Thursday, August 26, 2010

Hearts and Minds

A young couple died a cruel death last week. According to BBC News: “A man and a woman who allegedly had an adulterous affair have been stoned and killed in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz.”

The pair, both in their 20’s, were hauled into a crowded marketplace and murdered. The woman, named Sadiqa, was brought out first. Taliban thugs threw rocks at her for half an hour, at which time the man, named Qayum, was pulled into the bazaar to suffer the same fate.

Apparently, the couple had run away together. Sadiqa had been betrothed to someone else, while Qayum was already married. This dreadful story conjures a number of thoughts.

First, there is the sheer horror of the scene. Consider, if you can, what it would be like for you and the person you love most to be in such a circumstance. Your own torturous death is compounded by the inability to protect someone you adore.

Next, there is the frequency with which Taliban forces are inflicting brutality in areas of Afghanistan that fall under their control. I wrote recently of Aisha, an 18-year-old girl whose nose and ears were cut off on the order of Taliban authorities for the crime of running away from her husband. There are reports that the Taliban flogged and killed a pregnant widow in the western province of Badghis this month.

In early August, ten medical aid workers were lined up and shot, one at a time, by Taliban terrorists in the northern province of Badakhshan. The chief crime for which these noble souls were tried and executed on the spot was, “preaching Christianity.”

Writer P.J. O’Rourke, having just returned from Afghanistan, quotes a female MP who says Taliban forces make a simple demand of villagers they subjugate: “Son or money.”

The reaction of Afghanistan’s government to the stoning deaths of Sadiqa and Qayum is disconcerting. Waheed Omar, a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, is quoted as saying, "Even in Islam this [stoning] has to be done through proper judicial systems.”

While Omar suggests the government would condemn the incident, his comments imply that their chief objection would be that the Taliban did not complete Form Z-914B Rock-Hurling Requisition in triplicate before proceeding.

This raises the much larger concern of the Karzai government in general. Western forces are forever picking the wrong allies in regions they don’t understand, then clinging to them like grim death.

Finally, one wonders about the 150 or so people in that marketplace who watched as Sadiqa and Qayum were slowly killed. Those are 150 of the “hearts and minds” we hear so much about. Reports are that the Taliban did the actual stoning (they finished Qayum off with bullets), while villagers were made to observe and contemplate the fate of those who behave in “un-Islamic” ways.

Those villagers have seen the face of evil. And as human beings, they must want something better for themselves and their families. One has to think that in this battle for hearts and minds, forces of freedom and dignity can outdo the stone-throwers, nose-cutters and son-snatchers.

For the sake of those people – and for Sadiqa and Qayum and for every person in Afghanistan who does not share our good fortune – let us show them a better way.

Theo Caldwell is the author of Finn the half-Great.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ashtiani Has Confessed

Sakineh Ashtiani has confessed. Ashtiani is the Iranian woman who was sentenced to death by stoning for the crime of “adultery,” and whose cause was championed by people around the globe. Owing to public outcry, Iran’s mullahs, in their mercy, commuted her sentence to death by hanging. But this week, Ashtiani appeared on Iranian television, where she confessed to various charges, including being an accessory to the murder of her husband.

Ashtiani’s lawyer advises that she was tortured for two days before she appeared on television. This is not the first time Iranian authorities have broadcast a forced confession from someone they seek to condemn. And using history as a guide, fears are mounting that Ashtiani’s execution – by whatever method – could come at any time.

The mullahs’ move, it seems, is to paint Ashtiani as a murderer – indeed, it was an investigation of her husband’s death that started Ashtiani’s ordeal back in 2006 – and execute her, just as other countries, including the United States, do to killers in their midst. The absurdity of the regime’s ploy is twofold – first, that they would attempt it; second, that they would expect anyone to believe it.

Originally cleared of involvement in her husband’s death, that investigation uncovered Ashtiani’s apparent “adultery,” for which she received 99 lashes in front of her teenage son. A re-opening of the murder case led religious authorities to determine that penalty had been insufficient, and they decreed she should be stoned to death.

Now, exposed as the fanatical monsters they are, Iran’s leaders want to tack the murder charge back on, and do away with this inconvenient person. This cannot be allowed to happen.

Even Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva – a sometime ally of Iran and no snuggly-bear on human rights – has offered to give Ashtiani asylum in his country. Iran has declined. To sweeten the deal, I’ll even take her place. No doubt, Ashtiani is a far finer person than I am, and I have shattered any number of God’s laws in my time. Come and get me, mullahs, and I will confess to any crime you care to name – adultery, regicide, coveting my neighbour’s ass – if you’ll let Ashtiani go free.

But this isn’t about crime, or even a country. It is a perverse prescription for the entire planet. In the words of the founder of Iran’s Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini: "We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world."

Given their druthers, Iran’s rulers would murder Ashtiani, and me, and you who are reading along, in order to realize their vision. This poor woman is one of countless thousands caught up in a twisted experiment.

It bears mentioning that the Iranian people, 60 percent of whom are under age 30, are not on board with this madness. During and after their stolen elections of last year, the citizens of Iran did what they could to bring about change. It is to the shame of free nations that we did not do more to help them.

But here, in the person of Sakineh Ashtiani, we have another chance. Let us keep her hope alive.

Theo Caldwell is the author of Finn the half-Great.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Democrats Dread November

WASHINGTON, DC – Democrats are already nervous about November’s congressional elections. The bad news for them – and good news for America – is that their defeat may be even worse than they think.

