Losing the War of Ideas in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, America is losing the war of ideas. The moral cowardice of America's leaders is apparent, to the detriment of all.

It is fitting that the New York Times' article "Afghanistan Suspends Two Aid Groups" by Rod Nordland and Abdul Waheed Wafa was released on Memorial Day. For on that day, when Vice President Biden at Arlington Cemetery declared that "the objective of our new enemy is to change what we value, to change how we live our lives, to change what it means to be an American," two nominally Christian NGO aid groups were suspended by Afghanistan over a news report by the Afghan television station Noorin TV, which presented pictures of Westerners baptizing Afghans and pictures of Afghans privately praying to Jesus Christ. This unconfirmed proof of Western NGOs proselytizing sparked an hour-long protest at the University of Kabul. 

In response to the university agitation, a spokesman of the Ministry of Economy, Mohammed Sediq Amarkhiel, announced on Monday that Norwegian Church Aid and the American-based Church World Service, whose combined operations in Afghanistan employ 240 people in multiple development programs responsible for "disbursing millions of dollars in aid," were suspended, because the Noorin TV expose "raised suspicions" among the emotional Muslim population. According to Amarkhiel, the Afghan government would investigate, and if evidence supported the charges of proselytizing Afghans to Christianity, they would "definitely ... be introduced to the judicial authorities." Why? "Converting to any religion from Islam is a crime in Afghanistan, and proselytizing is also outlawed" by writ of the Afghan Constitution. Afghanistan's constitution, after all, is derived from Islamic Law.

Sharia Law has murdered American values on Afghan soil.

The drive to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people has led the coalition forces to adopt a number of highly restrictive rules of engagement in its population-centric counterinsurgency effort. Protecting the civilian population has become the number-one aim of the coalition forces. The strategic effort to protect civilians, moreover, trumps the tactical effort to kill insurgent terrorists from al-Qaeda and its Taliban affiliates. This strategy, which seeks to cultivate a deep respect for the culture of Islam, has led to sensitivity training among NATO forces. Immediately apologetic and penitent in response, any accusation, founded or unfounded, of desecrating the sacred Quran or offending Islam sends American military leaders into a tailspin of press conferences and assurances. Yet, as the New York Times piece also shows, desecrating the sacred Bible is fair game. 

Last year, a sensational Al Jazeera broadcast reported that evangelical Christian soldiers at an "American base" were discussing a plan to distribute Bibles translated into Pashto and Dari. Nordland and Wafa note that the U.S. military response was to declare the activity "forbidden by military rules, and confiscated and destroyed the Bibles." No visible American press conference by coalition military leaders was broadcast to apologize to Christians for the destruction of their holy text, even though doing so would prove that American forces were not aiming to convert Muslims to another faith and would sink the Taliban narrative which defines the coalition forces as a "crusader army." Why? Because any coherent public apology would teach the American people that the Constitution of Afghanistan forbids the freedom of thought, forbids the freedom of conscience, and forbids the universal rights of its own citizenry in the arena of religion. In this respect, American leaders have turned their backs on universal rights to achieve the security of Afghan civilians in a shell game of "self-determination." But can this security, if achieved, ever be lasting? Will prosperity and opportunity be lasting in a secured Afghanistan once Western investors realize that the entirety of the Islamic nation's financial system is based on Shariah-compliant finance?

In the announcement of his AfPak strategy on March 27 last year, President Obama focused on "shared responsibility" and "common values." The refrains were updated and repeated in his December 1 address at West Point. In the two speeches, a combined 51,000 American soldiers and trainers were committed to Afghanistan to demonstrate America's desire to responsibly end the conflict in the region. Questions over the legitimacy of the Karzai regime, corruption at all levels of the Kabul government, and the slow growth of the Afghan security apparatus have all swirled amid the rising push to achieve a political solution to the conflict through negotiations with the Taliban. Over one thousand U.S. soldiers have fallen in the quest to deliver the Afghan people from the clutches of a terroristic Taliban, but Western media statistics are dismissive, vague, and jumbled over the number of Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, and Afghan Border Guards that have fallen to the insurgent jihadi network's intimidation and guerrilla campaigns since the establishment of the Karzai regime. Without a doubt, American, Coalition, and Afghan forces have shared the burden in the security operations. But does shared responsibility end with the body bag? Does not shared responsibility include the establishment of common values and basic rights to the civilians of Afghanistan our leaders are so eager to secure? Is it possible to degrade the Taliban movement to a manageable nuisance for a rising Afghan security apparatus without confronting Sharia Law's inherent intolerance?

