Sunday, April 02, 2006

"Freedom? That is a worship word!"

If you are young (old) enough, or geeky (sad) enough, you will remember the worst allegory of the Cold War the original Star Trek series ever engaged in: the Coms (long "o" so you don't recognize what it's short for) and the Yangs, where the former are very Asian looking (!) and the latter all look like blonde Beowulfs. The central idea, of course, is very American: that freedom is not just a concept, but a thing, and it is endemic, and identical in its precepts, for all "right thinking" people. Even on another planet far, far away.

Or in another country, on this planet. Listening to this story on NPR just now, I heard Dr. Richard Land express concern that Afghanistan, after all 'we' had done 'over there,' might not guarantee freedom of religion in its constitution. Now, that assumes that freedom of religion is a thing to which all "right thinking persons" would assent, and that it would be accepted as a result of American largesse following on an American invastion; a kind of benefit, as we bestowed on Germany and Japan.

Problem is, the Afghan people seem to have another idea about the importance of religion, and it isn't a tradition informed by the experience of the Baptists in England and later in this country. Here are the "money quotes" from that previous post:

Hamidullah warned that if the government frees Rahman, "the government will lose the support of the people. What sort of democracy would it be if the government ignored the will of all the people?"
And from another report:

Franklin Pyles, president of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada, said his organization is appalled Rahman's life is at risk for converting to Christianity.

"If we are not going to fight for all freedoms, then what are we doing (in Afghanistan)?"
Rahman's neighbours in Kabul showed little sympathy for him.

"For 30 years, we have fought religious wars in this country and there is no way we are going to allow an Afghan to insult us by becoming Christian," said Mohammed Jan, 38, who lives opposite Rahman's father, Abdul Manan. "This has brought so much shame."
I suppose my sympathies are with Mr. Pyles. But is it freedom to force another culture to accept your standards? My Google skills are rather poor, but I remember hearing something in connection with this case about a centuries old decree settling some differences between Christianity and Islam, differences undoubtedly arising from the Crusades. One of the provisions of the degree was peace between Islam and Christianity, but a death sentence on any Muslim who converted to Christianity. We may find it a reprehensible position in this day and age; but we cannot forcibly change the minds of Aghans like Mohammed Jan.

Maybe before we decide freedom means the same thing to us it does to everybody else, and before we assume everyone wants the same cultural traditions we have, we'd better ask them. Maybe "freedom" is a worship word for us, but that doesn't mean our idea of freedom is shared by the rest of the planet.

1 comment:

  1. I always find it very assuming and foolish to think that any personal relationship, be it with a religious god or be it with a person or persons, needs to be "approved" or "sanctioned" or "legalized". Just have your personal relationship and KEEP IT PERSONAL after all, not a badge of honor to pump your ego, nor to be bestowed or taken away by some "authority".