Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Tale of Two Heroes: Abdul Rahman and Hao Wu


I hate to say it, but if you are not a blogger or a reader of blogs, you probably have not heard a word from the media about either of these two men. That’s for a number of reasons, ranging from a malicious prejudice against true conscientious protest to simple apathy. It should also be understood that in both cases there needs to be follow-up, if only to show that valor is seen and acknowledged. In the headline, I called Abdul Rahman and Hao Wu “heroes”; I think that once you know their situations, you will agree that these men have earned that title. Abdul Rahman is on trial in Afghanistan, facing the death penalty. In the West a man could only face such a sentence for murder, and in many countries the death sentence is not an option at all. In Abdul Rahman’s case, he is facing execution for having converted from Islam to Christianity.

For many people, that is the story in a nutshell, but in Rahman’s case the story is much deeper than a simple political-religious crisis. You see, Rahman’s family is still very much Muslim, and so he has no real access to support; the government has denied any visitors, and his own family has condemned his conversion. Even were he freed from prison, Mr. Rahman might be forced to flee the country to survive death threats already made against him.
It is not likely, however, that Rahman will be sentenced to death. First, while the prosecutor has claimed that Sharia requires Muslims who convert to another faith to be killed, the Quran is silent on that question, and no specific hadith considered to be credible is clear, either. Further, the Constitution of Afghanistan says that capital punishment must be approved by the President (Article 129[2)], and President Karzai is certainly sensitive to the American opinion of Afghanistan; killing a man for being Christian is not at all something Mr. Karzai is likely to endorse.

And even the prosecutor has backed off a bit suggesting that Rahman may be found ‘mentally unfit’, in which case “Islam has no claim to punish him. He must be forgiven”. The question at hand is serious on several levels, as any decision is likely to serve as a key precedent.

It should be noted that Abdul Rahman did not become a Christian anytime recently, after the U.S.-led invasion, but fifteen years ago, when Afghanistan as anything but a friendly place for Christians. Imagine living under the rule of the Taliban, and then & there choosing to follow the way of Christ. That folks, is courage!

The other case is Hao Wu, whose fate is at least as uncertain as Abdul Rahman’s. Hao Wu, who is a documentary filmmaker (the real kind, not like Michael Moore) and political blogger, was arrested February 22 in Beijing, and he has since been held without charges, visitors, or any sort of information release by the government.

Wu writes under the blogger name “Beijing Loafer” and also the pseudonym Tian Yi. Wu’s main blog, “Beijing or Bust” (hmm - notice it’s a Blogger blog?) is a lot like any regular person’s blog. Note that a February 20 entry mentions a family fight with his mom, including this comment:

“I kept on calling her back, apologizing for my behavior and comforting her.

What could I have done? She’s my mother.”

Ironically, in that same post Wu also mentions that his Chinese readers

“expressed annoyance and incomprehension at the West’s criticism of China. So did most of the Chinese bloggers I’ve read thus far…please understand that Chinese are very defensive about these criticisms because in our modern history we’d been repeatedly humiliated by Western colonial powers; in addition, we Chinese believe in ‘A son doesn’t complain about his mother’s plain looks, and a mother doesn’t pick on a son’s destitution’”

A single-stop web site has been set up by Ethan Zuckerman to provide the known information about Wu’s arrest, which is not much, and to organize support to demand his release.

It’s difficult to say which situation takes more courage; to stand for your faith in an Afghanistan which may or may not have grown morally in the past few years, or to speak truth in a country where people can simply disappear for being inconvenient. In my book, both of these men are true exemplars of valor and courage. Both deserve their lives and their freedom – and your voice in their defense.

1 comment:

copy editor said...

The NY Times wrote an editorial on Rahman today, though it was poorly composed.

His situation appears to be a little more tenuous this evening.