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March 23, 2006

The Abdul Rahman Case - Is Democracy Dead in Afghanistan?

The Abdul Rahman case in Afghanistan has captured the attention of the media and the blogosphere, not to mention the White House. Obviously, we at SCO hope that this convert to Christianity is treated with respect and an open mind by the new government there. So far, the messages are mixed, with the option now on the table to declare Rahman mentally incompetent to stand trial so that the world spotlight on this case of religious freedom dims.

There are those on the Left that suggest that this proves the Afghan Experiment has failed. However, I'd say that this only proves that the budding democracy there is, in fact, budding. No big surprise there. I wonder how long they would have given the 13 colonies before declaring our Constitution a miserable failure. You could still own slaves a generation after the thing was signed, for goodness sake. Entire families of Africans had their lives destroyed under a Constitution that said that all men were created equal. Should they have given up on the whole federal government thing and gone back to being under the thumb of King George?

"georgia10", the author of the linked post at the Daily Kos, has this to say:

Declaring this Christian crazy to spare judicial execution does not solve the deeper problem that such undemocratic and immoral action is enshrined in the text of the Afghanistan Constitution, that same Constitution Bush praised as a hallmark of democracy. Is this democracy? Or is this the type of case that reminds us that freedom is not on the march in Afghanistan, no matter how many purple fingers are waived in the air?

It sounds like "georgia10" has given up and sees no possibility of any kind of future for Afghanistan. Might as well have give it back to the Taliban, eh? Does the Left really have that little faith in the democratic process, of working through your own salvation? There's lots of finger wagging in that post, but it's very short on specific (or even general) alternatives. The move from a theocracy to a democracy is not noted in any way as progress. How sad and pessimistic do you have to be to declare failure at every single setback?

So what do we do? I think it's time to handle Afghanistan the way we handle any other democratic country; apply diplomatic pressure. I think the words coming from the Bush administration are what we should be doing, and perhaps negotiating with the Afghan government to try to resolve this in such a way that hopefully it will enlighten some folks there. What would be really great would be for American Muslims to raise their voices against this situation, and note how well they are treated here and how well freedom of religion works when it's properly done.

Self-government is a learned behavior. You don't learn it by voting in a few elections. However (and to "georgia10's" surprise, perhaps), you'll never get there without a bunch of purple fingers first.

Posted by Doug at March 23, 2006 10:22 PM

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Tracked on March 24, 2006 06:53 AM

» Abdul Rahman - Sort of Free (For Now) from Ordinary Everyday Christian
Lots of other good writing and blogging: Mark Steyn: Islam's No-Exit Strategy (quoted in Michelle Malkin yesterday); Captain's Quarters: Rahman Unbound; Amy Welborn: To be released?; Dr. John Mark Reynolds: On Religious Liberty & Conversion; Smar... [Read More]

Tracked on March 26, 2006 11:34 AM


"Is Democracy Dead" is the wrong question. Whether a functioning democracy will take real root in Afghanistan is an open question. However, let's assume it does. A fully functional democracy can still vote 999,999 to 1 to behead someone for converting to Christianity.

The question is, can Western ideas of pluralism take root in an Islamic society? Theoretically, the answer is yes - Turkey, for example, is relatively pluralistic - but the jury is really still out on that one. The problems illustrated in this case are, I suspect, intrinsic to Islamic society and change will be slow. If we want that change to occur, I think we need missionaries in addition to soldiers. Soldiers can enforce security, root out al Qaeda, catch and/or kill Taliban, deliver supplies, and do all the things we sent them for. But changing a society rooted in Islam will require conversion.

I hope we are willing to do the right thing here and spring the guy by any means necessary, though the consequences may be rather unpleasant in the short term.

Posted by: The Waffling Anglican at March 24, 2006 09:29 AM

Waffling Man: well said.

Posted by: PDS at March 24, 2006 04:01 PM

Waffling man said:
"I hope we are willing to do the right thing here and spring the guy by any means necessary..."

And shall we do this around the world everytime? Invade Cuba or drop bombs on them for every action you and I consider a human rights violation? On North Korea? China?

Ought they take whatever means are necessary to stop us from committing actions that they consider to be human rights violations?

Where does it end? With a burnt-out husk of a peaceful planet?

"By any means necessary," is a diabolical ideal.

