What happens if Abdul Rahman is set free in Afghanistan and is then killed by a fanatical lynch mob? After all, clerics in Afghanistan have threatened to tear him to pieces. It is an entirely convenient outcome for all concerned. The West can say that they pressured the Karzai government to release him; and they would be right. The Karzai government can claim that they reconciled Western values with Afghan tradition and released the man (albeit on a technicality); and they would be right. The Afghan judiciary can say that they wanted to prosecute him but he was found insane; and they would be right. The Afghan clerics would say that justice must be served, and so a mob killing would be justified; and, by their logic, they would be right.
Everyone wins under this scenario except:
- Abdul Rahman (obviously, I don’t need to explain why he loses here)
- Afghanistan because it does not face the kind of hard choice that societies must confront in order to develop socially and politically
- Islam because it does not get to settle once and for all that the date on the calendar is 2006 and not 622
- The rest of us because we all have a stake in protecting basic human rights (codified internationally in the UDHR).
So, we should not embrace this ducking of the issue by Afghanistan or by our leaders. We should resist it. We should demand that the Afghan constitution resolve the conflict in its language between its acceptance of the UDHR and Islamic Sharia law. We wanted a revolution in that part of the world, well, now we’ve got it. This is the moment of Afghanistan’s liberation, not Tora Bora. We have considerable clout with the Karzai government (we pay his bills and provide for his security). It is time for us to demand a return on our investment. It is time for the Karzai government to move the Taliban out of the Afghan judiciary and offer some real protections. If his government falls, so be it. It was and is an impotent government anyway.
The real war against terror was in Afghanistan until we exported it to Iraq. That war still rages for all Afghanis – in the degradation of women, in medieval justice, in the illiteracy, in the ignorance, in the poverty. We must fight this war, now that we are called to wage it. This war is the "long war", to borrow a phrase. It requires bombs and teachers. It requires guns and books. It requires the exposition of one simple idea: that the basic right of human beings is the right to exist. And to exist means to think (tip to Descartes), and to think freely. All else follows: votes, democracy, wealth, pursuit of happiness, etc.
Whether this President and this Government has the political capital (after the humiliation in Iraq), the political will, and the requisite foresight and competence to carry out this long war remains in great doubt. Past experience suggests that the Administration is not capable of confronting this complex challenge. It pays lip service to words like "freedom" and "liberty" without understanding what lies behind these ideals. This Administration started the process in Afghanistan by removing the Taliban from official power. Now it must follow through by giving the Afghan people the tools needed to remove the Taliban from their lives. Anything less will be another defeat for the United States in this war.
What can we do as citizens? The easy answer is that we should make our leaders accountable to us. We should remind our leaders who the enemy is and who attacked us. We should remind them that those who attacked us are still out there and their mystique grows with the passing of each humiliating day in Iraq for the United States. Our leaders must find a way to contain the damage we have done to Iraq, to ourselves and to our ability to project moral and military power. They must find a way to restore the image of the United States in the world – with each passing day and each defiant swagger of the likes of John Bolton this task is that much harder. Our leaders must restore the international alliances and organizations that we have left in tatters. Our leaders must commit to doing all of these things, or we must send them off to early retirement.
Make no mistake, there is a battle going on not only for the soul of Islam but also for the soul of the United States. Where we stand in this fight will determine what kind of planet we leave our children. We must decide whether we choose a clash of civilizations or a historic leap forward in our understanding of one another. The stakes are nothing less than that.