A religious right

March 23, 2006

An Afghan named Abdul Rahman, who converted to Christianity in the early 1990s, is now on trial for apostasy and faces the death penalty. His estranged family brought the lawsuit that put him in jeopardy.

The courts in Afghanistan are controlled by extremely conservative Islamic judges, and though there is international pressure on President Hamid Karzai to intervene, it would be at great political cost, and he has declined to get involved. Mr. Rahman was told by the judge hearing his case that if he reconverts back to Islam, he will be let go. He says he would just as soon die for his faith; wary prosecutors are now exploring the idea that he is insane.

It sounds like a throwback to the Middle Ages - with some Soviet-style abuse of criminal psychiatric treatment mixed in - but it's happening now, just when those who would like to head off a clash of civilizations need it least. The U.S. overthrew Afghanistan's theocratic Taliban regime in 2001, and is active there still. That's appropriate - but of course it stirred religious resentment.

When Mr. Rahman came home from Germany two years ago, it was to a dangerous land. America and its allies should exert as much quiet pressure to defuse this case, behind the scenes, as possible. Otherwise, the ramifications of Mr. Rahman's trial and punishment could be long-lasting, and very ugly.

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