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March 22, 2006
Afghan Christian Gets Official US Protest

The case of Abdul Rahman, the Christian convert in Afghanistan on trial for abandoning Islam, finally got the official attention of the United States yesterday, but unlike in Germany and Italy, the American protest came quietly:

The Bush administration yesterday appealed to Afghanistan to spare the life of a man facing the death penalty for converting to Christianity, but said the matter was one for the Afghan government and courts to decide.

In a case that has sparked international outrage, the remarks of Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns were in sharp contrast to condemnations of the trial by lawmakers and by leading European allies.

Briefing reporters with Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah at his side, Mr. Burns said the U.S. government was watching the case of Abdul Rahman closely, but added, "This case is not in the competence of the United States government. It's under the competence of the Afghan authorities."

But the governments of Germany and Italy, which -- like the United States -- have substantial troop deployments in Afghanistan, lodged strong protests at the prospect of Mr. Rahman's execution, with former Italian President Francesco Cossiga saying Italy should withdraw its 1,775 troops in Afghanistan if the death sentence is handed down.

The American low-key approach may intend to preserve some wiggle room for Karzai with Muslim hardliners in his country. After all, many of them already consider Karzai a sellout to Western forces attempting to strip Afghanistan of its Islamic traditions, and murdering Christian converts is a tradition they seem keen on continuing. Unfortunately, with Afghanistan still working on its stability and facing an insurgency from Taliban remnants, Karzai does not seem terribly interested in rocking that particular boat. The judge handling the case is a Taliban appointee and Karzai has shown no effort to remove him from the bench.

All due respect to Karzai's delicate position, allowing a Taliban appointee to murder a man simply for his profession of faith is simply unacceptable, and the US should register that message at a pay grade higher than that of Nicholas Burns. Karzai should hear this directly from George Bush, and he should understand that Karzai will suffer direct consequences if Rahman's persecution continues. The American people will not support efforts to prop up the Afghanistan democracy if it results in the execution of Christians for just being Christian; we will rightly ask whether we achieved anything in replacing the Taliban with Karzai's government. The new Afghan constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and if the Afghans do not adhere to this clause, then the whole document is unreliable.

We performed a marvelous mission in Afghanistan by liberating 24 million people from brutal oppression and dismantling the terrorist network that operated openly under Osama bin Laden. We can consider that much a success and a necessity in the war on terror. We do not need to support a government that wishes to impose another flavor of radical shari'a in order to justify that mission. Karzai needs to know that, and know it now.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 22, 2006 5:53 AM

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