Abdul Rahman had to live 41 years before he became an international celebrity. He did that overnight when he got into a child-custody fight with his family, who let it out that Mr. Rahman had converted to Christianity—something you do not lightly do in Afghanistan.
Actually, Mr. Rahman is supposed to have abandoned Allah for Jesus in Germany, where faith switching or faith abjuring has been no big deal since the days of Friedrich Nietzsche. The old übermensch-er has been dead for more than a century, but his baleful influence has spread so wide that some here in America lined up at museum doors to gawk and gape at Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ, as the artist not so diplomatically entitled his arrangement of the Christian Lord and Savior tucked into a bottle of Mr. Serrano’s urine.
God, if there is one, only knows what would have happened to Mr. Serrano had he pulled that stunt in Afghanistan and put the Prophet in his little bottle. They would have been able to bag Mr. Serrano on multiple counts. You are not supposed to draw pictures of Muhammad, much less dunk him in a container of bodily fluids and then put him on exhibit. In America, when an artist does something like that, they take his grant away, but farther east the repercussions are more drastic.
Compared to Mr. Serrano, Mr. Rahman’s apostasy hardly counts. Nevertheless, one hates to think of what they would have done to Mr. Serrano, considering the way an Afghan posse tried to put Mr. Rahman in the past tense for the decidedly lesser crime of God jumping.
In our part of the world, God jumping is frequently looked on with approbation. It’s sometimes called “experimenting,” as in “The boy is trying to find himself.” One thing is sure: When the kid comes home in saffron sheets, bald as a basketball or a basketball player, and says he’s a Buddhist, the vigilantes over at the True Vine Fundamentalist Church confine themselves to verbally sending him to the nether regions.
In Kabul, if you’re born a Muslim, you stay one or else. It used to be like that in Kansas: If you were born a Methodist you did not dare to let some Baptist preacher lead you into the baptismal tank with nothing on but your undies. These days, it’s O.K. in Kansas for Methodists to turn themselves into Baptists or Lutherans, although turning Jew is not recommended. But turning anything in Kabul means kaboom!—the big kibosh. They won’t give it a rest; the fatwas start flying and a prudent God jumper heads for the ground (or, in Mr. Mr. Rahman’s case, Italy).
He escaped the gibbet and was let out of jail when it was decided that he couldn’t have been of sound mind, since no sane person would bid adieu to Allah in order to say, “Hello, Jesus, I’m your boy.” That principle applies all around. If you stop and think about it, a case could be made that a person who isn’t born into it but, as an adult, goes and Christianizes himself is a little cuckoo too.
Understand, it’s not a case that a practical person would argue in front of any American court, but privately the ever-diminishing circle of infidels, agnostics and Mark Twain admirers do speculate about whether or not faith is a form of psychosis, on account of which Mr. Rahman and a lot of other people ought to be grazing in the back pastures of the funny farm.
However that may be, a temporary expedient was found. The Afghani Board of Muslim Psychiatry examined Mr. Rahman and found him to be mentally incompetent. As any serious Muslim knows, nobody of sound mind would tootle off and convert to Christianity.
If they had shot Mr. Rahman—or is this a stoning-to-death offense, or a head-chopper, or dangle-by-the-necker?—an ear-splitting schrei of empathy and indignation would have swelled up around the developed world, as we say to distinguish ourselves from Arabs and others who need our help and guidance.
But Christians haven’t always reacted with such compassionate vehemence when one of their number was offed for his or her faith. Sometimes they seemed to enjoy it.
Take Joan of Arc, who got toasted because she wasn’t praying in the right direction (or was it because she was hearing the wrong voices?). Ever since, Christians have doted on her and seem almost grateful to the men who popped her onto the bonfire.
Also, if the killers of Christians wear grass skirts or feathers, they get a pass when they plop the occasional missionary in a pot. Apparently, the appetite of some underdevelopeds for fricassee of missionary is overlooked or understood. One must respect diversity, at least up to a point.
But wasting Mr. Rahman is past that point. An indignant uproar over the case has seized the Christian and formerly Christian nations of the West, plus South Korea, which is half Christian, and Japan, where they practice Shinto, a religion that Americans don’t know much about but which is basically O.K., given that the Japanese are first-rate, dependable allies. The Americans and their associates had no idea when they conquered—or half-conquered—Afghanistan and promised the locals self-determination that they would take the Westerners at their word.
As with the lunkheaded Palestinians voting in the bloody Hamas terrorists, backward peoples like the Afghans interpret everything you say literally. Thus, when the Christians from the United States say that you may have self-determination, they mean within reason, which does not include hanging Christians, of which there is only a meager supply in those regions.
These primitive mountain tribesmen are a completely unnuanced crowd that has put Afghan President Hamid Karzai in a pickle. Since the selfsame countries are putting up the money and the soldiers to keep the Afghan government more or less functioning, how was the man supposed to please his foreign backers with their religious ideas and his hometown mullahs with theirs?
So he came up with a way to keep Mr. Rahman safe, out of jail and in a country where there are as many churches per capita as there are mosques in Mecca. Premier Silvio Berlusconi, currently running for re-election, told the Italian media (most of which he owns): “We will be happy to welcome a man who has shown great courage.”
We don’t know if Mr. Rahman will be safe in Italy. The mullahs have been known to dispatch fatwa killers halfway around the globe. On the more hopeful side, it is reported that Kofi Annan is trying to arrange for Mr. Rahman to be placed in the convert-protection program where he will be safe, though he must change his name to Horace Busby and live the rest of his life as a Mormon in Utah.
If the Muslims do finally waste Mr. Rahman, they may be cooking their own goose and doing Christianity a favor. You know the old saying: “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.” It would be a pretty good deal for Mr. Rahman too, because, just like the religion he left, the Christians believe that if you die for your faith, you go straight up to the Holy Land in the sky. But—and this is a bit of a bummer—in Christianity you do not get to do the nasty with the virgins up there. Instead, you are given a horn to toot. Did they tell Mr. Rahman that before they led him to the baptismal font?