Hogan's Alley

Monday, March 27, 2006

Apparent Release Of Afghan Christian

One of the exchanges between Tim Russert and Condoleza Rice on yesterday's Meet the Press that I found particularly arresting was about the probable release of Abdur Rahman, who was under trial and a probable death penalty for conversion to Christianity. In a post on this topic the other day I was possibly overly dramatic about the stakes of this case. Rice reminded me, based on the example of our own, that democracies do not spring full formed from the void. Rather it takes many decades or longer to reach the state of democracy that now exists in North America and Western Europe. Further, democracy in each state is refined and defined by the culture in which it rises. So democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq will perforce be different from the brand we practice in the United States. It could not be otherwise.

Here is a key section of Rice's wisdom on this topic:

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Afghanistan. There’s a story moving on the wires that the Afghan court has just dismissed the charges against this gentleman who had converted to Christianity. Are you aware that was going to happen?

SEC’Y RICE: I can’t confirm that particular report, Tim. I know that the Afghans are working on it. They’ve been very aware of the issue and of the concerns about the issue. This is a young democracy that is working with a Constitution that, like many constitutions when they’re first born, that the conflicts have to be worked out. We have our own history of conflicts that had to be worked out after a new Constitution. And so, the Afghans are working, working on it, but America has stood solidly for religious freedom as a bedrock, the bedrock of, of democracy. And we’ll see, but I can’t confirm that specifically.

MR. RUSSERT: Should American Christian missionaries be encouraged to go to Afghanistan?

SEC’Y RICE: Well, I think that Afghans are pleased to get the help that they can get. We need to be respectful of Afghan sovereignty.

MR. RUSSERT: Including Christian missionaries?

SEC’Y RICE: We have to be respectful of Afghan sovereignty. And, Tim, respectful of the fact that this is a country that is coming out of 25 years of civil war, a country that’s going to have to find its own way, and a country that is going through one of the most difficult debates that any society goes through, and that is the proper role of religion in the politics of the state. It’s a debate, by the way, that all of us went through at some point in our history.

MR. RUSSERT: But Madame Secretary, we talk all the time about spreading democracy, and your own State Department report on human rights abuses said Afghanistan says that Christianity is punishable by death, that missionaries, Christian missionaries, are not welcome, that women cannot get a passport or leave the country without permission of a man. This is a far cry from the responsibilities and rights given to most people who live in a democracy.

SEC’Y RICE: And it’s also a far cry from the Taliban. This is a country that has come an enormous way in four years, where, yes, the issues of the Constitution are going to be debated in this very traditional society that is trying now to move to a modern political system. I would just ask people to remember how hard this was for us.

Tim, I am, I hate to say, 51 years old, but it’s in my lifetime that black Americans were guaranteed the right to vote. Who are we to be so, so insistent that people must do this overnight? We’re working with the Afghan government. They’re moving in a democratic fashion. It’s going to be hard. But when something arises, as with Mr. Rahman, it is the obligation of the international community and of the United States—and there has been support across Europe for this—that the Afghans be reminded that in their own Constitution they have enshrined the universal declaration on human rights which guarantees certain religious freedoms. We didn’t have that Constitution with the Taliban to work with.

MR. RUSSERT: So Christians should be able to worship. People should be able to convert to Christianity in Afghanistan.

SEC’Y RICE: Of course, Tim. That our—the universal declaration of human rights is, is clear on this. But I would be the first to say that Afghans are going to have to work through some of the difficulties and contradictions.

MR. RUSSERT: But it can’t be done on a case-by-case basis. It has to be ensured.

SEC’Y RICE: They will have to work through court cases, as we have, to interpret the Constitution. They will have to work through individual cases, and I’m quite certain that the evolution of Afghan democracy is going in the right direction. But I would just remind people that four years ago the Taliban was executing people wantonly in stadiums for playing music. This is a country that has come a very, very long way, and women were not being educated at all. It was punishable to educate women. This is a place that has come a long, long way. Let’s support them in their quest to become a modern democracy.