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Staring Down Shariah

By David Warren

We are not finished with Abdul Rahman, yet -- the Afghan who was being tried on the capital crime of converting to Christianity, until international pressure got him released -- for the very reason that the Afghans are not finished with him yet.

As readers may know imperfectly from the usual selective coverage in the media, the "problem" was not with one crazy Shariah judge in Kabul. There have been large demonstrations (riots according to an eyewitness in Mazar) in several Afghan cities; and across the country, prominent imams, whom we had counted as "moderates" in the sense that they had themselves previously been gaoled or persecuted by the Taliban, have been delivering incendiary sermons, demanding that their followers find Mr Rahman and kill him. "Kill" may be a slight understatement, since I gather most specify the sort of torture he should first endure.

That this is no minor issue, nor taken lightly abroad, may be surmised from reports that both the Italian and Australian prime ministers threatened to remove their troops from Afghanistan if Mr Rahman was not released. They, and other leaders of countries with troops in Afghanistan (Canada, for instance) made clear to President Hamid Karzai, in a semi-public way so as also to apprise their own electorates, that they could not possibly continue to sacrifice the lives of their soldiers, to defend a regime in which people are executed for being Christian. Or for any other allegiance of religion or conscience.

Whatever its value to build pressure, such a threat is foolish. We forget that we are in Afghanistan only secondarily to create a democratic constitutional order. This is a means only, towards the primary end of eliminating Afghanistan as a refuge and staging area for international terrorism. The same end could be achieved, hypothetically, by other means. I don't have the stomach to list them. But according at least to the "Bush doctrine", it would be a lot easier, and ultimately less costly in blood and money, if the country could be made responsibly self-governing.

It is difficult to achieve responsibility in politics, even in the West. Those who argue that, given the violence and fanaticism we are encountering, we should get out of such countries as Afghanistan and Iraq, and leave them to their squalid fate, take an extremely irresponsible position. They must first explain what their alternative would be, to eliminate these countries as hatcheries of terror. They must consider the consequences of leaving elected, pro-Western governments, to be overthrown by ruthless psychopaths. They must justify abandoning the huge numbers of innocents who will be butchered and massacred when our troops withdraw -- including everyone who trusted us. And contemplate the effect this spectacle will have on our remaining allies.

"Cut and run" is the opposite of a moral position. But neither is it a practical position. The bargain it offers, even to us, is less pain now, for more pain later -- as Afghanistan and Iraq shift back from being importers to exporters of jihadis.

Yet among those willing enough, for the moment, to send troops and keep shooting, there is the alternative irresponsibility -- which consists in underestimating the size of the task. You have not won a war until your enemy ceases to be your enemy. And by this standard, we are a long way from victory.

The case of Abdul Rahman, like the organized Danish cartoon apoplexy (still continuing in some parts of the world, where Muslim demagogues are still using it to whoop up anti-Western hysteria), brings us face to face with Islamic doctrines inimical to the survival of our civilization. And here, I wish I could say "Islamist", but the unpleasant truth is, Islamic doctrines. For the Shariah principles in question are shared by all four of the Sunni schools of jurisprudence (Maliki, Hanbali, Hanafi, and Shafi'i), plus the Shia school. There is no "sixth school" that recognizes religious and civic freedom, in any way that resembles what these expressions mean in the West.

All five of the actual schools or traditions take a view of idolatry, that entirely removes the possibility of freedom of expression in public life. Moreover, all take a view of apostasy that presents a palpable threat to the life and liberty of every non-Muslim, and excommunicated Muslim. And such doctrines as "jihad" (when interpreted as perpetual holy war against all infidels), and "razzia" (permission to raid and plunder our infidel communities) are not such as can be assimilated with Western jurisprudence.

We cannot pretend for long, the way President Bush has been doing (albeit from humane and sound tactical motives to begin with), that the Shariah is compatible with freedom and democracy. The systems of government we advocate, or by necessity impose, must explicitly provide civil protection to non-Muslims and Muslims alike, against Shariah courts and their rulings. I have come to realize there is no alternative to this.

otiosus@sympatico.ca

© Ottawa Citizen


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