L’infâme: Afghanistan’s Regression
Taliban Advice and Consent
Pierre Tristam / Candide’s Notebooks, October 24, 2005
A list of implicitly American accomplishments in Afghanistan, posted on the White House’s web site on June 25, states: “Three years ago, women in Afghanistan were whipped in the streets, executed in a sports stadium, and beaten for wearing brightly-colored shoes. Schooling was denied to girls. Today, the constitution gives women the right to vote and guarantees freedom of expression, assembly, and religion. Young girls are attending school. Two Afghan cabinet ministers are women, and a woman leads the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.”
The White House, as always, prefers fabulism over its own agencies’ fact-checking. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, whose commissioners are appointed jointly by the White House and Congress, and whose work is entirely funded by the federal government, notes that in January 2004, “Afghanistan adopted a Constitution that does not include any guarantee of freedom of religion or belief or expression for members of the country’s majority Muslim community against unjust accusations of religious ‘crimes’ such as apostasy and blasphemy.”
“Compounding this inadequacy was the signing in March 2004 of a revised press law that contains a sanction against publication of ‘matters contrary to the principles of Islam or offensive to other religions and sects.’ The State Department as well as the Commission have reported in the past that the vagueness in the definition of what constitutes offensive material allows for the potential abuse of this clause with the aim of limiting freedom of the press and intimidating journalists.”
So it has.
“Women’s Rights” (Haqoq-e-Zan) is a monthly published in Kabul by Ali Mohaqiq Nasab, who happens to be an Islamic scholar, a Shiite, a former refugee in Iran (where he studied), and an unsuccessful candidate for parliament in Kabul last September. The articles he’s run in his magazine have, among other things, questioned the harshness of certain punishments under Shari’a law, such as the stoning to death of women found guilty of adultery, and argued that it is no crime to give up Islam (as it might be to be battered for giving it up). But Afghans still want their stonings. A religious adviser to Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, filed a complaint about Mohaqiq Nasab with the Afghan Supreme Court (where Antonin Scalia would, it appears, feel less of an exile than on First Street). Mohaqiq Nasab appeared twice before the court, without a lawyer, pleading not guilty to a charge of publishing anti-Islamic articles. On Saturday, he was found guilty of blasphemy and convicted to two years in prison. No appeal. “The Media Commission, which under Afghan law is supposed to try press offences,” Reporters Without Borders tell us, “has meanwhile announced that it no longer recognizes him to be a magazine editor.”
Who knew: Afghan law hinges on the advise and consent of the Taliban. They’re not beheading adulterers in stadiums, but the likes of Karzai and his patrons aren’t about to keep heads from rolling elsewhere for same or lesser reasons. No al-Hallaj wanderers, please. No wonder the Taliban’s guns are quieter than Iraq’s fanatics. Why fire a shot when the target is on his knees already? Which reminds me of one of Letterman’s Top Ten April Fool’s Pranks in Afghanistan: “Saying you support the Hamid Karzai government, but secretly supporting a warlord who has secretly begun to support the Taliban again, but then betraying the warlord, but then betraying the Karzai government and really supporting the warlord again.” And posting that on the White House’s Top Ten Lists of Accomplishments.