March 22, 2006 | National Review Online

The Way It Is

Afghanistan's sharia problem--and ours.

Obviously, I agree with the editorial elsewhere on National Review Online today that calls the prosecution of Abdul Rahman in Afghanistan is an “affront to civilization.” I’m constrained to note, however, that if we are willing to live in a world where policy is premised on polite fictions (purporting to give you the out not to deal with hard realities) and expressed in airy ambiguities (relieving you of the obligation to speak clearly and candidly), we will be hard-pressed to be taken seriously when we suddenly call “Time-out!” for a moment of moral clarity.

The editors say the Afghan constitution “stipulates that other religions are free to perform their ceremonies ‘within the limits of the law' (whatever that means).” To the extent the whatever that means parenthetical endeavors to sow ambiguity into the constitution here, it fails. There is no ambiguity.

Islam is the state religion of Afghanistan. The sharia presumptively governs whenever there is not an explicit law directly on point. There is no other law regarding apostasy, and in sharia regimes, apostasy from Islam is a capital offense. End of story.

The right of other religions to perform ceremonies has nothing to do with that hard fact. (See Paul Marshall's excellent NRO piece on this, from November 2003.) Moreover, the within the limits of the law language, far from being ambiguous, manifestly underscores that public exhibitions of the rites of other religions will only be tolerated to the limited extent Islamic law abides them.

Ceremonies, in any event, are not germane to apostasy. Islam considers a person who has become a Muslim the same way it regards territory that has come under Muslim control at some point in its history — you can't go back. Period. (See, e.g., “Palestine” v. Israel).

The editorial's reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights doesn't help. The Declaration is not a treaty. In the U.S., it was considered merely aspirational, not binding — even by Eleanor Roosevelt, one of its principal authors. That, by the way, is the way we want it because there are many things in the Declaration that we would find objectionable if imposed here. Even if it were a treaty, treaties do not create any rights enforceable by individuals against governments, including their own governments. (Again, we would not have it otherwise in our own country.) And the right of conversion, in Islamic countries, would be construed, consistent with sharia, only as a right to convert to Islam, not from Islam.

You reap what you sow. What is happening in Afghanistan (and in Iraq) is precisely what we bought on to when we actively participated in the drafting of constitutions which — in a manner antithetical to the development of true democracy — ignored the imperative to insulate the civil authority from the religious authority, installed Islam as the state religion, made sharia a dominant force in law, and expressly required that judges be trained in Islamic jurisprudence. To have done all those things makes outrage at today's natural consequences ring hollow.

We can pull our heads up from the sand now and say, “No, no, no! We're nice people. We didn't mean it that way. That's too uncivilized to contemplate.” But the inescapable truth is: the United States made a calculated decision that it wasn't worth our while to fight over Islamic law (indeed, we encouraged it as part of the political solution). People who objected (like moi) were told that we just didn't grasp the cultural dynamic at work. I beg to differ — we understood it only too well.

Islamic law does not consider conviction, imprisonment, or death for apostasy to be an affront to civilization. That's the way it is.

Andrew C. McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.