L’infâme: Afghan Conversion
Islamic Law Blowback
Pierre Tristam / Candide’s Notebooks, March 23, 2006
Abdel Rahman is a 41-year-old Afghan who16 years ago converted from Islam to Christianity, and now finds himself in a Kabul court facing the death penalty for it. It is against Islamic law, you see, to convert away from Islam, the religion of peace and tolerance. The case is raising hackles for those who think, like our Lord and Savior president, that Afghanistan is now just a hillier-than-usual, and bigger, Texan county. President Bush’s pathological aversion to truth still has him free-associating Afghan law with something James Madison might have written. And the majority of Americans who support the Afghan occupation still think the place is worth the fight, and the waste in lives, because they’ve bought into the Thousand-and-Two Night invention by the Bush administration that Afghanistan is somehow a “successful” occupation, rather than a craggier version of Iraq. (See my last installment of Afghanistan’s regression, back in October courtesy of American government accounts.)
Which makes Abdel Rahman’s story, like that of the young poet beaten to death by her husband and mother a few months ago, particularly enlightening about the direction of Afghan rights under American aegis. The story is generating some clear-eyed outrage. But it’s also giving the likes of Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit, where historical perspective is measured, as the blog’s name innocently implies, in nanoseconds, the chance to claim yet again that “[t]his will simply provide more ammunition for those who believe that Islam is incompatible with civilization.” (Because, as we know, the thousand-year Reichian reign of the Catholic Church in Europe and our beloved New World was an orgy of benevolence and earthly bliss for those caught with anything other than a bible chafing their hands.) The story is also giving both liberals and conservatives the kind of equivocating hiccups that show to what extent the notion of objective, universal rights has become just another ideological battleground.
Conservatives would rather not face up to the latest monster they’ve enabled in Afghanistan’s regressive law (Osama, nurtured, paid, trained and gratified by the CIA all those years ago being the original monster). But whenever one or more Christian’s hair is clipped the wrong way in the heathen East, conservatives feel the tug of a crusading call, lunging to the rescue (as long as the lunge is safely rhetorical; the literal part is left to young working class military men who generally don’t give a shit one way or the other whose hair is being clipped as long as it isn’t their own). Liberals hesitate just a bit to embrace a cause conservatives have traditionally made their own, even though this case has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with individual rights. In purely objective terms, converting from Islam to Christianity is not exactly the brightest thing to do, nor the most remarkable from a theological perspective. It’s like switching from Miller Lite to Budweiser: Barleys vary; the micture served up is the same vague yellow pop with a promissory buzz. But freedom is freedom: converting to Christianity should be no more objectionable than converting to any wacko cult, embracing one political party or another, or, for that matter, opting out of heterosexuality. Choice is choice. Bigots lunge in when they think that protecting conversion from Islam to Christianity is God’s work, especially when the context lends itself to sticking it up Islam’s ass one more time, or to propagandizing yet again about Bush’s vague, braveless wars. But protecting a lesbian’s right to lesbianize would be a sin. The contradiction exposes the lie at the heart of conservatives’ defense of Christians. Rights have nothing to do with it. It’s a narrow and exclusive defense of Christianity, and in principle, if not quite in fact, the defense is motivated by the same regressive motives that give Islamic law its bad name.
Abdul Rahman, for all we know, is gay. That would bump up the conundrum quotient.
For his part he thought he was doing something quite useful: he converted while aiding refugees in Pakistan during one of Afghanistan’s not infrequent battles with that western civilization Reynolds’ pundi-tribes seem so proud of. Statutes of limitations, like enlightenment, being nonexistent in many a fanatical believer’s circle, the family managed to turn in poor Abdul over an ongoing family feud, and the rest is up to the prosecution. Last I heard Bush, for once deeming himself “troubled” by the fate of a man facing the death penalty, was pulling for Abdul Rahman while the prosecutor, sensing the pressure, was pulling that old trick of Soviet courts: deeming the defendant unfit to stand trial for reason of insanity. Just as the Soviets could not abide one of their own actually abandoning Communism in his sane mind, they figured that by declaring the poor sap insane, their Red Religion was immune from apostasy. The Afghan court could find its way out of its self-inflicted idiocy by the same means. That won’t save Abdul Rahman from an eventual stoning. But it’ll save face for the Afghan government. It’ll keep those dollars pouring in, and that blood, in defense of Afghanistan’s neo-Talibanism, pouring out. Just don’t expect to see Abdul Rahman at the next State of the Union address, in Washington or Kabul.