The good news out of Afghanistan is that Abdul Rahman, the Afghan citizen facing execution for his conversion from Islam to Christianity, has been released. So now Rahman is free, sort of. But the rest of the world is not.
First, Rahman's situation. Court and government officials did not offer reasons for his release. There still exists no clear notion in Afghanistan as to whether the constitutional provision of freedom of religion allows Muslims to convert to Christianity. The Afghan constitution endorses Islamic law, and by some interpretations of the Quran converting from Islam is punishable by death. What might happen if another Afghan makes a complaint against a Christian convert is yet to be seen.
But what could happen to Rahman is easy to see. He went into hiding immediately, avoiding as much as he can the danger of an Islamic assassin killing him to enforce a radical interpretation of Islamic law. We may never know where he seeks asylum, and for him, that's a good thing.
But that leads us to consider the world's situation. The Rahman case makes perfectly obvious that Islamic radicalism now has all the world in the same awful predicament as children facing a gang of bullies at elementary school. Any move that is well within the children's natural rights--eating lunch, playing a game on the playground, sitting on the bus, going to the restroom--may make them the target for intimidation and violence from the bullies. And they can never know what might set the bullies off. So they live in fear, act with timidity, and limit their speech and movements only to what is absolutely necessary, all in the hope that they will not provoke the bullies.
But none of it works. Bullies need victims. They must be feared at all times. So even when not provoked, they will manufacture an offense as a basis for action. "Quit lookin' at me!" [sharp punch to the gut] "What was that for?" "I didn't like the way you were looking at me."
So now the world lives in fear of provoking another Islamic bully session. Don't publish harmless cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, or you might be targeted by the bullies. Don't support the rights of women, or the bullies will come after you. Don't insist on freedom of religion, or the bullies will get you. Don't support the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, or the bullies will start a fight with you.
We commend American and European diplomats for securing Rahman's freedom, and we pray for his safety. But let's not lose sight of the issue: in the name of Islam, millions of people are being repressed as brutally as in any twentieth-century totalitarian regime. And altogether, about six billion people live in fear that the Islamic bully will target them.
There are three ways to deal with bullies.
One is to accept their presence and the restraints on freedom that they enforce. This was SWNID's approach in the 1970s, when high school toughs smoking in the boys' room prompted us to limit our intake of fluids so that we could spend an entire school day without using the facilities.
Another is to blame the victim. "Don't do things that provoke him," was the vapid advice given to many a bully's target in our school experience. But what would provoke the bully was entirely unpredictable.
The third is to stand up to the bully. This can mean fighting violence with violence. But it means first the quiet determination to go freely about one's business and when confronted not to back down. Sometimes, though not every time, that can be enough.
Free countries better decide to do the third with utter consistency, or we will see many more Abdul Rahmans.