Now that the case against Abdul Rahman has been dropped, Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi has offered him sanctuary:
“I say that we are very glad to be able to welcome someone who has been so courageous,” Premier Silvio Berlusconi said.
Berlusconi himself is no slouch in the courage department. And of course who could forget another incredibly brave Italian, Fabrizio Quattrocchi.
The Afghan clerics, however, haven’t given up:
Muslim clerics condemned Rahman’s release, saying it was a “betrayal of Islam,” and threatened to incite violent protests.
Some 500 Muslim leaders, students and others gathered Wednesday in a mosque in southern Qalat town and criticized the government for releasing Rahman, said Abdulrahman Jan, the top cleric in Zabul province.
He said the government should either force Rahman to convert back to Islam or kill him.
“This is a terrible thing and a major shame for Afghanistan,” he said.
Note the word “shame” here, and the notion that killing this man for his change of religious faith would somehow restore a sense of honor! Of course, in the eyes of most of us, it would only have increased Afghanistan’s shame. But Abdulrahman Jan and others don’t seem to agree.
On reading Abdulrahman’s chilling words, The Spanish Inquisition was the first thing that came to my mind. But, on further reflection, I decided that the comparison was not all that apt, despite certain similarities.
The Inquisition, although it featured the same sort of violent religious absolutism with death as the Draconian punishment, was actually dedicated to the opposite goal of Islamic clerics such as Abdulrahman Jan. Inquisitors–including, of course, the famous Torquemada–were interested (or professed to be interested; their motives were probably far more complex than that) in rooting out false converts to Catholicism. They were involved in preventing people from insincerely professing to be Catholics, whereas the Moslem clerics are interested in preventing people from leaving Islam, no matter what their consciences might dictate.
It’s an interesting difference of emphasis, is it not? The Moslem clerics are only looking at the outward appearance of things, whereas the Inquisitors took individual beliefs into consideration, or at least said they did. But both involve imposing the ultimate punishment for what we would consider to be no crime at all: a change of religious conscience. That’s a process our post-Enlightenment minds would regard as the domain of the individual, and solely between him/her and the deity.
The present-day Moslem clerics don’t seem to regard the actual viewpoint of the individual involved to be of any importance; obedience to the faith is the goal, whatever the internal belief system. Of course, in a way, that’s better than the Inquisitors: at least one can get around the Moslem system by a public lie and a profession of adherence to the Moslem faith. That was exactly what the Inquisitors were interested in eliminating.
So, you pays your money and you takes your choice. Suffice to say they are both abominable ways of dealing with a matter of individual belief.
In researching the Spanish Inquisition briefly for this post, however, I came across a fact I hadn’t previously known (that is, if one can believe the Wikipedia article in this respect), which is that the Pope of the time was initially against its excesses, but later bowed to political pressure from Ferdinand and gave the Spanish Inquisition his approval. And note the role of the war with Islam in the entire story of how this pressure was brought to bear:
The Pope did not want the Inquisition established in Spain at all, but Ferdinand insisted. He prevailed upon Rodrigo Borgia, then Bishop of Valencia and the Papal Vice-Chancellor as well as a cardinal, to lobby Rome on his behalf. Borgia was partially successful, as Pope Sixtus IV sanctioned the Inquisition only in the state of Castile…
Sixtus IV was Pope when the Spanish Inquisition was instituted in Seville. He worked against it, but bowed to pressure from Ferdinand, who threatened to withhold military support from his kingdom of Sicily. Sixtus issued a papal Bull establishing the order in 1478. Nevertheless, Sixtus was unhappy with the excesses of the Inquisition and took measures to suppress their abuses.
The Pope disapproved of the extreme measures being taken by Ferdinand, and categorically disallowed their spread to the kingdom of Aragon. He alleged that the Inquisition was a cynical ploy by Ferdinand and Isabella to confiscate the Jews’ property…
Ferdinand had some important levers he could use to bend the Pope to his will. Venice, traditionally the defender against the Turks in the East, was greatly weakened after a protracted war which lasted from 1463 to 1479. The Turks had taken possession of Greece and the Greek islands. France, as always, was looking for signs of weakness which it could use to its advantage. And in the midst of all these threats, in August of 1480 the Sultan of Turkey had attacked Italy itself, at the port of Otranto, with several thousand janissaries who pillaged the countryside for three days, largely unopposed.
