Monday, March 27, 2006

Roger Cohen on Abdul Rahman

Abdul Rahman, holding a Bible during a court hearing in Kabul on March 23, 2006.

Abdul Rahman, as you may know, is a man who has been in the news lately for a 'crime' that he allegedly committed sometime after leaving Afghanistan about 16 years ago.

His 'crime'? Conversion from Islam to Christianity.

There's no doubt that he did convert, for he has admitted it, and you can read a summary of his case on Wikipedia. Click on this link, then scroll down to "Abdul Rahman (convert)," and click again. I'd link directly, but Blogger seems to have problems with the percent signs (%) used in some Wikipedia addresses.

Most of the world accepts that individuals are free to choose their own religion, but according to Islamic law (sharia), leaving Islam for another religion is treason punishable by death.

Now, according to this AP report, "Afghan Court Drops Case Against Christian" (Daniel Cooney), an Afghan court has dropped the case for lack of 'evidence,' which may sound strange since Abdul Rahman has admitted that he has converted to Christianity. Here's the explanation, which also makes clear, despite the article's heading, that the case has not been entirely dropped:
Abdul Wakil Omeri, a spokesman for the Supreme Court, confirmed that the case had been dismissed because of "problems with the prosecutors' evidence."

He said several of Rahman's family members have testified that the 41-year-old has mental problems. "It is the job of the attorney general's office to decide if he is mentally fit to stand trial," he told AP.
This implies that a trial could still take place, and a closer reading of the article reveals that the case has been "returned to the prosecutors for more investigation, but that in the meantime, Rahman ... [will] be released," so the possibility yet remains of Rahman being prosecuted.

Clearly, however, the Afghan government would prefer that this issue go away, and claiming that Rahman suffers from mental incapacity is one way out of this embarassing case, for sharia excludes the mentally unfit from punishment.

But that's just an out, and regardless of what the Afghan court ultimately decides, Abdul Rahman's 'case' is no more over than the now quiescent controversy over the Jylland-Posten cartoons depicting Muhammad.

Roger Cohen, "In Afghan Christian, story of larger conflict" (International Herald Tribune, Saturday-Sunday, March 25-26, 2006, Seoul edition), has put the issue into a useful conceptual framework:
[T]here is an overall conflict and there is a war. The war has been declared by Bush against Islamic extremism, the kind that produced the 9/11 attack. The overall conflict is illustrated in the Rahman case.

Here, over the fate of a Christian Afghan, the values of the West and the values of Islam fight each other. They are violently at odds; no ecumenical circumlocution gets around that.
Cohen distinguishes the war raging between Islamic extremists and their enemies from the conflict present everywhere between Islam and the non-Islamic world. Both the war and the conflict are especially sharp with regard to the West.

Cohen's point -- if I may elaborate -- is that the larger Muslim world is not actively at war with non-Muslims, despite the Islamic division of the world into the realm of Islam and the realm of war. Active war of this sort is limited to extremists like those in Al-Qaida. The Islamic extremists' war, however, can only be understood within the context of the larger Islamic conflict.

The upside is that not every Muslim is a violent Islamist, as most of us already understand; the downside is that there's a big problem anyway, a low-grade conflict that feeds into Islamist extremism, though a lot of people still seem to prefer to ignore this.

This big problem, the conflict, is not simply going to slip quietly into the night.


At 10:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the Afgan government is hoping that during his release the convert will be accepted as a refugee by a Western country, thus absolving Afgan law of its responsibility under Sharia to execute him and from its responsibility under its constitution to grant him freedom of expression. He'll be lucky, however, if he's not lynched.

Unfortunately, even if he lives--in exile--that will not help the general populace. I suspect that the best thing (in the context of Afgan society) for him to do would be to go willingly to his execution as Socrates did. As a willing, gentle martyr and an international embarassment, he might make Tertullian's (was it his?) comment that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church come partially true in an Afgan context. I'm not one for converting to Christianity, but I'm all in favor of people converting from Islam to any other faith.

At 12:48 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Nathan, I don't know if Rahman as martyr would have much impact. The early Christian martyrs benefitted the spread of Christianity because the Roman Empire was actually a rather tolerant place for religion. Persecution of Christians was sporadic up until the mid-3rd century, when it took place in earnest for a few years. Because it then stopped and because of the example of martyrdom, which impressed non-Christians as evidence that Christians did believe something worth believing, the Church grew.

