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When There is No Common Ground

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Richard Cohen of The Washington Post has an excellent essay on Abdul Rahman, the Afghani Christian convert who was nearly executed as punishment for converting away from Islam. Cohen says:

The murder of a person for his religious belief ought to be inconceivable. It is something we in the West stopped accepting hundreds of years ago…the right of the government to take a life on account of religion has not even been argued in the longest time. We are way beyond that.

Then, after pointing out that there was no worldwide Muslim condemnation of the planned execution, Cohen concludes that the silence must be because a lot of Muslims agreed with the punishment. To this, Cohen says:

The groupthink of the Muslim world is frightening. I know there are exceptions — many exceptions. But still it seems that a man could be killed for his religious beliefs and no one would say anything in protest. It is also frightening to confront how differently we in the West think about such matters and why the word “culture” is not always a mask for bigotry, but an honest statement of how things are. It is sometimes a bridge too far — the leap that cannot be made. I can embrace an Afghan for his children, his work, even his piety — all he shares with much of humanity. But when he insists that a convert must die, I am stunned into disbelief: Is this my fellow man?

There are many cultural rifts between the West and the Muslim world. Some can be closed or at least bridged. But in cases like Abdul Rahman, we in the West cannot find common ground. Killing a man for converting to a new religion is wholly unacceptable. There is no compromise. They are wrong. We are right.

Yet there is nothing we can do that will radically change the deplorable aspects of many Muslim cultures. Those changes will have to come from within Islam and from within the nations of the Middle East. All we can do is focus on finding common ground where there is common ground to be found, while making sure our own sense of right and wrong are not compromised in vain attempts to build bridges where no bridges can be built.