Last week Australia announced it
was sending more troops to Afghanistan. Five months ago the Afghan
Government was preparing to execute an Afghan citizen who returned home
after converting from Islam to Christianity 16 years previously while
working for a Christian aid organization in Peshawar, Pakistan.

That
execution did not take place, but the story is worth retelling because
Australians should be reminded what its troops are actually fighting
for. Abdul Rahman was arrested in March and hauled before a judge who
said: “If he doesn’t revert back to Islam, he’s going to receive the
death penalty, according to the law.” Mr Rahman told the court he had
no regrets about becoming a Christian.

Afghan Government
ministers appeared embarrassed by the incident and searched for a way
to avoid alienating Western supporters like Australia and the United
States while retaining the country’s commitment to sharia law. One
suggestion was that Mr Rahman be declared mentally incompetent.

As The New York Times
editorialised at the time: “That would be a cheap trick because the law
would remain on the books. … If Afghanistan wants to return to the
Taliban days, it can do so without the help of the United States.”

Australian
Government ministers muttered that it was wrong to punish someone for
converting to Christianity. They must have been relieved when the
unfortunate Mr Rahman was repatriated to Rome. That the insanity
defence was invoked by the Afghan Government to allow Mr Rahman to
leave the country drew no comment from the Australian Government even
though there was no retreat by Afghan ministers from their
interpretation that sharia law justified death for converts.

A month after this incident the London Times
reported that at a meeting of the Afghan parliament, bottles were
thrown at a woman MP who dared to interrupt a former warlord as he
praised the holy warriors – or Mujahidin – of Afghanistan during a
debate to mark the anniversary of their defeat of communism.
28-year-old Malalai Joya declared that there were “two types of
Mujahidin – one who were really Mujahidin, the second who killed tens
of thousands of innocent people and who are criminals”.

In the words of Tim Albone of the Times:
“This was a step too far for the parliament’s Islamic extremists and
former warlords, who are still getting the hang of democracy. They
leapt from their seats and rushed towards her. They hurled abuse and
water bottles. Punches were thrown. Even women MPs joined in.”

In
the House of Representatives last Tuesday Prime Minister John Howard
spoke eloquently about Australia’s “need to remain committed to
supporting this fledgling democracy.” As justification for increasing
the Australian troop commitment Mr Howard declared that “our efforts,
and those of our coalition partners, are bearing fruit. Afghans have
embraced democracy and open, democratic institutions are developing.
Afghanistan now has a democratic constitution and a democratically
elected president and parliament.”

Peter Fray

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