Afghan citizen Said Musa faces a possible death sentence for converting to Christianity

See here. His case is not the first and surely not the last one in Afghanistan.  Update: Said Musa was released.

Questions:

1. Do you think the international community should intervene and what could be the best leverage, and why?

2. It is not the first case. Is it anything what we can do to change the situation once for all?

Answers:

Robert Canfield, Professor of Sociocultural Anthropology in Arts & Sciences, Washington University in St. Louis

As you no doubt know, Afghanistan like so many other countries is internally conflicted.  I hear that someone on Afghan TV has said there were as many as 10,000 Afghan Christians – no doubt an inflated amount. Even so, that some Afghans have become Christians creates a new problem of identity for many people in Afghanistan who have always assumed that everyone is in some sense “Muslim.”  That any Afghan would declare that he believes in Jesus Christ seems to them a kind of contradiction in terms. And there are strict clerics who believe that anyone who leaves the Muslim fold should be killed.  This of course is a violation of human rights even though Afghanistan is a signatory of the UN Charter on Human Rights.  So far the government has handled these incidents, in which someone’s Christian beliefs have become a public issue, by quietly shipping out those people in order to ensure that they are not executed. What is regrettable about this is that the government is not addressing the contradiction and resolving it clearly and firmly.

I have written on this issue on my blog a few times [see the following dates on the blog: 12/12/10, 11/13/10, 6/18/10].  Also, I have sent letters of protest to several notable figures in the Afghanistan government.  My point with them has been that as a scholar who has admired and respected the Afghanistan peoples for many years and written about their lives and affairs as honestly and fairly as I know how, I have a hard time representing the Afghanistan government in a favorable light when it tolerates the abuse of its own citizens simply on the basis of what they believe.  Personal faith is a kind of sacred right, a right of conscience.  We all should be allowed to hold our opinions and practice forms of worship inasmuch as we are human beings seeking to resolve for ourselves crucial questions about our relationship with God.

Brian Glyn Williams, Associate  Professor of Islamic History, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth

1. The Afghan ulema have declared apostasy to be a sin worthy of the death penalty and called for the killing of an Afghan Christian convert a few years ago (Abdul Hamid). The international community pressured Karzai to release him and he was given sanctuary in Italy. I believe the international community has not choice but to intervene in defense of its shared values. We intervened in Afghanistan in theory to end exactly this sort of barbarism from another era. This case is a  litmus test as to whether or not Afghanistan has freedom of religion or the brutal enforcement of Taliban style Shariah law. The international community has total leverage in this issue in the form of ISAF forces which keep Karzai in power and billions of dollars that keep this artificial state afloat. Why Afghan critics claim that this will undermine President Karzai vis a vis the Taliban, he survived the Abdul Hamid case just fine. I believe such fears are wildly exaggerated.

2. As for your second question, I do not believe there is a whole lot more the international community can do. What is needed is a massive, multi-generational social engineering project to bring the Afghan people into the 20th century and then into the 21st century to overcome this frame of mind. The Afghans are a deeply traditionalist people with values and mores that often seem hard for post-human rights era Westerners in particular to  understand. Their culture has allowed stoning for eloping and adultery and demonstrates many aspects that Westerners find Medieval. Even in the comparatively cosmopolitan Afghan capital one still finds a majority of women in burqas and Islam dominates aspects of life in ways that Christianity does not in Western cultures. The Afghan Communists tried forced social engineering in the 1980s to end this obscurantism and it led to a backlash that still continues to this day.

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