Posted by: Dan Trabue at March 24, 2006 06:22 PM


You are right, of course. Yet, I might also ask: Which one should we not try to save? And, in my little hypothetical world, you get to be the arbiter. So, do you pick death for this person? Just wondering.

Posted by: Mark Sides at March 24, 2006 08:31 PM

By the way Dan. You're also right that we should not have invaded Afghanistan. After all, they only sponsored the terrorists who blew up the World Trade Center. I suppose that's not all that important to you, though. We should have lit peace candles at that point to stop them . . .

Posted by: Mark Sides at March 24, 2006 09:06 PM

Help I'm a rock
You Stones people are so intent on grinding on liberals that you shamelessly distort something written by a liberal in order to recast it as some sort of whiney defeatism. I think you do this rather than face the horror of President Bush's incompetence.
The article opens and ends with a focus on the Afgani constitution. the article makes the point that the totally whacko possibility that a person could be subject to the state apparatus and be sentenced to death simply because they changed religion is a possibility born of and suckeled by that states constitution. Democracey is also a product of that constitution. We brought democracey and the constitution to Afganistan by force of arms. The writer is simply pointing out that we created this situation out of haste and incompetence and we should not be so surprised by the frankenstien we created. Should we live with it? Well according to some of the comments its like us and slavery. Just one of those things that has to be worked out. I'm ok with that so long as we understand that it took a hundred years and a major civil war to get rid of slavery. Christians will just have to hunker down, go slow. don't even think about changing religion in afganistan for another 50 years.
I'm not happy with this, just like I was not happy with slavery...However It is here because our president is incompetent. Deal with it.
What I would have done as a liberal is I would have gone in there and kicked Butt on the taliban. I would have made allainces with the warlords. Through traditional carrott and stick methods I would cull the bad ones, over time encouraging and supporting leaders that are willing to give their people more freedom, more education, more rock n roll. Meanwhile I would put a lot of boots on the ground and find Osama. I would not go to Iraq.
the right thing is pretty simple. we did not do the right thing because our government is incompetent.

Posted by: Mike at March 25, 2006 06:13 AM

Christians will just have to hunker down, go slow. don't even think about changing religion in afganistan for another 50 years.
I'm not happy with this, just like I was not happy with slavery...However It is here because our president is incompetent. Deal with it.

So what you're saying is that there is religious intolerance in Afghanistan because Bush is incompetant. By extension, then, since we had slavery in the US, were our Founding Fathers incompetant? Or could it be possible that they preferred an imperfect union of self-government to 13 bickering colonies that wouldn't be unanimous on the slavery issue? If you believe the latter, why then are you unable to give President Bush the benefit of the doubt?

Posted by: Doug Payton at March 25, 2006 09:59 AM

Right you are, Doug. I'm waiting for Mike's answer. Which on of the founding fathers was so incompetant that he created slavery?

Mike calls Afghanistan 'Frankenstein'. If that is the analogy, then I'll claim that the Taliban warlords were Godzilla, in comparison. This is far from ideal, but definately a huge step in the right direction.

Presidents have been trying to create peace and structure in the mid-East for over 50 years, and all basically failed. Now Afghanistan is headed in the right direction, and you claim "horror of President Bush's incompetence" because he hasn't wiped out all racial and religious intolerance in the region overnight.

Politics is all about the 'possible', not the ideal. I think the progress is remarkable, much better than I ever predicted at the beginning of this. The mid-East is on the road to peace. Let's just hope idealists Liberals don't derail the train.

Posted by: bruce at March 25, 2006 12:17 PM

Mark said to me:
"And, in my little hypothetical world, you get to be the arbiter. So, do you pick death for this person?"

Thanks for asking, Mark.

What I would call for is some consistent way of dealing with human rights problems on a global basis. What this looks like to me is:
1. Strengthening and supporting the UN. Yes, it is a failed human creation (as is our congress, our military and any endeavor we undertake - it's a construct for dealing with global issues and something like that is our best chance, it seems to me).
2. Joining and supporting the International Criminal Court (ICC).
3. Creating international rules about what is unacceptable behavior. In the context of the UN and ICC, I think all nations can agree to some basics: Genocide is unacceptable, random state-sponsored killing is unacceptable.

