Helpless Islamic State

I remain very uncomfortable with the mix of religion and politics. An example of what seems to me to be a total mix is that of an Islamic state, where criminal and civil rights and responsibilities are all determined according to interpretations of the Qur’an. My discomfort became more so with a story today, out of Afghanistan:

BBC News Asia
December 2, 2011

Jailed Afghan rape victim freed, but ‘to marry attacker’
Human rights activists says Afghan women are still denied their rights

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has pardoned a rape victim who was jailed for adultery, after she apparently agreed to marry her attacker.

A government statement said she agreed to the marriage, although her lawyer said she did not wish to marry him.

The woman, named as Gulnaz, gave birth in prison to a daughter who has been kept in jail with her.

Senior Afghan officials told the BBC the government put no preconditions on her release.

“President Karzai tasked the minister of justice to go and talk to Gulnaz to see what she wants. During her meeting with the minister, she said she will marry the attacker only if her brother marries the attacker’s sister,” Emal Faizay, a spokesman for President Karzai, told the BBC.

“This is a decision by her. I can confirm that there is no precondition set by the Afghan government.”

Gulnaz’s lawyer told the BBC she hoped the government would allow Gulnaz the freedom to choose whom to marry.

“In my conversations with Gulnaz she told me that if she had the free choice she would not marry the man who raped her,” said Kimberley Motley.

The case has drawn international attention to the plight of many Afghan women 10 years after the overthrow of the Taliban.

Human rights groups say hundreds of women in Afghan jails are victims of rape or domestic violence.

Earlier this month, Gulnaz said that after she was raped she was charged with adultery.

“At first my sentence was two years,” she said. “When I appealed it became 12 years. I didn’t do anything. Why should I be sentenced for so long?”

The most recent appeal saw her sentence reduced to three years.

‘Marriage with conditions’

Some 5,000 people signed a petition for Gulnaz’s release. News of her pardon came in a statement from the presidential palace.

It said a meeting of the judiciary committee had “discussed the issue of rape… and the issue of her imprisonment”.

“As the both sides [Gulnaz and the rapist] have agreed to get married to each other with conditions, respective authorities were tasked to take action upon it according to Islamic Shariah [law],” it said.

“The president ordered the office of administrative affairs and the secretariat of the council of ministers to make the decree of Gulnaz’s release.”

The attack on Gulnaz was brought to light by her pregnancy. Her attacker – her cousin’s husband – was jailed for 12 years, later reduced on appeal to seven years.

Her story was included in a European Union documentary on Afghan women jailed for so-called “moral crimes” – however, the EU blocked its release.

The EU said it decided to withdraw the film – which it commissioned and paid for – because of “very real concerns for the safety of the women portrayed”.

The EU’s Ambassador and Special Representative to Afghanistan, Vygaudas Usackas, said on Thursday he was “delighted” to hear Gulnaz was to be freed.

“Her case has served to highlight the plight of Afghan women, who 10 years after the overthrow of the Taliban regime often continue to suffer in unimaginable conditions, deprived of even the most basic human rights,” he said.

“While we applaud the release of Gulnaz, on the orders of President Karzai, it is the hope of the European Union that the same mercy that has been extended to Gulnaz is applied to all women in similar circumstances.”

Human rights workers criticised the EU for withdrawing the documentary, saying the injustice in the Afghan judicial system should be exposed.

Half of Afghanistan’s women prisoners are inmates for “zina” or moral crimes.

The BBC’s Bilal Sarwary, in Kabul, says recent cases of violence against women are embarrassing for the Afghan government.

Many Afghan women rights activists say there must be an end to the culture of impunity and police must punish all those behind violence against women, he adds.

This is the same country where a person was threatened with execution, for conversion to Christianity:

Afghanistan frees Christian convert
Rahman reportedly released to the UN and awaits asylum
Chicago Tribune, March 28, 2006|By Kim Barker, Tribune foreign correspondent

KABUL, Afghanistan — An Afghan man who faced the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity, sparking one of the biggest political crises in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, was released late Monday.

Abdul Rahman, 42, was sent to an undisclosed location after being held in his own cell inside Afghanistan’s most hard-core prison, home to Taliban and Al Qaeda inmates. Mohammed Eshak Aloko, Afghanistan’s deputy attorney general, said the government no longer had any authority to hold Rahman, pending a mental examination.

“He has been released,” Aloko said. “The United Nations has said they will give him proper treatment for his mental problems and intervened with one of their nations to give him asylum.”

A UN spokesman Tuesday morning said he could not yet confirm Rahman’s status. But the justice minister’s secretary confirmed Tuesday that Rahman had been released into the custody of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and the UN mission in Afghanistan.

The decision caps a week of mounting international pressure on the Afghan government. Many Western officials have said they felt betrayed by a country dependent on Western aid since the Taliban’s fall. The fact that Rahman could face death for a religious choice struck many as barbaric. World leaders, Christian groups and human-rights agencies called for Rahman’s release.

In Afghanistan, the case caused pressure as well. Its constitution protects freedom of religion and human rights, but it also says that Islam is the law of the land. Many Afghan clerics believe that means any Muslim who converts to another religion should face the death penalty, and many Afghans agree. And the judicial system is run mostly by conservative clerics.

