Is Anything Worth Dying For?
by Paul Hein
by Paul Hein
Last month police discovered a Bible in the possession of one Abdul Rahman, of Afghanistan. It was almost the death of him.
Rahman is an Afghani, living in Kabul, a former Muslim who converted to Christianity sixteen years ago. He has not denied his conversion, and apparently has no intention of doing so. In Afghanistan, however, to reject Islam is a crime, and Rahman faced the death penalty upon conviction, though reverting to Islam would have resulted in a dropping of the charges. A neighbor of Abdul's father, Mohammed Jan, echoed a popular sentiment: " — there is no way we are going to allow an Afghan to insult us by becoming Christian. This has brought so much shame."
In the West, opinion was near unanimous that Rahman should be spared. The U.S., as well as Britain, issued appeals to Kabul to let Rahman live and practice his faith. In Kabul itself, prosecutors were worried. On one hand, they have the rather clear and unambiguous laws of their country, which are rooted on Shariah, or Muslim, law. On the other, they had the practical consideration of world opinion to consider; specifically, whether executing Rahman will result in a decrease in foreign aid. It is a matter of great interest — and greater principal.
In their determination to appear staunch defenders of Islam, yet prudent men, the prosecutors grasped at the straw of insanity. Moayuddin Baluch, religious adviser to President Hamid Karzai, said Rahman would be subjected to psychological examination, and prosecutor Sarinwal Zamari was quick to follow up on this idea: "We think he could be mad. He is not a normal person. He doesn't talk like a normal person." (A picture comes, unbidden, to mind: Zamari rending his garments and declaring, "He has convicted himself out of his own mouth!") In the end, they adopted an even more implausible tack: lack of evidence, as if the Bible had become invisible.
So far, the only person whose behavior in this matter has been consistent and straightforward is Rahman himself. He declared himself a Christian, and as far as he's concerned, that's that. What the government did was up to the government, which, being headed by a Bush stooge, was caught on the horns of a dilemma. What IS important, anyway?
For Rahman, the question was simple: He is a Christian, and intends to remain one. If that results in his death, so be it. For the state, it's not so simple. Sure, the laws of the state, based upon Muslim law, require punishment for Muslim converting to Christianity. That's almost open-and-shut. On the other hand, there was the need to curry the favor of the United States and other powerful governments, which didn't want to see Rahman executed.
One would like to attribute noble motives to those who called for Rahman's release and religious freedom, but were they concerned about Rahman, and religious freedom, or was their position based upon the belief that no one could possibly take religion seriously enough to die — or kill — for? But Rahman does, and the people of Afghanistan, if not their government, do too.
In any event, the matter involved an Afghani, in Afghanistan, and Afghan law. George Bush and Tony Blair can express their opinions, of course, but is there any reason why Afghanistan should have given them any more heed than Bush or Blair would to Afghan cries for the release of Zacarias Moussaoui?
Is anything worth dying for? Of course! U.S. policy, for example, has resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent victims — collateral damage! — in the pursuit of some principle or another. Of course, that could be called killing for a principle, not dying for one: it depends on which side of the gun you're standing. Without doubt, many Americans feel that our soldiers killed in Iraq died for some noble principle. For many Muslims, the victims of 911 died for a principle — death to the infidel — but to the U.S., they were simply murdered by terrorists.
But to die for a religious principle? Unheard of, at least in America, in this day and age! Except to Abdul Rahman — and, perhaps — a few others.
March 27, 2006
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