Would some rules be harder to reach concensus upon? Sure. Afghanistan may want to reserve the right to kill any Christian proselytizers. The US may want to reserve the right to capitally punish 16-year-old murderers. It won't be an easy process, but it is a necessary one.
4. Once we have the rules in place, they apply to everyone. If we say that nuclear weapons are a bad idea, then we all get rid of nuclear weapons.

I know many people live in fear of not having nukes ("But we need nukes to ensure our safety!"). Well, Iran may be thinking the same thing.
5. We increase our efforts at arbitration - the globe spends in excess of $1 trillion every year on violent solutions (military, bombs, etc) and probably a few billion (I don't know off hand) on diplomatic solutions. You get what you prepare for. If we want to increase our efficacy at non-violent resolutions to human rights issues, we need to invest in them.
6. We outline what the ICC/UN actions will be for rogue nations and/or those who would oppress folk and we act upon them - in ways that target those who are misbehaving, not in ways that target whole nations or cities.

Do you get where I'm going?

It's not a perfect solution, but neither is it perfect to invade China or Afghanistan each time a human rights violation occurs. Since you asked, this is what makes most sense to me, has the best chance of stopping oppression and the least likelihood of destroying the world, and to do all this in a manner that is not inconsistent with the teachings of my God and the teachings of most world religions.

Sorry for the long answer, but you asked. Thanks.

Posted by: Dan Trabue at March 25, 2006 04:05 PM

Do you get where I'm going?

Yes. Assuming that when dictators and such agree to rules that they'll actually abide by them. Jimmy Carter learned that lesson when N. Korea agreed not to develop nukes if we gave them foreign aid, and then they developed them anyway.

I know where you're going. And that you're eyes are closed while driving there.

Posted by: Doug Payton at March 25, 2006 10:19 PM

I take that back. Jimmy Carter never really learned that lesson.

Posted by: Doug Payton at March 25, 2006 10:21 PM

Mine is a really horrible solution, Doug. I understand that fully. My eyes are wide open.

So, now you're in charge. There are people imprisoned who may even be tortured or executed for questionable reasons in Afghanistan, Cuba, China, Rwanda, Colombia, the Phillipines, Congo, Sudan, North Korea and the United States of America - just for starters.

What actions will you take? Who will you save and how and what will you do about the consequences of your solution?

Posted by: Dan Trabue at March 26, 2006 01:47 AM

The main problem with your solution is that it invests power with organizations that draw awful moral equivalencies between actions. The United Nations, as a concept, is deceptively alluring in a John Lennon "Imagine all the people" sort of way, but when this group sees no problem with heading up a Human Rights panel with countries that are the worst violators of human rights, it should seem obvious that it needs to be remade.

That's why I don't see the UN as any sort of savior, to whatever degree, in solving the world's problems. It's broken to the core because it won't make some crucial value judgements.

And that's what is needed. The nations of the world most willing to make those judgements need to form coalitions as needed and when there is a looming threat. The more we hear about pre-war Iraq, the more documents and tapes come out, the more we find out that indeed Saddam had designs on US and Western interests. (Not to mention he was constantly violating the cease-fire agreement.) It was Reagan's value judgements, those that made liberals quake in their boots every time he called the USSR what it was, that took it down. And, mind you, with no nuclear war that liberal hyperbole constantly insisted was around the corner.

The UN has such a prevailing anti-American attitude, so contrary to all the help the US has given out, and continues to do. Despots and dictators won't leave this high and mighty group nor will they consider anything beyond their own borders. The Western democracies have generally (stress on "generally"--I'm not proclaiming perfection) been far better at promoting liberty than any other civilization you can name. The countries where the people are the freest, I think those are the nations that should be banding together, if indeed there is going to be any formal world body.

My main concern with any sort of world body is that power corrupts, and I prefer decentralization whenever possible, and ad hoc alliances when needed.

Regarding policing the world, no one can do that. But the idea that the UN could is preposterous for reasons I've already mentioned. We must use all diplomatic means possible to bring liberty to other countries while not compromising common sense. Reagan's motto with the USSR was "Trust but verify." Carter's motto when dealing with the North Koreans was "Do you want fries with that?" A UN resolution with despots and dictators isn't worth the parchment it's written on, and sanctions that are broken under the table by "allies" like France and Russia don't do anything to solve problems.

