Christian Aid Groups Suspended in Afghanistan

Several sites have already documented the decision by the Afghan government to “suspend” the activities of two Christian aid groups after allegations of “proselytizing.”

US-based Church World Service and Norwegian Church Aid will not be allowed to operate while the allegations, aired Sunday on Afghan television, are investigated, said Mohammad Hashim Mayar, the deputy director of the Afghan government office that oversees nongovernment organizations, known as NGOs. 

Mayar said officials did not have any evidence of proselytizing beyond the television report…

Proselytizing is illegal in Afghanistan, as it is in many Muslim countries. It is a hot-button issue for many Afghans sensitive to the influence of the scores of foreign aid groups operating in the country to help it recover from decades of war.

CWS and NCA both denied the allegations.  For CWS, it was the first time such an accusation has been made since the group started serving the Afghan people in 1979.  The TV channel that carried the story has also admitted it had no evidence to support the accusation that the two groups proselytized.

It is interesting that “religious freedom” is often one of the most vaunted human liberties, yet even today governments do not permit the exercise of this basic human freedom.

In the case of Afghanistan, the United States is actively supporting such a government, both diplomatically and militarily, sacrificing both dollars and lives.

Interestingly, the US has emphasized Afghanistan’s human rights with respect to women, though less so about religionAs early as 2001 Hillary Clinton went as far as to say that the US was right to “impose” a viewpoint with regard to the future of Afghan women, and that “a society that values all its members” is to the world’s benefit:

The argument that supporting the rights of women will insult the Muslim world is demeaning to women and to Muslims. Women’s rights are human rights. They are not simply American, or western customs. They are universal values which we have a responsibility to promote throughout the world, and especially in a place like Afghanistan.

It is not only the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do. A post-Taliban Afghanistan where women’s rights are respected is much less likely to harbor terrorists in the future.

Of course, precisely the same argument — given the nature of American adversaries, potentially a stronger one — can be made for supporting religious freedom in Afghanistan, yet the US seems reluctant to do so.  (In fact, the US government recently criticized itself for its lack of emphasis on religious freedom in recent years.)  Clinton did give a hint of the value of religious freedom in the same article on women’s rights:

The restoration of women’s rights includes the right of free choice. The freedom to wear a burqa if one desires—not to be forced to under pain of death. The freedom to become a doctor, or a homemaker. The freedom to worship in the manner of one’s choosing.

By empowering women with the freedom to choose their own future, we can help Afghanistan become a symbol… [that will] promote the kind of values that will act like antibodies against the virus of evil that exists in too many hearts around the planet. (emphasis added)

(The phrase “freedom [of] worship,” as opposed to freedom of religion, was criticized by the USCIRF.)  Just a few weeks ago, Clinton reiterated the US support for women when she said political reconciliation is not possible with elements of the Taliban who do not respect women’s rights:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is ruling out any political reconciliation with Taliban militants who refuse to recognize the rights of women…She says “They must respect women’s rights.”

She apparently made no reference to the human right of religious freedom.

Also noted at the Religion Clause.