Harsh Forms Of Criticism (Updated)

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

cross posted from The Dream Antilles


Sayed Pervez Kambaksh

A young man has been sentenced to death in Afghanistan for downloading a report from the Internet and distributing it.

The Independent reports:

A young man, a student of journalism, is sentenced to death by an Islamic court for downloading a report from the internet. The sentence is then upheld by the country’s rulers. This is Afghanistan – not in Taliban times but six years after “liberation” and under the democratic rule of the West’s ally Hamid Karzai.

The fate of Sayed Pervez Kambaksh has led to domestic and international protests, and deepening concern about erosion of civil liberties in Afghanistan. He was accused of blasphemy after he downloaded a report from a Farsi website which stated that Muslim fundamentalists who claimed the Koran justified the oppression of women had misrepresented the views of the prophet Mohamed.

Mr Kambaksh, 23, distributed the tract to fellow students and teachers at Balkh University with the aim, he said, of provoking a debate on the matter. But a complaint was made against him and he was arrested, tried by religious judges without – say his friends and family – being allowed legal representation and sentenced to death.

So much for debate and freedom of speech.

The UN, human rights groups, journalists’ organizations and Western diplomats have urged the Karzai government to intervene and free Kambaksh. But the Afghan Senate passed a motion on January 30 confirming the death sentence.  Welcome to the US puppet government and its barbarianism.  

Want to respond to this?

Sayed Pervez Kambaksh’s imminent execution is an affront to civilised values. It is not, however, a foregone conclusion. If enough international pressure is brought to bear on President Karzai’s government, his sentence may yet be overturned. Add your weight to the campaign by urging the Foreign Office to demand that his life be spared. Sign the Independent’s e-petition here

More across the border.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at the severity of the verdict.  You’ll recall that after Salman Rushdie published his novel, Satanic Verses, Ayatollah Khomeni issued a fatwa condemning him to death. It seems that Satanic Verses appropriated the prophet Muhammad as a character and attributed what some thought were insulting things to him. Later, the writer VS Naipaul, one of my heroes, described the fatwah as “an extreme form of literary criticism.”

It may be difficult to tell what will insult readers and even make them throw rocks. As Rushdie himself wrote in The Ground Beneath Her Feet,

“Insults are mysteries. What seems to the bystander to be the cruelest, most destructive sledgehammer of an assault, whore! slut! tart!, can leave its target undamaged, while an apparently lesser gibe, thank god you’re not my child, can fatally penetrate the finest suits of armour, you’re nothing to me, you’re less than the dirt on the soles of my shoes, and strike directly at the heart.”

Which brings me to two years ago, and this rock throwing and literary criticism news:

   Demonstrations against the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad by newspapers in Europe spread across Asia and the Middle East today, turning violent in Afghanistan, where at least four protesters were killed and over a dozen police officers and protesters injured.

   The protests gained momentum all over the Muslim world, a day after attacks on the Danish consulate in Lebanon and the Danish and Norwegian Embassies in Damascus, Syria, on Saturday. Muslim clerics led demonstrations in half a dozen cities in Afghanistan, and protesters turned out in Indonesia, India, Thailand, Iran, and even in New Zealand, where local newspapers recently reprinted the offending cartoons.

   A teenager died in Somalia in East Africa today when police fired in the air to disperse stone-throwing protesters and set off a stampede. A crowd of about 200 people stoned and broke the windows of the Austrian Embassy in the Iranian capital, Teheran, and tried to hurl gasoline bombs inside, Reuters reported. Police with riot shields prevented further damage and the crowd dissipated after an hour, the agency reported.

