Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

A useless son, a dead man

Joseph Knippenberg reflects on religious freedom in general, and religious freedom in Afghanistan in particular. This is in light of Mr. Abdul Rahman (of Afghanistan) revealing to one too many that he is a Christian. He is now about to die. This is not only a major test of the new Afghan court system, it is a test for Islam, for the statesmanship of both Karzai and Bush. Knippenberg elegantly lays out the issue. A must read!

Discussions - 3 Comments

And a major test of democratization. Will human rights trump mindless populism and mindless religious fanaticism in a country we liberated?
Probably not, but Bush had damned well better do everything he can to stop the execution.

Without intending to detract from the end he serves, I feel compelled to point out that Knippenberg’s argument is questionable on one count and wrong on another. First, he appears to imply that Christianity is inherently tolerant, unlike Islam, and that this is a good thing. But this is not so. Prior to Constantine, Christianity was apolitical. After him, it was intolerant. Under the duress of the Reformation, religious wars, and the Enlightenment it discovered the benefits of tolerance. This was a practical decision, made easier by an appeal to apolitical beginnings. Islam has always been a political religion and hence intolerant. Knippenberg is demanding that Islam become like Christianity. But on what basis?

Knippenberg is wrong to base his argument on the notion that we liberated Afghanistan. We destroyed the Taliban regime as an act of revenge and to remove a further threat. The Afghanis and Karzai had no choice in the matter. To keep in our good graces they have adopted a constitution that speaks our language, not theirs. It is disingenuous to criticize them for not acting according to that language.


I’m well aware of Christianity’s past and nowhere argue that it has always been tolerant. I would argue that its principles lend themselves to toleration.

As for Islam, I’m hesitant to ascribe a univocal and unequivocal meaning to anything in the Koran. There are several different interpretive strands and certainly no authoritative interpretation (in the sense, for example, of the papacy). There are elements in Islam that could be stressed to "reform" it in the direction of a tolerant religion. I think we need to leave Muslims the space necessary to accomplish that. This is a good opportunity for them to do so, beginning with Muslims in the West. Has CAIR, for example, said anything?

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