Or, rather, he mentioned Afghanistan, but simply as a "young democracy" where, thanks to the war on jihadists waged by the United States and its allies, the Afghan people "are looking to the future with new hope." Not Sayed Parwez Kaambakhsh, of course. Kaambakhsh is the 23-year-old journalist sentenced to death last month by an Afghan court for blasphemy. His future is hardly hopeful, especially since Afghanistan's senate this week endorsed his death sentence. (The senate's statement, Agence France-Presse reports, was signed by senate leader Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, "a close ally of President Hamid Karzai.")
Bush couldn't mention the Kaambakhsh case without spoiling the presidential narrative. What kind of "young democracy" infused with "new hope" sentences a citizen to death for "insulting Islam"? The answer is a democracy that enshrines Islamic law (Sharia). But confronting the role of Sharia in Islamic societies -- including those propped up by the U.S. military -- calls into question the strategy of the "war on terror" itself. After all, we're supposed to fight "terrorists" on behalf of peoples who, on liberation, are expected to join us in our "defining ideological struggle" to fight "terrorists." But how do we handle mounting evidence that the peoples we have assisted find themselves in greater sympathy with the Islamic ideology driving the "terrorists" than with our own?
This is the terrible lesson of the Kaambakhsh case, or would be, I think, if it came to wider public attention. How would our presidential candidates react to these blasphemy charges, Afghan style? It seems we'll never know.
Of course, not everyone is ignoring the story. AFP reports this week that the Taliban have weighed in on the case, also calling for "severe punishment" for Kaambakhsh. The jihadist group effectively called for the man's death by labeling him the "new Salman Rushdie" after the Bombay-born British writer whose 1988 Islamic death sentence from Iran marked the arrival of the jihadist movement into the West.
A defining moment, you might say. But no one seems to want to consider what it means.
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