I have worried that not enough people would buy and read my 2005 novel, The Dream Antilles. But that seeming problem, a mix of ego, marketing and personal finance, pales compared with the idea that a few people would read my book and then thousands and thousands around the world would run into the streets trying to maim and kill people because of the affronts they perceived in it. Or that they would react in this way to some cartoons.  Or to the downloading and distribution of an internet report. Or the conferral of a knighthood on an Salman Rushdie whose best work in my view was Midnight’s Children, a remarkable magical realism novel paralleling the birth of India as a nation which won the 1981 Booker Prize and was later awarded the ‘Booker of Bookers’ Prize in 1993 as the best novel to be awarded the Booker Prize in its first 25 years. People here who know or have heard of only Satanic Verses should treat themselves to Midnight’s Children. I just don’t get it.

I will admit that I did smile when Mario Vargas Llosa had crowds attack the radio station in Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter because of insults to Argentinians. I thought that was a riot, and I laughed aloud. But I am not laughing at today’s news from Afghanistan.

I guess I didn’t realize that writing could be so dangerous. Or that criticism could be so extreme.

Updated (2/7/08 9 am ET):  Today it’s reported that Condoleezza Rice has called for Pervez to be saved:

The world’s most powerful woman has added her voice to the campaign to save the life of Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, the Afghan student journalist sentenced to death for downloading material on women’s rights from the internet.

Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, promised yesterday to raise his case personally with the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, which would significantly raise the international pressure for his release.

Ms Rice, who was in London for talks with Gordon Brown and David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, on the West’s Afghanistan strategy said: “I do think that the Afghans understand that there are some international norms that need to be respected. Of course, one has national laws and they’re national laws that are in accordance with traditions and religious practice. But there are international norms, and I’ll certainly talk to President Karzai about this case.”

Pervez is still in big trouble:

Ms Rice also hinted that Mr Karzai was aware of the growing furore over the student journalist’s plight and that he may be willing to use his power of presidential pardon to rescind the death sentence. However, Afghan officials said that the case must first exhaust the judicial process, in line with the country’s laws.

But the support of Ms Rice, who is such a high-profile figure and is a public ally of President Karzai, for Mr Kambaksh’s case may well be the best chance the student journalist has of avoiding execution. However, Mr Karzai’s relations with the West are somewhat fraught at present, and he may not wish to be seen to bow to Western demands.

Boy does that ever echo Codpiece McFlyboy’s remarks when as Governor of Texas he was asked to grant clemency.  And then, as we all know, because the accused had a full appeal, nothing could be done without undermining the courts.  Arrgh.

The bigger problem here is that the focus seems still to be on the sentence of death.  There’ll be no cause for dancing in the streets if this sentence gets commuted to life imprisonment because there was no crime committed.  Pervez needs to be freed.  Sparing him from the death penalty just isn’t sufficient.


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  1. Thanks for reading.

  2. speech is alright as long as it is sanctioned by our puppets but if a scary “other guys” puppet does it then somehow democracy here is threatened.

    The Karzai government can’t intervene because it would reveal that he isn’t really running things, has no power to intervene, and really doesn’t care as long as his ass isn’t being sent away.

  3. make a safe harbor for hate.

    Reminds me of a recent opinon piece in the NY Times.

    All You Need Is Hate

    It’s starting to raise its ugly head here, just like it did at DKos, with deleterious effect. To allow it to run rampant here would be a serious mistake. It needs to be nipped in the bud, posthaste.

    • kj on February 5, 2008 at 17:29

    you wrote a book?  color me ‘duh’ must more closely read your site! i will try and find, read, and then start a protest if you think it might help sales.  @;-)

    pss.  couldn’t get into “Midnight’s Children.”  must not have been the right time to read it.  thanks for the reminder, the Booker is still my standard for excellence.

  4. would be a worthy subject for a regular column. Good job, David.

  5. our public has “moved on” in their concerns about Afghanistan and Iraq. Seems our talk of “freedom” and “democracy” was just that…talk (surprise, surprise)

    Last week I heard a story on NPR titled Iraqi Women Face Greater Danger, Fewer Rights. I was appalled at the information in that story!!! And wanted to write a diary about it but didn’t have the time. If anyone wants to do so, please take it and run with it.

