Friday, June 18, 2010

Death for believing what you believe

What's going on in Afghanistan these days is cause for worry. Karzai threatens to join the Taliban. Karzai suggests that the Americans were behind the attempt to attack the recent jerga. Karzai fires two of the most trusted members of his cabinet. It makes one wonder what Karzai sees on the horizon that the rest of us don't. Or is it what the rest of us don't want to see: a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan? There are even reports that Karzai doesn't believe the American/NATO enterprise in Afghanistan will succeed. With Karzai doubtful and even poisoning the waters against his own allies and with Pakistan committed to supporting at least some of the Taliban, what indeed are the prospects for success in this war?

And then there is the question of persecution because of what people believe and practice in private.

It's hard to get our minds around the abuse of individuals by a government simply because of what they say they believe. What people think, most of us suppose, should not be controlled by the state. But the news that people accused of believing in Christ are being searched out, imprisoned, even possibly sentenced to death, sounds like first and second century Rome, not twenty-first century anywhere. That is what is happening in Afghanistan. A member of the Afghan Parliament has demanded that anyone found to be an honest Christian -- that is, people who won't change what they say they think about Christ even when threatened with death -- should be publicly executed. A number of students in Kabul University say they agree, and about a thousand people in Mazar-e Sharif say they agree. We should not suppose that everyone, or even a plurality of Afghans, agrees, but it is true that in Afghanistan it's the law that anyone who says he thinks otherwise than the state on religious matters should be killed.

It makes you wonder: if there really are people willing to put their lives on the line because of what they believe, how many hold the same ideas but are unwilling to say so?

This is the regime, the legal opinion, and the public conscience that American troops are fighting for.

1 comment:

D. said...

There are several issues brought forward by your post:

First, despite discourses around the “state-building” project in Afghanistan, I doubt that the coalition sought to establish a liberal state (where religious matters would be private), and if it ever did, the lack of emphasis on civil society and an effective political party system would probably explain why the message did not pass through. Lack of attention to issues such as police handling of cases of violence against women is another case in point. These rank very low, from what I can see from my daily experience here.

Beyond this, however, the current emphasis on Islam is understandable given that this has been the legitimating narrative of the anti-soviet fight and remains the only narrative one can actually observe in Afghanistan today. Women I meet through work advocate for raising awareness about women’s right within Islam and using mullahs as the main advocators; discussing Afghan laws and the constitution is seen only as an addition to that main agenda. They also believe their role in the Jehad (providing food for the Mujahedins or suffering the loss of fathers, brothers, husbands and sons) should be officially acknowledged to give them legitimacy in the public sphere.

Changes in Afghan society during the last three decades of conflict have brought warlords to power…and (among others of course) “(village) mullahs”. It is not just Christians who have to hide, many Afghans whose religious practice is not so strong (for example the numerous former communists still in the country, once the secular stronghold of the country), have to display external signs of piety – doing ramazan, going to mosque everyday (probably a remnant of Taleban times where prayers were only to be made at the mosque).

So, although these acts seem repulsive to us and probably hard to understand (why pretend you believe in something you do not), they do make sense in the current fabric of Afghan society – Islam is the way that people have made sense of the last thirty years of history (although there are various ways Islam is used for this purpose of course).