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What is your main area of concern today?

The universality of religious freedom. There is a lot of misunderstanding about what this is, but it's the foundation for all human rights.

See how this applies in the Muslim world. Individual religious freedom is crucial for Muslims, because when it's denied—as it is in most countries in the Arab world now—it means the imams or Muslim teachers can determine the extent of individual human rights. Religious freedom is critically important for dissent and political freedom. That's happening now in Afghanistan since there are no individual rights to religious freedom guaranteed there.

Does Afghanistan's constitution contain any protections for human rights and religious freedom?

Journalists in Afghanistan have been arrested and charged with blasphemy for exploring the issue of democracy and Islam. Such charges were brought by the supreme court of Afghanistan. The U.S. government pressured Afghan president Hamid Karzai to intervene, and the journalists were released from jail but had to go into hiding. A female cabinet member who had also questioned Shari'ah law was charged with blasphemy by the supreme court, blocked from taking her post, and received death threats.

The international drafters of the Afghan constitution did not champion religious freedom, and tended to look at it as an American or Western value. But it is crucial to protecting the freedom of Muslims, and it is a universal value.

When I spoke with policy makers at the State Department they said, "What are you worried about? Afghanistan is 99 percent Muslim." The West was very unassertive on important universal human-rights values.

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September 2005

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