In 1994, Democrats knew the midterm elections would be tough. First-year President Bill Clinton had reversed course from campaign promises and announced the largest middle-class tax hike in American history. He took on, and booted, divisive issues like gays in the military, and tasked his wife with constructing a schmozzle of a health-care package.

Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich’s Republicans offered the country a concise alternative in their ten-point “Contract with America.”

The result, when voters went to the polls that November, was more dramatic than people expected. Republicans captured both chambers of Congress in a nationwide sweep.

In 2010, indicators for the ruling Democrats are worse than they were 16 years ago. The generic ballot, which polls voters’ preferences of Republican or Democratic congressional candidates, was tied on Election Day in 1994, and the GOP only saw its first, slight, lead that autumn. Today, Republicans are ahead in the generic ballot by 6 points, according to the average, and have enjoyed leads since June of 2009.

Then, there are the issues. This Democratic Congress actually did pass health-care reform, in a monstrous piece of legislation that they did not read, and which a majority of Americans want to see repealed. Unemployment remains high as businesses groan under massive regulation and impending tax hikes. As federal debt surpasses the nation’s GDP, and trillion-dollar deficits are projected for the next decade, a newly engaged citizenry is taking a look at its elected leaders. They do not like what they see.

As the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi is the most powerful legislator on the planet. She is also ridiculous. One could spend a lifetime outlining the absurdity of Pelosi’s positions and statements on issues from the economy to health-care to immigration to the CIA. But a handier approach is to send folks to, say, YouTube, and invite them to watch a clip of the Speaker – just pick one at random – and suggest they make up their own minds. After watching Pelosi opine on any matter, ask yourself – would you trust this person to work an electric can-opener? Now consider that this is the top lawmaker of the world’s sole superpower.

Consider, also, that Pelosi became Speaker because House Democrats looked around and said, “Yep, she’s the best we’ve got” – and, from a group that includes Charlie Rangel, Maxine Waters, Barney Frank, et al., they may be right.

As for President Obama, Americans are not seeing the brilliant, moderate, outcome-oriented leader they willed him to be, but a hard-left ideologue who wouldn't know the answer to a doorbell if it weren't printed on his teleprompter.

To win the House, Republicans need to pick up 40 seats this November. In 1994, the GOP added 54 but, based on this climate, commentator Bill Kristol calls for Republicans to gain 60 seats or more.

The Senate will be tougher, but political consultant Dick Morris, who helped rescue Clinton’s presidency after the 1994 shellacking, says Republicans should win the 10 seats they need to control that chamber.

A lot can happen between now and November, but welcome change seems on the way.

Theo Caldwell is the author of Finn the half-Great.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Win This War

I wondered, in last week’s column, whether the war in Afghanistan is still a worthwhile enterprise, nine years on. As American and Canadian governments contemplate withdrawal in 2011, commentators far wiser than I – George Will comes to mind – have opined that it is time for allied forces to pull out. Indeed, I had begun to congratulate myself on my reasonableness and good intellectual company.

Then, I saw the cover of Time magazine. The photo and story are of a young Afghan woman named Aisha, who was apprehended and sentenced to mutilation by Taliban authorities for running away from her husband’s house. As writer Aryn Baker puts it: “Aisha's brother-in-law held her down while her husband pulled out a knife. First he sliced off her ears. Then he started on her nose.” Baker adds, “This didn't happen 10 years ago, when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan. It happened last year.”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and some U.S. policymakers have floated the idea of reconciliation with the Taliban, in hopes of achieving stability and peace. Personally, I prefer freedom and human dignity.

But even if a reconciliation were possible, would we want it?

Have we fought and sacrificed for nine years only to leave Aisha and millions like her to their fate? Afghanistan presents a challenge, in which we are already engaged, and in which the delineation between barbarity and civilization is plain to see. If we cannot see this through, in what way will Western nations, blessed beyond the comprehension of most of the world, stand against evil in our time? By recycling? Driving hybrid cars? Gimme a break.

But let us say we depart, giving a finger-wag to the grinning maniacs left in charge, admonishing, “Now, no terrorist acts! And keep the amputations and honour killings to a minimum. Okay? We’re really, really cereal!”

Would that achieve our humane and practical goals?

Either way, the strategic and humanitarian missions are not mutually exclusive. And to accomplish both, we must win this war.

Often, when the concept of total victory is put forward, people suddenly become military historians. “Ah,” they say, “even the Soviet Union couldn’t win in Afghanistan.” For those who missed the 20th century, there were any number of things the Soviets could not do, including, but not limited to, basic economics and intentional comedy. You’ll excuse me if I don’t use the regime that brought us the collective farm as the benchmark for what can and cannot be done.

Along these lines, accommodation with the Taliban should be akin to Ronald Reagan’s prescription for rapprochement with the USSR: “We win, they lose.”

When he was Canada’s Chief of Defence Staff, General Rick Hillier told me, “There is no such thing as a doorstop defence.” That is, no nation can be an oasis to itself and, as we have learned during this decade, darkness from elsewhere in the world comes to find us at home. Lest we forget, we went into Afghanistan to deprive Islamist terrorists of safe haven after they killed thousands of people in North America.

Not only do we have a human obligation to succeed in Afghanistan, but the strategic argument still obtains. As the poet Terence averred, “Nothing that is human is foreign to me.” For Aisha and the people of Afghanistan, let us remember that.

Theo Caldwell is the author of Finn the half-Great.