Kambakhsh Update: "this is how Islamists deal with those who oppose them"
It appears that this week's blasphemy conviction of Afghan journalism student Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh was an effort to punish his brother, journalist Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi. The Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), Ibrahimi's employer, quotes him to this effect in their lengthy summary of the case:
Speaking about his brother’s ongoing detention in December, Yaqub told IWPR he was convinced that his brother was being targeted in reaction to his own revelations about the power of political and armed factions in the north.
In the four years that Ibrahimi has reported for IWPR on Afghanistan’s northern region, he has consistently covered issues of extreme sensitivity, such as continuing abuses by strongmen who maintain paramilitary forces and undermine the rule of law in defiance of the central government’s disarmament efforts.
At the time, he said that he had himself been repeatedly warned off controversial reporting, but that “the people who are threatening me had nothing official against me. There was nothing they could use to arrest and imprison me”.
Kambakhsh's conviction was based on his possession of an article titled "The Koranic Verses That Discriminate Against Women". He reportedly downloaded the essay from the web site of the author, an Iranian exile who writes under the pseudonym Arash Bikhoda. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has an interview with Bikhoda:
Bikhoda, speaking to RFE/RL’s Radio Farda, confirmed that it was his website -- and his article. He also expressed sadness over what has happened and appealed to the Afghan government to ensure the death penalty is not carried out.
“But from a legal and moral point of view I don’t feel responsible,” Bikhoda says. “In the rules of my websites, it has been written that many people consider the articles blasphemous and that they might seem insulting. The publishing and use of these articles in Islamic countries is usually not in line with the laws in these countries, and it is also written that the articles contain the personal views of the authors.”
According to RFE/RL, the fact that Kambakhsh didn't actually write the article should make a difference under Islamic Sharia law. Unfortunately, the Afghan authorities who tried and convicted him don't seem to be bothered by such trivial details.
Bikhoda makes the crucial point that this case is about far more than the persecution of a single individual and transcends the specific issues involving Kambakhsh and Ibrahimi. Rather, it is yet another example of a pattern that regular readers of this blog will be very familiar with:
But while expressing concern over Kambakhsh’s fate, Bikhoda says he is also heartened to see that Afghanistan has people brave enough to express their views -- even at great personal risk. “I am happy that people such as Kambakhsh live in Afghanistan,” he says. “Now there will be more world attention on the issue of intolerance toward intellectuals in Islamic societies -- that this is how Islamists deal with those who oppose them. Instead of giving them a logical answer, out of weakness they use violence and death sentences against them.”
While Kambakhsh's blasphemy conviction may have been an act of second hand retaliation, it was both inspired and enabled by Islamism's deep seated hatred of intellectual freedom. It was also motivated by a desire to punish Kambakhsh's brother Ibrahimi for what he had written.
Bikhoda may sound a little bit blase about Kambakhsh's fate, but ultimately he is correct. He is not to blame for writing and posting his essay, nor is Kambakhsh "guilty" for reading it. Rather, the fault lies with those who believe that reading the "wrong" material is a suitable reason to condemn someone to death.