But the more moderate Afghan leadership worked behind the scenes for Rahman’s safe release — under the excuse that Rahman is mentally ill, as his family claims. For a while, at least, this will mean Rahman has to leave Afghanistan, largely for his safety.

It’s still not clear how Afghanistan will react to Rahman’s release. Many clerics have called for his death, as have average Afghans. Many are waiting to see what will happen next — and what happens this week when clerics, incredibly influential here, lead Friday prayers.

“This person should be hanged,” said Humayun Hashimi, 32, a tailor. “He has desecrated Islam. That is what our imam said in our mosque.”

At a small protest Monday in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, hundreds of religious students and several clerics called for Rahman’s death and shouted, “Death to America!” But the protest was peaceful, officials said. Violent protests erupted twice in Afghanistan in the past year over religious issues — over the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad and over a Newsweek report, later retracted, that said the Koran had been dunked in a toilet.

If Rahman is treated for his alleged mental problems and returns to Afghanistan, he could again face charges for converting to Christianity, unless he returns to Islam. “We will reopen the case again if he’s fixed,” Aloko said.

Rahman, who reportedly converted to Christianity about 16 years ago while working for a Christian relief group in Pakistan, lived overseas for years before returning to Afghanistan in 2003. Since then, he often had fought with his family, largely because he was unemployed and over the fate of his two daughters.

So, we fought for the freedom of a country where a person who converts to a religion other than Islam faces the death penalty. Where a woman who is raped is jailed for sex outside marriage.

Of interest is the comparative silence of Islamic representatives, condemning these actions outright, as fundamentally offensive against basic human rights. The silence from Muslim representatives who live in and benefit from the freedoms in pluralistic democracies is all the more disturbing. It then becomes up to non-Muslims, it seems, to vehemently oppose Islamic statism, as well as the social outrages of certain elements of Islam. It is one matter to respect religious beliefs that involve basic respect for human freedom and dignity. It is quite another matter to accept, without question, that all tenets of a religion become a social imperative for everyone in a society. That everything is all OK. It is not, in Islam or any other religion.

As a Catholic, I accept that the history of the Catholic Church is not pretty, and that a lot of social harm has been done in the name of Catholicism. Most Christians have some vague idea of the Crusades, though the desecration of Christiantiy, through the actions of the Crusades, remains largely unappreciated. I know about as little as the next person.

What I do know is that I am grateful that, due to the Constitution of Canada, an Islamic state shall never, ever occur here, irrespective of how many Islamic Canadians there might be. Large numbers will never, ever do away with the Charter of Rights. Is there a Charter of Rights in any Islamic state?

What I do fear is that state-sponsored multiculturalism may cause criticisms of certain Islamic social practices or beliefs to be muted, be those practices in Canada or elsewhere, based on some relativistic politeness. There is no relativism about imprisoning a rape victim: it is socially repugnant, barbaric and wrong. There is no relativism about a person facing death for converting to a religion other than Islam: it is socially repugnant, barbaric and wrong.

What I also fear is that the lives lost in Afghanistan may have done little to support the pluralistic freedoms and values which are the hallmark of a contemporary, civilized society. All we may have done is drive out one form of barbarism, to be replaced by another. Such barbarism must be opposed, at every turn, should it manifest itself in any form, in Canada and other pluralistic democracies, or elsewhere in the world.

I am still waiting for broad-based condemnation, by Canadian Muslim organizations, of honour killings. Am beginning to think I may be waiting on their silence, for a long time.

Silence unwelcomed, though its own form of hymn, depending on context:

Postscript, December 6, 2011: The need to speak out against absolute falsehoods or false impressions is illustrated by my comments in relation to honour killings. I implied that such killings were associated with Islam. A Muslim friend points out to me that this is categorically not so. As I should have known; honour killings are found in many cultures; India is a significant example of where honour killings are not rare, in a predominantly non-Muslim country. In addition, honour killings are viewed as being predominantly referenced to culture, not religion, as evidenced from the expert testimony of Dr. Sharzhad Mojab at an honour killing trial in Canada, concerning the deaths of three daughters and a first wife.

About brucelarochelle
This entry was posted in Afghanistan, Canadian Identity, Constitution, Islam, Islamic State, Multiculturalism, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Helpless Islamic State

  1. It appears that the Canadian efforts and lives have been wasted in Afghanistan, and who would have doubted this conclusion, from the very start of the “mission.” You can’t change the values in a culture by sending soldiers from afar to fight native sons with military force, care baskets, and friendly fire. The obvious solution is to let them be themselves, while we disapprove, and ensure, through our immigration policy, that no such people are allowed to come here. There should be a values test for all prospective immigrants, including refugees. If they fail, then they are out, regardless of whatever consequences they claim might befall them, back home.

