Religion used as a cudgel in Afghanistan

Do you love freedom of speech? Of course you do. It's fun, it's democratic, and it allows me to publish all kinds of crazy nonsense on a blog. You know who hates freedom of speech? Dictators, autocrats, and at least three judges in the Balkh region of Afghanistan. Yesterday, they sentenced a 23 year-old student, Sayed Parwez Kaambakhsh, to death for printing- not even writing- several articles that 'insult Islam'.

Let's be clear. Sentencing anyone for insulting any religion, anywhere, anytime is idiotic. It's equivalent to running someone over because they pointed out the third-act problems in the Lord of the Rings. But what really frosts my cookies is that this case isn't really about religion at all. It's about using religion to squash political opposition.

According to Jean MacKenzie, country director for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting:

"We feel very strongly that this is a complete fabrication on the part of the authorities up in Mazar, designed to put pressure on Parwez's  brother Yaqub, who has done some of the hardest-hitting pieces outlining abuses by some very powerful commanders in Balkh and the other northern provinces.”

That's right. The articles were written by Kaambakhsh's brother, and they are none-too-flattering for the vested power interests in Balkh province. And how do you get a journalist to shut up? Why not sentence his brother to death! Hey presto!

This is what happens when religion is given any sort of credence in public life. It becomes a tool for subverting debate and battering opposition into silence. Where fundamentalism rules, freedom suffers.