Sunday, December 11, 2005

Airbrushed Democracy

In March of this year, Laura Bush visited Afghanistan. She said:
We are only a few years removed from the rule of the terrorists, when women were denied education and every basic human right... That tyranny has been replaced by a young democracy and the power of freedom is on display across Afghanistan. We must be mindful though, that democracy is more than just elections. The survival of a free society ultimately depends on the participation of all its citizens, both men and women.
News from Afghanistan very rarely appears in western media reports and many people assume that this is because the media isn't that interested in reporting success. Some progress has undoubtedly been made but the reality is that Afghanistan is still a long way from becoming a successful and stable democratic country. Warlords and drug smugglers continue to exert control over much of the country and strict Islamic laws are still enforced in many rural areas. These areas are not yet fully under the control of the central government of Afghanistan. This is, I think, common knowledge.

What might not be so well known is the extent to which extreme Islamic laws are still being enforced within the new governmental structures implemented since the fall of the Taliban. A Washington Post report on the plight of Ali Mohaqeq Nasab highlights some of these issues. Nasab is currently serving a two year prison sentence for blasphemy. The head of the public security division of the attorney general's office has called for his execution if he does not repent his crimes. And what heinous crimes could warrant such a call?
In his magazine, Nasab suggested that a woman's testimony in court should be given the same weight as a man's, rather than half. He also questioned whether cutting off the hands of thieves was too severe a penalty. Finally, he argued that it was up to God, not to man, to punish Muslims who convert to another religion.
Even in an increasingly authoritarian country such as the UK, you'd struggle to get arrested for "crimes" like these. In Afghanistan, this sort of behaviour warrants two years in jail and the possibility of (legal) execution.

Of course, the power of freedom is on display across Afghanistan. In fact, I'd say it's particularly visible during staged press appearances by notable US visitors.

Here are some facts which remain once the cameras have been switched off and packed away:
  • In Afghan law, a woman's testimony is still considered half as important as that of a man.
  • In Afghan law, the amputation of hands is still considered a legitimate punishment.
  • In Afghan law, non-adherence to strict Islamic belief is still a crime (that's belief mind).
  • In Afghan law, publicly questioning the wisdom of these laws is also still a crime.
  • In Afghan law, Sharia law is still the foundation on which everything else is built.
Visit Afghanistan: the world's foremost beacon of democratic reform.

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