Down the Path to Democracy

By way of Volokh and the Chicago Tribune:

KABUL, Afghanistan — Abdul Rahman told his family he was a Christian. He told the neighbors, bringing shame upon his home. But then he told the police, and he could no longer be ignored.

Now, in a major test of Afghanistan’s fledgling court system, Rahman, 42, faces the death penalty for abandoning Islam for Christianity. Prosecutors say he should die. So do his family, his jailers, even the judge. Rahman has no lawyer. Jail officials refused to let anyone see Rahman on Monday, despite permission granted by the country’s justice minister.

The issue came up in the State Department’s daily briefing yesterday — a great opportunity for the administration that has decided to make its mark by spreading the light of freedom around the world to make a statement on the extreme intolerance and anti-democratic nature of our Afghan allies’ behavior. Here’s what spokesperson Sean McCormack had to say, in part:

“… We are watching this case closely and we urge the Afghani Government to conduct any legal proceedings in a transparent and a fair manner. Certainly we underscored — we have underscored many times and we underscored also to Foreign Minister Abdullah that we believe that tolerance and freedom of worship are important elements of any democracy. And certainly as Afghanistan continues down the pathway to democracy these are issues that they are going to have to deal with. These are not things that they have had to deal with in the past. Previously under the Taliban, anybody considered an apostate was subject to torture and death. Right now you have a legal proceeding that’s underway in Afghanistan and we urge that that legal proceeding take place in a transparent matter and we’re going to watch the case closely. ”

Down the path to democracy? At least he has the direction right. That summary reminds me of the old National Lampoon take on a high school U.S. history book (“The American Spectacle: 1492 to the Present”), with chapters titled (something like), “World War I: Pothole in the Road to World Peace.”

Reporters pressed McCormack to say why the administration isn’t simply calling for an end to the trial instead of merely insisting on judicial transparency; they even asked asked whether he would term the trial troubling. McCormack parried all questions with the response that this is a matter for the Afghans to work out under their constitution and that the administration has made its feelings known — in private — to the government. It’s just not the kind of restraint we’ve come to expect from a group that has dedicated itself to putting all the world’s ne’er-do-wells on notice.

[The update: Bush today says he is “deeply troubled” by the trial. And the Afghan government is having second thoughts about prosecuting Rahman. Not because its law is an expression of religious extremism, but because Rahman may be crazy. From the AP: “… Prosecutor Sarinwal Zamari said questions have been raised about [Rahman’s] mental fitness. ‘We think he could be mad. He is not a normal person. He doesn’t talk like a normal person.’ Moayuddin Baluch, a religious adviser to President Hamid Karzai, said Rahman would undergo a psychological examination. ‘Doctors must examine him,’ he said. ‘If he is mentally unfit, definitely Islam has no claim to punish him. He must be forgiven. The case must be dropped.’ “]

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