Accuracy in Media

President Bush gave a much-publicized speech on November 6 promoting freedom and democracy in the Middle East. But American taxpayers are financing the creation of an authoritarian Islamic state in Afghanistan that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom calls “Taliban-lite.”

As we celebrate Veterans Day, it is important to note that while Afghanistan doesn’t get as much media attention, U.S. military personnel are still fighting and dying there. A new anti-terror military operation has just been launched because terrorists have stepped up their attacks. The new Afghan regime has only limited influence outside the capital city of Kabul.

Another problem is that the Bush administration turned the process of drafting a new constitution for the country over to the U.N. The document doesn’t follow the example of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, part of which prohibits establishment of a national church. Instead, it establishes Islam as the official state religion.

Nina Shea, the director of the Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House and a vice-chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, says that the constitution “omits the individual right of religious freedom altogether and paves the way for a judicial theocracy, despite press reports to the contrary.” She warns of a similar outcome in Iraq.

The commission itself issued a November 4 release stating that, “Contrary to reports in the international media, the new Afghan draft constitution fails to protect the fundamental human rights of individual Afghans, including freedom of thought, conscience and religion, in accordance with international standards.”

The stories about the document have indeed been very misleading. It is said to be Islamic but not hardline. We are told that it “juggles” democracy and the Muslim holy book, the Koran. The Washington Post even ran a story under a headline that said it “fits the U.S. model” because it envisions a president and vice president, two-house legislature, and judiciary.

Both the Post and New York Times also suggested that the document was a setback for Islamic extremists. Post reporter Pamela Constable said the document “stops short of calling for full Islamic law to be implemented?” while the Times story by Carlotta Gall said “there is no mention of Islamic Shariah law, a code based on the Koran, and other religions would be free to perform their own rites.”

It’s true that the hard-line Islamic law enforced by the Taliban regime is not endorsed in the new document. But the preamble affirms the “sacred religion of Islam” and the Constitution establishes Afghanistan as “an Islamic Republic.” It declares that “no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam?”

The new Afghan president must swear “to obey and safeguard the provisions of Islam?” and Supreme Court justices are required to swear allegiance to Allah and implement the document “in accord with the provisions of the sacred religion of Islam?” What’s more, it requires that the state “devise and implement a unified educational curriculum based on the provisions of the sacred religion of Islam” and that religious subjects in that curriculum be based on “the Islamic sects existing in Afghanistan.”

While it declares that, “Followers of other religions are free to perform their religious ceremonies within the limits of the provisions of law,” the law is implemented in deference to “Islamic jurisprudence” and an individual right of freedom of religion is not explicitly recognized.

It appears that, with the U.S. overthrow of the Taliban regime, another oppressive Islamic government is emerging to fill the void with U.N. and U.S. backing. Yet, President Bush said in his November 6 pro-democracy speech that the U.S. is committed to expanding freedom, including religious freedom, and that the new Afghan constitution will “recognize Afghanistan’s Muslim identity while protecting the rights of all citizens.”

President Bush refused to speak out in favor of the public display of the Ten Commandments in an Alabama courthouse but is now misleading the American people about how young American soldiers?many of them Christians?are sacrificing to bring into being an Islamic state in Afghanistan. This constitution does far more than “recognize Afghanistan’s Muslim identity” and the experts say it doesn’t protect the rights of all citizens.

To say the least, it’s not the president’s finest moment. If he wants to be taken seriously about freedom and democracy in the Middle East, he should get an urgent update from members of the commission on religious freedom, some of whom he personally appointed. Major changes in this document must be made before it is officially adopted.

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