Under these conditions, Ferdinand’s position in Sicily — he was king of Sicily as well as Aragon and several other kingdoms — gave him the leverage he needed. He threatened to withhold military support for the Holy See, and the Pope relented.
Sixtus then blessed the royal institution of the Spanish Inquisition. Ferdinand had won everything he sought: the Inquisition was under his sole control, but had the blessing of the Pope.
So the Inquisition received the Pope’s blessing in order to counter the threat of the Moslems battering at the gates of Italy.
Another interesting point is that, although converted Jews were definitely a major target of the Spanish Inquisition, Moslem converts to Catholicism were definitely very much at risk as well:
There were many motivations for Ferdinand to create the Inquisition. Spain, historically an area with disparate religious traditions and ethnic groups, needed a common religion – Catholicism – if it was to have a sense of unity. Ferdinand was particularly concerned with false converts to Catholicism who often remained loyal to the rule of Islam during the final years of Reconquista, and the Inquisition, which had no jurisdiction over non-Catholics, was his method of identifying them.
I mention all of this as a matter of historical interest only. What I’m most definitely not saying is that, because Christianity (or any other religion, for that matter) has had its wretched and horrific (and yes, shameful) excesses, that this fact would in any way justify or excuse what’s happening today with Islam.
The important thing is that today there is no longer any Inquisition in Christianity, nor does there appear to be any on the horizon. In fact, all the great world religions of today seem to have adopted religious tolerance as a whole, as well as respect for the individual religious decisions of adherents, into their worldviews–except for one.
Yes, there are Christian sects who believe nonbelievers are doomed to eternal punishment. Yes, there are members of certain religions who shun and ostracize those who leave the fold. But that’s a far, far cry from calling for their deaths. No, there is only one religion today that does this, and that is Islam.
And yes, I’m sure not all adherants of Islam subscribe to the idea that apostates and converts must die. But it seems to be an extremely common position. It puzzles me that a religion that believes in itself wouldn’t have more faith in its own ability to draw people to the fold–and to keep them there without the rather persuasive compulsion of the threat of death.
[NOTE: And this guy reminds me a bit of the Taliban. Bonfire of the Vanities, anyone?]
[ADDENDUM: Here are some figures on the official Moslem legal position on the crime of apostasy, including how often it is prosecuted in the Moslem world:
A broad consensus exists through much of the Islamic world that apostates from the faith deserve to be killed. This consensus could be glimpsed in Abdul Rahman's case, where the judge, Ansarullah Mawlavezada, said, "In this country we have the perfect constitution. It is Islamic law and it is illegal to be a Christian and it should be punished." Even the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, expected to take a more moderate stance, called for Abdul Rahman's punishment, claiming that he clearly violated Islamic law.
But apostasy laws stretch far beyond Afghanistan. At least 14 Islamic countries make conversion out of Islam illegal. The crime is punishable by death in at least eight of these states, either through explicit anti-apostasy laws or the broader offense of blasphemy.
Official proceedings against those who convert out of Islam are rare, at least in part because most of those who leave Islam choose to keep it secret. More often the government looks the other way while irate citizens mete out their own punishment. In July Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom, estimated that dozens of apostates from Islam had been killed throughout the world in the previous year. Bolstering Marshall's estimate, the Compass Direct News Agency was able to identify 23 expatriate Christian workers who were killed in the Muslim world between 2002 and July 2005.
So, although the law is on the books in many countries, prosecution is usually left to the mob, and is not all that common even then. This, at least, is better than if these prosecutions and/or killings were an everyday event. But still, not very encouraging.
The article concludes with the assertion--and I agree--that it is necessary not only to encourage the growth of democracy in countries such as Afghanistan, but the concomitant protection of human rights. Freedom of religion is one of the most basic human rights--one we hold to be "self-evident," under the rubric of "liberty"--and it must go hand in hand with any democracy.
This idea, of course, is on a collision course with the principles of Islam. The Rahman case is important because it confronted this inherent contradiction, which must be resolved if this sort of thing is not to go on. And since it strikes to the heart of Islam, the resolution is not going to be easy, I'm afraid.]