    It’s interesting to note that Darius I of the Persian Empire, back in the 5th or 6th Century, B.C., began the long series of adventures intended to conquer the Afghans, and save them from themselves. The Greeks, under Alexander et al, the Parthians, the Persians (again), the British, the Russians, the Americans, and lately us, have all tried, and clearly all failed to bring Western or whatever new values to this state. And I am not really surprised. If Afghan troops arrived in Canada to try to re-civilize Canada through force of arms, I would not be welcoming and cooperating with them. So, why do we think they are so different from us, that we can make them like us?

    The media is a danger here as well. The post-colonial attitude of imperialism for someone else’s good is still strong in our Euro-American culture. We seem to believe that we have the right to intervene, whenever another nation espouses values or actions that we do not approve of. The irony is that, in our inevitably failing attempts to liberate foreign nations from themselves, we spend all the resources that could have been used to help the people within our own borders, who still live in Third World conditions, like this First Nations community in northern Ontario, or most of the citizens of Detroit.

    Sure, we should oppose this kinds of barbarities – women imprisoned for being raped and men imprisoned for converting to a non-Muslim religion, but at the same time, we should not support governments that endorse these actions. Suppose Karzai was deposed by the Taliban? Would the Taliban really be any worse? How?

  2. On December 2, 2011, Aymen Shibani commented as follows (Facebook correspondence reproduced with permission):

    Sadly, some Islamic states have a misunderstanding of the Islamic laws, and start mixing them with culture . What is happening in this situation can’t be justified by the Qur’an. It’s more the culture and traditions of this state taking over!

    Unfortunately, that country is still ruled by the wrong mentality, even after the Taliban fell.

    At the end of the day, culture, politics and religion should never be mixed together, in my opinion.

  3. Abdiaziz Ahmed says:

    Hello Sir,

    I appreciate your writing, and it is very articulate. I just have a few qualms which I wish to discuss with you. I am a young Canadian Muslim and I am also a student of the Islamic faith. The concept of honour killing is foreign to the Islamic discourse and the prophetic example. There are many cultural practices which are practiced by Muslims, which are heretical to the faith, and have no place within it, such as honour killings. Thus, I do not believe it is neccessary for Muslims to continually be requested to apologize for actions which have no place in their religion. All Christian Americans were not asked to apologize for the abhorrent bombings that were perpetrated by Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma. This is because there was a realization that this man was not a correct representative of the faith he claimed to be acting in the name of. Why should I feel the need to apologize for the misguided actions of a person who commits an honour killing? This is not part of my faith, and so I see no reason to apologize. Islam ennobled females with rights, and criticized the sexist attitudes of the Arabs; that was the Islamic revelation brought to them.

    Another issue I wish to raise is the point where you said “Is there a Charter of Rights in any Islamic state?”. I am a law student, and am concentrating on Charter rights. All law students are aware that no right is absolute, and that we are all subject to limitations in our rights as specified by Section One of the Charter. Can we as Canadians claim moral authority, when we keep Mohamed Harkat in jail for multiple years with no right to Habeus Corpus. Does the Charter not apply to him as well? Can we claim moral superiority when we send Maher Arar to Syria to be tortured? I am not claiming that Muslim nations have a better and more superior legal discourse. I am just stating the fact that we cannot be judgmental, when we have many issues which tangle up our judicial discourse.

    I appreciate your writing and your discussion on criticial issues. It is a valuable part of our intellectual freedom. None of the above comments are meant to be rude or spiteful, but just an honest discussion of my viewpoint.

    Abdiaziz Ahmed

  4. On December 8, 2011, the following e-mail exchange supplemented Abdiaziz Ahmed’s earlier comments (reproduced with permission):


    What law school are you attending?

    On another note, I don’t believe that your McVeigh analogy is appropriate, in that what he did was neither done on his part in the name of Christianity, nor otherwise associated with Christianity. His religious beliefs, such as they were (or weren’t) are roughly summarized in his Wikipedia profile as follows:

    Political views and religious beliefs

    McVeigh was a registered Republican when he lived in Buffalo, New York in the 1980s, and had a membership in the National Rifle Association while in the military.

    McVeigh was raised Roman Catholic. During his childhood, he and his father attended Mass regularly. McVeigh was confirmed at the Good Shepherd Church in Pendleton, New York, in 1985. In a 1996 interview, McVeigh professed belief in “a God”, although he said he had “sort of lost touch with” Catholicism and “I never really picked it up, however I do maintain core beliefs.” In the 2001 book, American Terrorist, McVeigh stated that he did not believe in Hell and that science is his religion. In June, 2001, a day before the execution, McVeigh wrote a letter to the Buffalo News identifying as agnostic. Before his execution, McVeigh took the Catholic sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.

    Perhaps you might consider rewording your comment in any event. As you will note from the postscript, I have also acknowledged my error with respect to attributing honour killings to Islam, but still believe that some speaking out is required–as will be occurring this Friday, in a number of mosques. To the extent that there is public prejudice, you can choose to ignore it, or counter it with refutational facts.

    Looking forward to hearing from you.


    I am a third year student at Carleton University, in the Department of Law. It is not a law school, but rather an undergraduate law program, which I hope to supplement with a law degree later on. I agree that my Mcveigh comparison was inaccurate. But the jist of my point is that it is not up to an entire religion to apologize for the actions of a few, who do not represent the faith.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s