Tempers have been piqued over the fact that in Afghanistan a man named Abdul Rahman is facing charges for converting to Christianity. Reading up on the issue I've noticed a general focus on the fact that we gave these people democracy and now they're not living up to it. Refusal to uphold one of the fundamentals of a democratic society bodes ill for the fledgling, um, democracy. Or so they say. I have a couple points to make on this. First, as Craig pointed out to me earlier today, "Rome wasn't built in a day." You cannot expect democracy to take hold in a hostile environment in so short an amount of time. Why are we so afraid of giving these countries time to develop democracy? Second, while I am impressed that the world has focused its attention on a Christian man in jeopardy for his faith, I would point out that persecution for that reason is nothing new.
I'm not going to say that the Islamic faith and democracy cannot co-exist, because I do not believe that. Furthermore, I am no expert on that particular faith. Yet, it is true that until recently democracy in the Middle East -- an overwhelmingly Islamic area -- has been unwelcome. The ideas that Americans and other Western countries cleave to in democracy are many and complex. While these ideas do not necessarily reflect the dictionary definition of democracy they still exist and are still associated with that theory of government. One of them happens to be freedom to choose one's religion and worship as one sees fit.
In Islamic nations this freedom has not been supported for a majority of the time. Afghanistan has only recently been given the chance to decide the issue for itself. It should be considered unrealistic that the inhabitants will immediately be open to freedom of religion. It's a new thing in a place that has not even considered such a notion until now. It will take time to acclimate such ideas to that country's people. Right now the door is open for debate and liberalization. That means the deal is not over and done with. Women have enjoyed more freedoms in Afghanistan, thus, bringing about a major step in the movement toward liberalization. To think that Afghanistan, or Iraq, are immediately going to cling to these new liberal ideas is unrealistic. It will take time.
Now that it is possible to introduce new ideas and freedoms we have the hope that Afghanistan may adopt freedom of religion within a few years. That hope was all but nonexistant before democratization occurred. Consider the fact that religious freedom did not take hold in the United States until some years after the Constitution had been ratified. James Madison fought for religious freedom in the Virginia legislature because the U.S. Constitution did not keep states from establishing their own religions at that time. If people who already understood concerns of choice could not adopt this liberty immediately how can we believe that those who have never yet been faced with the decision will arbitrate for it without first giving it some consideration?
I know, I know, a man's life could be on the line for this. I'm a hardhearted freak to be saying such things. Okay, point acknowledged. I'm sorry that this man might die. It's a terrible thing to have happen. There are always costs involved in change and the loss of life is one of the most disheartening and shameful costs. I am removed from the situation, but I still feel sympathy for Rahman and his family. Moreover, I am impressed by his unwillingness to denounce the Christian faith despite the pressures he faces. His own people are asking him to convert back or die. That guy is made of amazing stuff.
Interestingly enough, there are others all over the world who are made of the same stuff. Christians still face persecution in many countries. For example, I heard a South African man give a speech once. His name is Pastor Wally. He was once the most wanted person in Saudi Arabia because he started several underground churches. After receiving the death sentence, Wally was kept in solitary confinement in a tiny cell for many days. By nothing less than a miracle he was released from solitary and eventually from prison. He now travels the U.S. speaking his message to others. Yeah, this stuff happens to people. Some, actually do die for their faith. It is not a new thing. It encourages me that for once it is important in the public eye. But I really doubt that will last very long. Nor do I think this is important for the right reasons.
I think that the only reason this particular case is important is that it concerns Afghanistan -- a country where the U.S. introduced democracy. It's just another reason to get mad at Bush. The fact is, religious persecution did not begin when Bush entered the presidency, nor when 9/11 happened. It has always been a problem and especially so in Islamic countries. There are many other countries where religious persecution still exists (e.g. China), sometimes it is deadly, sometimes it is merely restrictive. It is an ongoing problem that will probably never change. It did not develop because Bush got elected, nor will it end after we finish chastizing him for the trial in Afganistan. The persecuted church exists for another reason: people are sinful.