Afghanistan’s Joan of Arc: Dies on the Crucifix of Islam

by | May 7, 2005

While the multiculturalists tell us all cultures are equally valid, the victims of faith and tradition throughout history demonstrate otherwise.

The murder of a young woman in a remote corner of Afghanistan challenges its central government’s efforts to extend the rule of civil law [N.C. Aizenman, “A Killing Commanded by Tradition – Afghan Adultery Case Reflects Challenges of Extending Modern Law to Tribal Lands,” The Washington Post, 6 May 2005, A01]. From a broader perspective, this case fundamentally challenges the arguments of the multiculturalists against a culture of reason being superior to backward cultures, such as those based upon faith.

Image that you found out that two of your neighbors were committing adultery several houses away from your own. What do you do? If your answer is round up a lynch mob, seize them, beat him, and stone her to death, then you might be a traditional Afghan.

Unfortunately, for 25-year-old Amina, this was not a hypothetical case and she is dead. However, she was not killed for her vices, but for her virtues. The following facts about the case were reported in The Washington Post.

Four years before, Amina’s husband by an arranged marriage, Sharafatullah, had gone to Iran looking for work, and no one had heard from him since. She lived with her parents instead of his while her husband was away. She often complained to her father, “How long am I supposed to live like this?” A year or two before her murder, she had begun an affair with Karim, the son of one of her parent’s neighbors.

In the morning before their arrest for adultery, messengers had arrived in the village to announce that Sharafatullah had returned from Iran and would soon arrive in her village. That evening Karim’s father Ashur Mohammad exposed the adultery to the village. In response to this scandal, which could have resulted in tribal warfare between her husband’s collective and her parent’s collective, local leader Maulvi Yousaf came to diffuse the dangerous situation.

As there was insufficient evidence of adultery absent a confession, it appeared that Yousaf could maintain the peace if only the lovers denied the charge. Despite Yousaf efforts to lead Amina to limit her responses to the events of the previous night and to deny the charge, she replied honestly that they had been having an affair. Further, she wanted to divorce Sharafatullah, and to marry Karim. Unable toabsolve the lovers, Yousaf recommended referring the case to the governmental provicial court as Afghans now had a government and the rule of law.

However, the mob did not trust the provicial court to punish Amina sufficiently. As the Afghan constitution provided that no law could contradict sharia (Islamic holy law), the mob claimed the right to judge and punish the lovers according to local custom. In the end, they decreed in accordance with sharia that Amina would be stoned to death and Karim lashed.

When we are fed bromides about the wonderful life in other cultures, the life and death of Amina is a concrete contradictory reminder. The simple life of the earth is superior to modernity? Islam is a religion of peace? The West is the culture that degrades women? They have contradictory, yet equally valid values?

Contary to life in the West and those areas benefiting from globalization like Kabul, Amina’s village is a poverty striken place of suffering. According to estimates, eight women die in childbirth every year in this village. Inadequet infrastruture results in the village being isolated during winter. Many families in the area eat only rice for dinner. Commonly, local men need to go to abroad for work.

In murdering Amina, her neighbors were adhering to the dictates of Islam. Islam is a religion in the sense of Plato and Machiavelli’s recommendation of a method of the rulers to regulate the ignorant masses. Fundamentally, Islam developed as a unifying ideology to subdue battling factions in the Hijaz, the western coast of Saudi Arabia. In this context, Amina’s murder kept the peace in the community by averting a tribal war in which thousands could have died, a Trojan war on a small scale. In a utilitarian calculation, the violation of an individual’s rights is justified by the greater good to the community of the faithful.

Unlike the legal system in the West which protects the rights of women, Amina life was subordinated to the needs of the community. Despite having been abandoned by her husband for four years, according to the revealed truth of the community, Sharafatullah had an unalterable claim over her because their parents had arranged their union. Meanwhile, he valued her so little that he did not come toher in her time of trial. While she was put to death, her lover who confessed to the same crime received only a flogging. Confronted with the sudden return of her missing husband, she reasonably requested a divorce, which was granted to her not by law but by death.

The interrogation of Amina demonstrated a conflict of values. The sharia would allow her to live if she would lie and renounce what she held valuable in her life, her love of Karim. In exchange, she would uphold the values of the community based upon a revealed truth brought to them centuries before by the sword of a conqueror, and elevate the adherence to duty as her reason to live. This amoral situation presented her with a choice between a physical death and a spirtual death. She courgeously asserted her right to live on her terms, and for that she was killed.

The terms Amina asserted demonstrated that an Afghan need not abide a backward culture in a slavish adherence to tradition. Far from an issue of ethnicity or community standards, it is the accumulation of individual choices that constitute the dominent character of a culture, and ideas drive those choices. In contrast, the initiation of physical force is the only tool available to prevent individuals from adopting new ideas that add value to their lives.

These individual choices and the countervaling efforts to enforce tradition are the front line of conflict in the globalization wars. It is a conflict between a culture of reason and individual rights, and a culture of faith and tradition. While the multiculturalists tell us all cultures are equally valid, the victims of faith and tradition throughout history demonstrate otherwise.

Jim Woods blogs about the news at The Washington Re-Post. His writing has also appeared at the website Center for the Advancement of Capitalism.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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