The American Interest

Neglected New Martyrs

Abdul Rahman, an Afghan who faced the death penalty in his native country for converting from Islam to Christianity, was granted political asylum in Italy and arrived in Rome on March 29.  His release came after several weeks of intense pressure by the United States and other Western governments on Kabul to spare his life and let him leave the country.  Pope Benedict XVI also intervened on his behalf, and millions of Christians all over the world prayed for his safety.

President Hamid Karzai’s government eventually relented, not by removing death for apostasy from the statute book but by proclaiming Rahman insane and therefore unfit to stand trial.  The country was outraged.  Afghan parliamentary deputies and Islamic scholars criticized Karzai for succumbing to Western pressure and demanded that Rahman be executed; ordinary Afghans took to the streets chanting, “death to Christians.”  All of that, in a country that President George W. Bush calls a “key partner” and “an inspiration” that will lead others in the region “to demand their freedom.”

Two important aspects of Rahman’s case have been neglected in the media coverage and public debate: the kind of society that is emerging in Afghanistan, as well as in Iraq, in the wake of the U.S. military action; and the overall treatment of Christians in the Muslim world.  Undue prominence...

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