Islam presented the Church with a very different challenge -- a similar religion, ostensibly, in which pressure to convert to Islam was systematic, consistent, and long-term.

So long as Islam holds political power in a state, it can maintain these conditions ... which is why Islam aims for political power wherever it takes root.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:52 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Tired Immigrant, I've seen that story before. I've often wondered if it is really true ... or a bit exaggerated.

Anyway, I'm not sure that this sort of explict threat would work with Muslims even if a Western nation were in a position to impose it.

But international pressure, both state and NGO, would be very useful (and perhaps already has been).

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeffery, I share your view that the situation was much more favorable for Christians in the ancient Roman empire, but I don't know what else we can hope for. This man won't survive long in a society that wants him dead. Mark Steyn has an "impeccably multiculturalist" solution. Unfortunately, I think the situation with Islam is much more serious and difficult to change than is his parallel. I just don't know if there is any solution at all, which is a gloomy thought.

At 1:24 AM, Blogger Saur♥Kraut said...

This is the underlying problem with Muslim belief. There's an excellent book (have you read it yet?) called the Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam. It explains a great deal (truthfully and with good insights). I had heard of the case of Abdul Rahman and had prayed for him to be released. I think this is the coward's way out, though, and (as you point out) allows for further trial(s) later and also allows for the trial(s) of others.

At 4:14 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Saur, I haven't read Spencer's book. I'd like to read a lot more on Islam but lack both time and money, so I use the internet to get materials.

I wasn't sure if you were referring to my post/comments or to Nathan's comments in agreeing that the release of Rahman is "the coward's way out," but if you're agreeing with me, then I'd just clarify that I think there is no good way out.

No matter how this case might have been resolved and no matter what we non-Muslims want, there will be more trials.


Becasue I think that we'll be seeing more of these cases as Muslim authorities identify other Muslim-background Christians in various places -- such as Indonesia, where there are many.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

where in the quran or hadith does it say that converting to another religion is punushable by death?

At 6:14 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, if you follow up the links in the blog entry, you'll find that Sharia (in most Islamic legal schools) makes apostasy punishable by death. So far as I know, the Qur'an doesn't explicitly specify this punishment, but Muslim jurists draw upon hadith to support it.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:06 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I had some extra time so I looked on the University of Southern California's USC-MSA Compendium of Muslim Texts for this hadith from Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 52, Number 260:

Narrated Ikrima:

Ali burnt some people and this news reached Ibn 'Abbas, who said, "Had I been in his place I would not have burnt them, as the Prophet said, 'Don't punish (anybody) with Allah's Punishment.' No doubt, I would have killed them, for the Prophet said, 'If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.'"

No context is given here, but this is one of the hadith that Muslim jurists use in apostasy rulings.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:11 PM, Blogger High Power Rocketry said...

Glad to see things are going so well in that country after the war.

Snakes on a plane

At 3:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All immmigrants who want to come to the west should convert.
Much easier than spending years and money doing so legally.
The religious right have overblown this case as very few people actually convert from ISLAM.
This has given the evangelists something to talk about they are hoping thousands will now flock to them?

At 4:16 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymity is getting confusing. I may have to begin excluding anonymous posts so that I can know if the same person is posting or not.

Anyway, Anonymous, while the religious right (and I'm assuming that you mean "Christian" religious right) clearly wasn't happy with the capital case against Rahman, a lot of the protests supporting Rahman came from secular quarters as well. Dating at least from the Enlightenment, one fundamental principle of Western secular thought -- if you'll allow me to oversimplify -- has been that religious belief should be a private matter of personal choice. Thus, secular individuals (not just religious ones) supported Rahman's right to choose his religion.

I'm assuming that you -- whether you be Muslim, Christian, or whatever -- also supported his right to convert to Christianity, regardless of whether many or few individuals convert from Islam to another religion.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes i supported his right to convert and was not happy with the capital case. Even though he converted some 16 years ago this case has been over reported especially by some parts of the christian/evangelist media. I personally know of some evangelist whom talk about the case as if it was a miracle?
The secular media have used the case again to re-inforce the stereotype that islam/muslims are intolerant savages when for example 800 years of islamic tolerance and enlightenment count for nothing.

At 2:33 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Alex, sorry to get around so late in responding to your remark.

I guess that the Rahman affair is just more evidence that wars should be entered into cautiously.

Jeffery Hodges

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