Opinion: The Source of Conflict Remains Unresolved | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 29.03.2006
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Opinion: The Source of Conflict Remains Unresolved

Abdul Rahman may no longer be facing the death penalty in Afghanistan for converting to Christianity, but that does not mean his case has reached a satisfactory conclusion, says DW's Peter Philipp.


Afghanistan's chief justice Fazel Hadi Shinwari says Islamic law will still apply

Abdul Rahman can exhale -- the Afghan, who for the past two weeks faced trial and a possible death sentence because of his conversion to Christianity, and who was at the center of an international controversy about the Afghan justice system, has been released and will likely be granted asylum in the West. The price he's had to pay? Being declared mentally unstable and therefore unfit to stand trial.

Afghanistan Abdul Rahman droht Todesstrafe weil Christ

Abdul Rahman, who at one point lived in Germany, now seeks asylum in the West

For Rahman, it was a solution. But for the the judicial and political conflict that became evident through his case, it's not. Basically, nothing has really changed in Afghanistan. The arch-conservative Afghan judicial system still insists on using Islamic Sharia law, a code still seen as carrying more weight than secular law. Afghan judges also remain unmoved by the fact that the country's constitution expressly demands respect for human rights, because at the same time, the constitution upholds the supremacy of Sharia law.

Seen on a superficial level only, this puts Afghanistan in the same group with states such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, where religious law is placed above any secular law. The decisive difference, however, is that in these countries, such circumstances have existed for decades -- and the West can only make laborious attempts to steer them in a more liberal direction.

Putting the Afghanistan project at risk

But with the fall of the radical Taliban regime, Afghanistan was meant to benefit from a fresh start. The path to democracy, freedom and the rule of law was to be forged, and it was this goal that moved the world to grant Afghanistan its support -- in the form of money, humanitarian aid and troops for an international peacekeeping force. This assistance seemed to be put in question in one fell swoop with the arrest of Abdul Rahman. How could his prosecution be reconciled with the idea of a constitutional state?

This question did not arise from any Western, nor indeed Christian sense of superiority, rather quite simply, because people recognized that the well-intentioned support for Afghanistan was not fulfilling its purpose.

Karsai unter Druck

Many world leaders pleaded with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to help release Rahman

The first reactions of Afghan politicians made the dilemma more than clear: The appeals from the West -- from Angela Merkel to the pope -- were received as foreign interference and extortion. Only gradually did they begin to see that real concern for the accused and for the future of the whole Afghanistan "project" was behind the outcry. This project has the ambitious goal of catapulting a state -- which under the Taliban really wasn't one at all -- from almost medieval conditions into the modern era -- and that without even trying to do away with its particular cultural and religious character.

This cannot be achieved without compromise -- on both sides. That's why even after Abdul Rahman's case has been resolved, the need for more extensive separation of church and state remains.

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