Blogs > Liberty and Power > Afghan Journalist Sentenced to Death for Internet Printout

Jan 23, 2008 5:12 pm

Afghan Journalist Sentenced to Death for Internet Printout

Say, I thought we liberated this country.

Of course, the Islamist theocracy that persists in the Middle East is no joke. But it does seem as though many Americans look the other way when a nation we are ostensibly allied with, or helped secure freedom for, engages in such totalitarianism.

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Sudha Shenoy - 1/25/2008

1. The Afghans, _socially & culturally_, are tribals: a high degree of illiteracy (which means a narrow set of ideas, learnt by rote, _not_ lack of intelligence, shrewdness, etc.) & a genuine lack of education. Afghans would feel lost in the more sophisticated, highly urbanised & cultured parts of the Muslim world -- as any tribals would.

Their govt cannot be otherwise: it is not a deus ex machina.

2. Iraq has another history altogether. Together with Iran, it is unique in having a Shia majority. The differences in _ideas_, customs, attitudes, etc., goes back to the 8th century. These are present in daily life. In addition, there are still tribal groupings, but these are simply social -- they do not connote cultural backwardness.

Iraq is plagued by political power struggles amongst at least three factions: (a) the minority Sunnis (b) what may be called 'Iraqi' Shias, who have little to do with the rulers of Iran -- the group around Moqtada al-Sadr (c) those Shi'i rulers who fled to Iran during the Saddam years. The last two were fiercely suppressed under Saddam but are now have power in different parts of the country. _Amongst other things_, they use this power to impose various restrictions on people that are _not_ so _imposed_ in many parts of the Islamic world (eg Indonesia, Pakistan, etc.)

3. Since at least the mid-19th century, there has been an intellectual movement in Islam to view the Koran through more sophisticated intellectual & cultural lenses, to filter out what are seen as backward tribal customs & views, & to see it in a way more compatible with life in a sophisticated, urbanised, global society. This has naturally led to clashes with the uneducated 'mullahs' & their followers. This movement is strongest in the more urbanised parts of the Muslim world, & barely present in the tribal areas. This is another ever-present element in the picture.

Anthony Gregory - 1/25/2008

Well, Iraq has some backwards Islamicism now, doesn't it?

I'm not bashing Islam here (though I don't agree with it), and certainly I mean not to attack Muslims. But like anything else, Islam can be twisted into tyrannical policies when combined with a state and a statist political culture.

Sudha Shenoy - 1/24/2008

This case would _never_ have been brought in large parts of the Muslim world: it is specifically Afghan in many ways. Uneducated 'mullahs' -- who've simply learned the Koran by rote & know nothing else -- are naturally suspicious of wider thinking. The uneducated & those from tribal contexts, are also hostile towards liberal ideas. This is as much a _cultural_ conflict, between narrow, semi-literate 'traditionalist' thinking, on the one hand, & broader views, on the other. Large numbers of Muslims througout the world would certainly condemn this 'sharia' court -- they would see it as another instance of Afghan social & cultural backwardness.

Anthony Gregory - 1/24/2008

Sudha, you are very correct. I was being way imprecise in my language. I believe it is theocracy when people are punished for the crime of badmouthing a religion, which this case reflects. And I believe killing people over such things is an act of totalitarianism — but I do use these words more broadly than some. I'd say the US has totalitarian policies, too.

Sudha Shenoy - 1/24/2008

Just in case, let me adduce a few facts:

1. What 'Islamist theocracy' in _which_ 'Middle East'? The Islamic world runs from the Atlantic -- North Africa -- to West Africa, to Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, central Asia,the western borders of China, South Asia, Indonesia (the world's largest Muslim country.) There are at least a dozen govts (if not more)& at least half-a-dozen varieties of Arabic, at least 16 other languages, etc.; and around a quarter of the world's population.

There are centuries worth of literature, esp poetry in Persian & Turkish, not to speak of art, ceramics, tiles, architecture, & so on. Culturally, the world runs from illiterate, backward camel-breeders in Arabia, Baluchistan, & parts of Central Asia, to the sophisticated poetry, ceramics, painting of Iran & Turkey, & the music & dance-drama of Indonesia.

Intellectually, there are strong conflicts between 'traditionalists' & 'modernisers': certainly in the urban areas & amongst the Western-educated.

Socially, the Islamic world runs from illiterate nomadic tribes to centuries-worth of trade & sophisticated urban life. Many areas have legal systems derived from France; Indonesia has Roman Dutch law; South Asia have common law.

2. All that the US govt did was a short _invasion & _military_ occupation of Afghanistan. How does bombing, killing & wounding people have _any_ impact at all on people's ideas, customs, outlook? on life in the long-term?

3. What 'totalitarianism'? Afghanistan is generally regarded as one of the more backward parts of the Islamic world -- mainly inhabited by illiterate, uncultured tribals. The court in question is a Muslim sharia court -- Muslim law has been around since the 7th century. Muslim commercial law was copied by the Italian merchants & traders from the 11th & 12th centuries.

Jonathan Dresner - 1/23/2008

Why? Because it casts doubt on the wisdom and success of our Dear Leader? Is that all it takes?

David T. Beito - 1/23/2008

This was posted earlier today at Free Republic and got pulled immediately.