Where would this start? Who would we save first? How about those living under despots and dictators that have designs on us or our allies? Apparently this comes as a surprise to you, but negotiations, not wars, are underway all over the place with the US at the table. While we're trying to talk down N. Korea, we're trying to get the UN to realize that genocide is taking place in Darfur. There are so many other folks who simply won't step up and help out, and thus they won't allow the UN to see what's going on right under its nose. Can talks work with those people or do troops need to be sent in? I don't have the specific answer to that, but I do know that sometimes those who are willing to die for a noble cause (like our Founding Fathers--those who asked for liberty rather than slavery, and would die striving for it) are required. Not always, and ideally not even most of the time, but sometimes.

Faith without works is dead. And sometimes it's mass murder.

Remember, God's people, living in the Promised Land and under God's protection, still had an army that God used to save it from attackers when necessary. They had their eyes open. Sometimes they struck shrewd alliances. Sometimes they had to fight.

Somewhere in all that rambling is your answer. I got started writing this and one thing after another came to mind, so I just got it all down. It just drive me crazy when someone holds up the UN and all the talking and reporting they do as "working" when for over a decade the people of Iraq were oppressed while sanctions were merely enriching the oppressors, and while those oppressors were thumbing their collective noses at those reports and resolutions and cease-fire agreements. It was most assuredly not working. It was indeed a horrible solution. And now, when the first halting steps of self-government hit a stumble, folks of your political persuasion are all ready to point fingers and naysay. Yes, neither sitting around waiting for Saddam to fill another mass grave nor self-government that condemns religious thought is a perfect solution. But I am absolutely positive in my belief of which is better and at least going in the right direction.

Posted by: Doug Payton at March 26, 2006 08:38 PM

Hey I freely acknowledge the limitations of working with any human organization - the UN and Congress included. Trying to use diplomacy is a horrible answer, I admit. It's just that there's no other viable answer, if you provided it in your response, I missed it.

(I know you said, "Begin with the countries that have designs on us?" That could be a pretty big list - we can barely manage a crippled Iraq - how are we going to take on North Korea or China!? That's what I'm asking. How shall we begin with, let's just say North Korea, China and Iran? What's your plan?)

Just one quick clarification.

You said:
"God's people, living in the Promised Land and under God's protection, still had an army that God used to save it from attackers when necessary."

God's people, living in the promised land, were told specifically by God repeatedly throughout the Old Testament to have a small, underarmed militia in times of crisis only and God would deliver, the army would only be there to clean up God's salvation - it was not to be the means of defeating the enemies.

Is that the model you'd propose for the US? If so, then maybe we can come close to agreeing.

Posted by: Dan Trabue at March 26, 2006 10:47 PM

Help! I'm a rock
part two
Our problem with Afganistan was the fact that Osama was allowed to be there and was protected by the government. Thats the problem we had to deal with by using force. The fact that they don't have a democracy in afganistan is a problem that should not be addressed by force. And maybe is none of our business.
We have failed to get Osama. why is that? Is it beyond our competence?
I don't think that the social and cultural structure of Afganistan can support democracy. we shouldn't have forced such a change on them. The fact that the Rahman situation could arise with such ferocity shows that voting and preambles mean nothing if the mind of the people is controlled by religious considerations.
Our president, the "Democracy fairy" was not and is not competent to handle this forced change and shouldn't have committed our troops to the job. So why did he?

Posted by: Mike at March 28, 2006 12:27 AM

The American rebels fought for independence, in spite of the other 1/2 of the colonists who were loyalists. They shouldn't have forced this on them, right?

We still had slavery for a generation before it was removed. Were all our Founding Fathers and first 15 presidents incompetent?

And obviously, voting and preambles meant nothing with that extremely religious Declaration of Independence, and a bunch of right-wing Christian wackos mostly in charge of everything.

Why on earth did we commit so many untrained troops, and suffer so many deaths, when we obviously should just have stayed under the King's thumb. What were they thinking?

Posted by: Doug Payton at March 28, 2006 09:07 AM

But Doug, you're presenting a false dichotomy here. (As you did also with your comment: "Faith without works is dead. And sometimes it's mass murder.")

It's not whether or not we should have strived to get out from the King's thumb. We can all agree that getting out of an oppressive system and striving for self-determination is a good thing.

It's what approach is best justified and most just to do so.

Please quit presenting the two options as either 1. war-making and justice and an end to oppression or,
2. pacifism and mass-slaughter and impotence.