    I find it interesting in this story you’ve written about, that the paper he distributed and the discussion he was promoting was about the rights of women. Things are going backwards in many ways in both Iraq and Afghanistan on this issue as well. I’d say its time to wake up to that and try to get the word out.

    Thanks for this davidseth!

  6. Sorry – woke up today in a dark mood and this just tees me off.

    Valuable diary – thanks for bringing this to our attention. Please keep us posted on what happens to this young man.

    • pfiore8 on February 5, 2008 at 22:01

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    it is a cold, ugly reign of terror. it is this man’s life and tied to it, the liberty of us all.

  7. …coverage (only hunted up because I heard this driving)


    • Viet71 on February 6, 2008 at 00:51

    from Rwanda to Chad to Pakistan and places in-between.

    We in the U.S. have the luxury of choosing our outrage.

    We should get our country in good order first.

    • jim p on February 6, 2008 at 06:38

    who smuggled out video of women being executed in public. It was a huge part of the emotional build-up to the Afghan war, how low these Taliban were.

    You’d see the brave women of RAWA, live or on tape, several times a day if you watched CNN and other news shows, and this execution in the sports stadium.

    Here’s RAWA  from Dec 10, ’07:

    The US and Her Fundamentalist Stooges are

    the Main Human Rights Violators in Afghanistan

    The US and her allies tried to legitimize their military occupation of Afghanistan under the banner of “bringing freedom and democracy for Afghan people”. But as we have experienced in the past three decades, in regard to the fate of our people, the US government first of all considers her own political and economic interests and has empowered and equipped the most traitorous, anti-democratic, misogynist and corrupt fundamentalist gangs in Afghanistan.

    Human rights violations are widespread across Afghanistan

    In the past few years, for a thousand times the lies of US claims in the so-called “War on terror” were uncovered. By relying on the criminal bands of the Northern Alliance, the US made a game of values like democracy, human rights, women’s rights etc. thus disgracing our mournful nation. The US created a government from those people responsible for massacres in Pul-e-Charkhi, Dasht-e-Chamtala, Kapisa, Karala, Dasht-e-Lieli, 65,000 Kabulis and tens of mass graves across the country. Now the US tries to include infamous killers like Mullah Omer and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar into the government, which will be another big hypocrisy in the “war against terror”.

    The reinstatement of the Northern Alliance to power crushed the hopes of our people …

    It’s all been a lie from top to bottom.

    • Edger on February 6, 2008 at 17:29

    Afghan government official says that student will not be executed

    The condemned student journalist Sayed Pervez Kambaksh will not face execution, a senior government official in Afghanistan indicated yesterday.

    A ministerial aide, Najib Manalai, insisted: “I am not worried for his life. I’m sure Afghanistan’s justice system will find the best way to avoid this sentence.”

    It was the clearest indication yet that the 23-year-old will have his death penalty revoked amid mounting international pressure on the Afghan authorities.

    The President is “concerned” about the case and is “watching the situation very closely”, his spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada, said. But he added: “There is a judicial process ongoing.”

    Mr Manalai is the senior adviser in Afghanistan’s Culture Ministry, which is in charge of arbitrating free speech disputes in the media. He condemned the student writer but maintained it was very unlikely he would face the gallows.

    He said: “He cannot be defended in any way for what he has done. He was provoking trouble. He was insulting Islam’s prophet. This is one of the biggest offences you can make. In Afghan law it is a capital offence. Islamic law allows the death penalty.

    “But there’s a saying of the Prophet, that you had better avoid applying a penalty because it is better to have someone guilty who has not been punished, than have someone not guilty who has been punished. One court has condemned him, but this is only the first step. We have three stages of justice. I am not worried for his life.”

    The President can pardon death-row prisoners if their sentence is upheld by the Supreme Court. But privately, government sources have hinted that President Karzai would prefer to see the verdict overruled by an appeal court, before it reaches his office.

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