It must not be forgotten that on July of 2007, the Taliban kidnapped 23 South Korean Christian missionaries in Afghanistan. The ransom the Taliban demanded for the release of the hostages was the withdrawal of all South Korean troops from the region. Two of the Christian hostages were killed before the South Koreans relented and accepted the terms, withdrawing its two hundred troops from the Coalition to guarantee the release of their citizens. Often denounced for its adherence to a "rigid interpretation" of Sharia Law, the Taliban insurgency has attempted to establish shadow governments in every province of Afghanistan as parallel forms of governance in which a system of Sharia courts administers justice by the decree of Taliban mullahs. The intimidation and propaganda campaign waged by the Taliban in Afghanistan is a distinct call for Sharia Law's adherents to overthrow the Western-backed Karzai regime as a symbolic rejection of its Christian-backed existence.   

Has America's leadership even attempted to explain the differences between Taliban-styled Sharia and the Sharia imposed by the Afghan Constitution to the American people? Do differences exist?  hilosophically, is there any difference between the Taliban's holding of the South Korean Christians hostage and the Afghan Parliament's threats of bringing proselytizing NGOs to justice? 

If one listened to Counterterrorism Advisor John Brennan's speech Wednesday last week or read the National Security Strategy released the following day, the Obama administration believes al-Qaeda and its affiliates to be nothing more than stone cold murderers, undeserving of the legitimizing title of jihadists. But if this is true, then the recent Pentagon Report Toward Progress and Stability in Afghanistan reveals that upwards of three million Afghans support or sympathize with the narrative of these murderers. 

So, while reconciling with the Taliban seems to be taking center stage for the Coalition's diplomats, reconciling the differences between Talibanization and the Afghan Constitution with the American people is not even a blip on the radar of the current administration's Global Engagement Directorate in Washington. 

The communication evasion by the Obama administration on the nature of Sharia Law, both at home and abroad, is striking. 

The suspension of the Christian aid organizations' activities in Afghanistan illustrates this failing well. Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty relates that, while demanding "harsh actions" against those that violate the Afghan Constitution, the Afghan parliament passed a unanimous resolution "calling for the closure of all NGOs and aid groups found to be promoting Christianity." The Speaker of the Lower Jirga, Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, called for an investigation and asked "that parliament be given enough documentation to take further action."  

Is this the face of "shared responsibility" and "common values"? Are all Christian NGOs to be painted with the brush of blasphemy? Is this tolerance? Where is the reply of America's brave senators and congressional representatives? Why so silent on Sharia, John McCain? Where is John Kerry on the issue? When will the Secretary of State steel her spine with American principles and advise the Afghan government to break the chains of apostasy and promote tolerance over both takfirism and xenophobic Christophobia? When will President Obama demonstrate the moral courage necessary to declare that the narratives of Islamic Supremacy are the root of racism and division in the Muslim world? 

Having an opinion and a sense of moral conviction is not the same as imposing one's will. To refuse to clarify America's values in the face of such intolerance is moral cowardice -- nothing besides. The leaders of the suspended aid programs were caught off-guard by the charges, claiming that their NGO code of conduct forbids evangelizing. Yet not one question has been raised about the accuracy of the reporting at Noorin TV by American leaders. Not one American leader has questioned the nature of the "harsh actions" that might be in store for the NGO members if damning evidence is presented to the Afghan parliament. Not one American diplomat or politician has raised the simple question, "Who led the University of Kabul protest?" 

Silence. It is deafening -- this silent moral cowardice in the face of Sharia Law. 

In the spirit of shared responsibility and strategic partnership, America has sent a hundred thousand blessings to the Afghan frontier. Billions of dollars have been poured into the nation to further its security. A coalition unlike any other in history has been built to further Afghan security. Our re-commitment to the cause of peace in Afghanistan is clear. If it isn't clear by now that the United States is working to deliver the Afghani people to a new dawn, it never will be.  

It is time for tough love. We must, as an American people, demand the respect and tolerance we deserve from the Muslim world. Strategic partnership is a two-way street. We must demand, from both our leaders and the Karzai regime, the dignity of reciprocity. 

We must hold President Obama to account for his words: "In all that we do, we will advocate for and advance the basic rights upon which our nation was founded[.]" 

The 2010 National Security Strategy released last week states, "The United States believes certain values are universal and will work to promote them worldwide. These include an individual's freedom to speak their mind, assemble without fear, worship as they please, and choose their own leaders; they also include dignity, tolerance, and equality among all people and the fair and equitable administration of justice." Are these but hollow platitudes? 

At America's dawn, Thomas Paine wrote that "an army of principles can penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot." Sadly, our leaders in D.C. have either forgotten or never learned the intent of this message. While giving plastic bromide smiles to the cameras and winking at American values, they lack the moral courage to speak out and challenge its partners Afghanistan and Pakistan to embrace tolerance. 

In its silence over Sharia Law's ideological rejection of tolerance, America is not only losing the war of ideas...it is abnegating its moral responsibility to compete in the war's central battle. Groveling for a political solution, America's leaders refuse to stand for an ethical resolution. 

Gary H. Johnson, Jr. is a freelance writer based in Georgia, USA and is the Senior Advisor for International Security Affairs at the Victory Institute.