As I've said repeatedly, we ALL stand opposed to oppression. Many of us are working against oppression on both sides. The questions are:
1. Which ways work best? And, for us Christians,
2. Which ways are consistent with Jesus' teachings?

Also, I'm curious what your response is to my Old Testament comment. Do you really think the OT military model is a good one for the US?

Posted by: Dan Trabue at March 28, 2006 10:40 AM

Dan, you're projecting your position onto Mike, replying to me as though Mike says what you're saying. I see nothing at all from his posts that suggests he's got the same position on pacifism as you. I'm responding to his specific comment which was, oddly enough, still related to the post at the top of all this.

You, however, have strayed to your pet issue, which I'll respond to one more time. My point on the Israelite army was to note that they had an army. Related to the other thread on the ingratitude of the CPT (which has also been thread-jacked into the pros and cons of pacifism rather than the main point of graciousness to people from whom you've accepted help), since you seem to make common cause with them, I pointed out that God used violence Himself and through His people's army, which is directly contrary to the CPT idea that no violence should be used at all. (That whip didn't clear the temple by itself, y'know.) I'll not get drawn into yet another debate about military size and use thereof; you and I have done that already. But the point that God uses violence still stands, and I don't see use of violence as a means as de facto unbiblical.

Posted by: Doug Payton at March 29, 2006 09:17 AM

I apologize if what I've done is "thread-jacking," it wasn't my intent. I saw it as related conversation springing from the original post. I was just responding to the responses (in this case, someone's posit that "any means necessary," ought to be used to deal with problems in Afghanistan).

If pacifism is a "pet issue" of mine, it's only because I see it as part of my mission to confront and challenge the church to biblical orthodoxy and sticking to the message of Jesus - an area in which, in my mind, the church is largely apostate.

Jesus spent much time talking about peacemaking, economic issues, challenging the powers that be - in short, the Good News as Jesus defined it. The Church has, instead, made the gospel about opposition to abortion, gays, sex, drinking and cussing and a few other areas (with some differences depending upon the flavor of religion). And so, I'm "on a mission from God..." a task I'm sure you wouldn't want me to shirk?

But I do honestly apologize for getting off-topic. My dilemma is, if I don't respond to questions, sometimes folk say, "see? He couldn't even respond to a simple question - his position is indefensible." You, for instance, in the previous post, kept questioning my analogies. I could respond, but then that would be getting off-topic.

So, how would you prefer I handle such instances?

Posted by: Dan Trabue at March 29, 2006 10:22 AM

When you take a response I make ("God used violence via armies") and get off on a tangent ("Hey, y'know it was a small army"), that's one clue.

Posted by: Doug Payton at March 29, 2006 02:24 PM

Well, keep in mind that Mark asked me what I would do, etc, and I responded (although it was somewhat off-topic). You criticized my remarks and so I asked you what you would do and you responded. I then asked you to clarify your response. But it was already off-topic early on.

Again, in my mind, I was just engaging in the conversation as it grew, as you and others did. I didn't know we were trying to keep right on topic. And it still was on the general topic of what do we do with a troubled nation - I was asking you what you're advocating.

You said my solution wouldn't work, I asked how would yours work, you said one at a time and mentioned the OT army, I said, Oh really?

I'm just not getting your rules, here. Anyway, thanks for what little conversation we did have.

Posted by: Dan Trabue at March 29, 2006 03:51 PM

help! I'm a rock
part three

Doug and Dan, it seems like I dropped in on your own private discussion. While I tend to agree with Dan I am certainly not a pacifist. My point is that afganistan posed a military problem and we should have stuck with a military agenda. The idea as you stated doug that it is good because it is an expirement with democracy is arrogant and judgemental. When I was younger I participated in a similar expirement called viet-nam. When you witness the beneficiaries of the expirement being blown apart, burnt and pulverized you realize that just maybe these types of expirements should not be conducted in other peoples countries.
My second point goes to your comparison to our beginning. suggesting that to criticise Afganistan is to criticise the birth of our nation. The ideas that led to 1776 startd at least in 1215. they evolved over 500 years and blossemed in the enviroment that was appropriate at the time. Afganistan does not have that history. for them democracy is truly being forced on them. I think it is wrong and on top of that I think that our president and his government are not competent to conduct this very iffy expirement.

Posted by: Mike at March 30, 2006 04:44 AM