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Jason Holliston
 
Monday, November 10, 2003  
Afghanistan Revisited

You don't hear much about Afghanistan in the news anymore; just a snippet about this or that. Most of the attention is currently on Iraq, and probably rightfully so. Still, what happens in Afghanistan, successes and failures, will influence our efforts to bring democracy to the Middle East and other troubled areas around the world. It still bears vigilance.

Last week, it was announced that the leaders in Afghanistan finally have a public draft ready of their brand new constitution. It has been heralded by President Karzai and President Bush as a consitution protecting the rights of all people and while recognizing their Islamic heritage. What that all means in practice is a whole other matter, and one that will only be proven by implementation over the long run. What makes the West's model great isn't so much democracy by itself -- even though that's an incredibly important part of it. It's that the model is a liberal democracy, with basic God-given human rights built into the system, protection of the minority from the majority, and a basic separation of church and state.

The way I see it, besides the basic idea of democracy, Afghanistan faces two tests that will either join it or separate it from the regimes of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the late Taliban. If they fail these tests, their failure to join the rest of the world will be just a matter of degree, but still of fact. First, they need to give full equal rights to the women of their country. Equal voting rights and protection under the law with their male counterparts are abolute necessities. The fact that in many versions of Islamic law, or Sharia, testimony of a woman is only worth half of a man is a good example of the problem they need to overcome. Secondly, they need to respect all practices of religion equally. This is probably the tougher of the two, but equally as important. No more punishments for Islamic people converting to another religion, no more unfair roadblocks to building churches, and no more stamping of a person's religion on their ID cards.

If they can actually pass both of these tests, I'll be impressed and hopeful. These ideas strike at the very heart of what a liberal democracy represent, and what Islamic theocracies such as in Iran detest. The incident with the Vida Samadzai, a winner at the Miss Earth pageant, shows possible problems. That a woman can wear a bikini oveseas and be brought up on charges rings the next news comment hollow:

"Several articles make clear that women are equal under the law and entitled to education and to serve in parliament..."

But, it's still very early in the process to leap to any judgements. Can a country be a liberal democracy while simultaneously being a "Islamic nation"? I hope so. Make sure to read Paul Marshall's comments on the matter, as well.

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