- By Will InbodenWill Inboden is Executive Director of the William P. Clements, Jr. Center for History, Strategy, and Statecraft at the University of Texas-Austin. He also serves as Associate Professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and Distinguished Scholar at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law.
An imprisoned Afghan citizen, Said Musa, reportedly faces a possible death sentence for the “crime” of converting to Christianity. His plight represents an appalling human rights violation — and a potentially serious threat to the Obama administration’s Afghanistan policy.
Musa’s case has thus far not received much attention in the U.S., beyond a few media reports and the valiant alarms raised by religious freedom scholar Paul Marshall. But that may soon be changing, as more and more media, NGOs, and religious groups are learning of his precarious situation. Imprisoned since last summer, Musa has reportedly suffered heinous physical and sexual abuse for his profession of Christian faith. In an eloquent appeal he asks only to be transferred to another prison, and seems steadfast in his faith: “Please, please you should transfer me from this jail to a jail that supervises the believers…I also agree…to sacrifice my life in public [where] I will tell [about my] faith in Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, [so] other believers will take courage and be strong in their faith.”
His case, lamentable in its own right, also touches on two of the Obama administration’s vulnerabilities — a disregard for religious freedom promotion, and inattention to maintaining domestic support for the Afghan war and troop deployment. Over halfway through the administration’s term, the position of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom still remains vacant (in part due to Senate confirmation complications encountered by the administration’s nominee, whose qualifications are questionable). Meanwhile, President Obama’s reticence to marshal public support for the war might soon be further tested if this case gets broad attention and Americans begin asking why blood and treasure are being spent for a nation that treats Christians this way. American evangelical Protestants have been one of the domestic communities most supportive of the war, and who might be most exercised over Musa’s plight.
The Bush administration faced a similar crisis in 2006, when another Afghan convert to Christianity, Abdul Rahman, also faced persecution and potential death. After attracting much international attention, his case was only resolved when he escaped to asylum in Italy, after personal interventions by President Bush, Secretary Rice, and others.
The Obama administration has said little publicly on the Musa case, other than an Embassy Kabul spokesperson expressing concern. I hope that the White House’s relative public silence indicates fervent, high-level quiet diplomatic endeavors with the Afghan Government to spare Mr. Musa’s life and provide for his freedom — often these matters are best handled through such behind-the-scenes efforts. But given the administration’s overall indifference to religious freedom, I can’t help but worry that the case has not yet been a sufficient priority. The kind of priority that demands President Obama’s personal involvement.