind of this point by the juxtaposition of the Rahman trial and the report by UN special rapporteur [on racism and xenophobia] Doudou Diéne criticizing the publishers of the Mohammed cartoons, and the Danish government for allowing the cartoons' publication. The report says, among other things (some paragraph breaks added):
[T]hree of [the Mohammed] caricatures show: the head of the Prophet wearing a turban in the shape of a bomb with a lit wick, the Prophet in the likeness of a devil holding in his hand a grenade, and the Prophet offering virgin girls to committers of suicide bombings. This constitutes an illustration of three significant tendencies at the heart of the recrudescence of islamophobia.The accusations of "islamophobia," "defam[ation]," "religious intolerance," and promotion of "religious hatred" strike me as quite damaging to serious, sensible Western consideration of the threat that some strands of Islam in fact pose. There really is something to be afraid of. There are true, not false, criticisms being made of important strands of Islam. Religious tolerance and a desire for religious harmony does not require silence about the dangers that those strands pose. And substantive criticism of an ideology (even criticism that I have argued is in some instances unfair, albeit in a way that is probably inevitable in heated public debate) shouldn't be tarred with the charge of "religious hatred."
The publication of the caricatures is, in its chronology, its initial motivation and with regards to the public concerned, revealing of the vulgarizing of defamation of religions. The caricatures published are the result of a contest launched by the newspaper in answer to allegations according to which the Danish cartoonists were so frightened by fundamentalist Moslems that they wouldn’t illustrate a biographical work on Muhammed. Thus the original motivation of the contest is the expression of a challenge and of an opposition to a group, the fundamentalist Moslems, suspected of causing an atmosphere of self-censorship. The identity of the public aimed at by the biographical work, children, reveals a concern for influencing the perception of a religion by a particularly significant and vulnerable age group. The object of the publication, a biography, showed the intention to present not a fiction but the life of the Prophet.
The dominating message of the caricatures was therefore to associate Islam with terrorism. The caricature relating to the sexual gratification of suicide bombers with virgin women suggests the return of a age-old historical islamophobic Western imagery: the association of Islam and its prophet with sexual depravity. The way in which these caricatures defames Islam has now been defined....
On the political level and with regards to the ethics of international relations, the Danish Government has not shown in this question, in the alarming context of the recrudescence of the defamation of religions, in particular of islamophobia as well as anti-semitism and christianophobie, the engagement and vigilance which it usually shows with regards to counter-acting religious intolerance, counter-acting religious hatred and promoting religious harmony. These values are precisely those which give direction, legitimacy and opportunity to the recent launching by the Secretary General of the initiative for an “Alliance of civilizations”.
I would say exactly the same, of course, about the need to criticize and be wary of radical Christian/Jewish/Hindu/etc. groups that preach death to infidels. And of course some centuries ago Christian religious extremism of the sort that we see among some Muslims today was regrettably commonplace. Fortunately, though, it has been some time since Christian governments have threatened to execute apostates. Unfortunately, one cannot say the same about modern Islam.
UPDATE: The New York Times reports:
Afghan clerics used Friday Prayers at mosques across the capital to call for death for an Afghan man who converted to Christianity, despite widespread protest in the West.Thanks to Michelle Malkin for the pointer.
Related Posts (on one page):
- Afghan Charges Against Christian Convert Dismissed:
- Assault Against Islam?
- It's Not Islamophobia When There Really Is Something To Fear:
- Another Reason to Like the Danish Government:
- "Afghan Man Faces Execution After Converting to Christianity":