Afghanistan newspaperman charged with blasphemy & lessons learned by Bush?

Professor Friedman’s Religion Clause blog has this report from the AFP:

[I]n Afghanistan, the editor of a small Kabul newspaper, Payman Daily, was arrested Tuesday on blasphemy charges. A a council of Islamic clerics and a government media disciplinary commission found that an article the newspaper published was “an insult to Islam.” The article, not written by the newspaper staff but was taken from an Afghan website, argued that no religion– including Islam– was divinely revealed. The paper, even before the editor’s arrest, had apologized for publishing the article. Punishment for blasphemy can range from a reprimand to the death penalty.

One day later, in his farewell address, President Bush had this to say about his perceived success in Afghanistan:

Afghanistan has gone from a nation where the Taliban harbored Al-Qaeda and stoned women in the streets, to a young democracy that is fighting terror and encouraging girls to go to school.”

I guess I have a few thoughts:

  • No matter how bad it gets in the U.S.  No matter how much civil rights groups complain about the “police state” that America has become.  No matter how much religious separatist groups complain that the First Amendment Establishment Clause has been trampled upon, we’re not Afghanistan.  In America, you can seriously, honestly debate fundamental truths of existence (such as whether democracy is the best form of government, whether God exists, whether war is justified) whether or not your ideas are serious or based in reality (like whether global warming is real, whether aliens are running the government, or Elvis is alive) and you won’t be charged with “sedition” or “blasphemy” or any other crime created by governments frightened of their own people and new ideas.  Of course, if you act on some of those ideas (by, say trying to overthrow the government by military force) you may not be so lucky.  But, except for direct threats to public officials’ lives, in America, you pretty much cannot be imprisoned for what you say, or what you repeat. And even if we are descending into a “police state,” we are a long way from having clerics charge our newspaper writers with blasphemy.
  • It’s a shame that President Bush doesn’t realize the difference between what American democracy is and what the Afghan state is like.  Bush specifically noted that women were being “encouraged” to get an education in Afghanistan, when, just a few days earlier, came reports of girls who had acid thrown in their face because they attempted to attend school. And this newspaper editor is not being harassed by terrorists; he’s being charged, formally, pursuant to the law that is currently in effect.  State-sponsored persecution based upon a challenge to a religious belief.  Is that a successful campaign in nationbuilding in Afghanistan?
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