Amputation punishment is back in Afghanistan


After the Taliban regained power in Afghanistan, amputation is also returning as a legal punishment. We are about to display the ruthlessness of theocratic rule.

A senior Taliban official in Afghanistan said his new government could reintroduce harsh civil punishments such as hand amputation under Islamic law. “We will follow Islam and base our laws on the Koran,” he said.

This development comes as no surprise, although it is terrible and tragic for the people of Afghanistan. But the amputation of hands for thieves is directed by a literal interpretation of Islamic teaching. We rightly mourn the Afghans who will suffer from the many repression of the Taliban. But we should also recognize that the Taliban were not only imposed on the Afghan people. Many of these citizens cheered the return of Taliban rule.

The Taliban were not an external invading force. They were not heavily supplied by a major foreign power, although elements in Pakistan supported them. The Taliban are based in Afghanistan and received their political and material support mainly from Afghans.

With a population of 38 million, Afghanistan could have maintained the military and political strength to resist the Taliban. Instead, their US-trained and well-equipped forces showed ineffective resistance. In reality, the Afghan government and its military simply collapsed because they were not ready to fight. There was no corporate national will to support the US-backed government.

Remember, only 1.8 million Afghans voted in their last presidential election, or only about 10 percent of the eligible population. This is not exactly an endorsement of self-government.

We Americans like to believe that all peoples everywhere prefer freedom and law as we understand them. Not all do it – certainly not in that order. When faced with stark choices, some nations choose the ostensible security that comes with autocracy and tyranny. Iran in 1979, China in 1949, Germany in 1932, and Russia in 1917 made the same decisions. The consequences were terrifying. Later regrets, even if sincere, come too late.

Many Iraqis first greeted soldiers from the Islamic State [ISIS] because they detested their government in Baghdad. Then, after living under torture, many changed their minds and fought for resistance, or at least welcomed liberation by others. But have they learned any lessons from their disastrous early fondness for ISIS? Hopefully. But people often have short memories. And tyranny is often appealing when the alternative seems to be chaos.

Soon, many Afghans who have welcomed the Taliban conquest will regret their choice. Perhaps that regret comes firsthand after the amputation they experience. (The Taliban official quoted above said that amputations are not a public spectacle, but more discreet than in the past.) Some will resist their new rulers. Others will passively hope for liberation from outside forces. But this liberation will be a long time coming. Those who choose tyranny usually stick with it.

The idea of ​​a people choosing tyranny is alien to most Americans. We want to believe that humans are naturally born thirsting for freedom. But the founders of America thought, based on a biblical understanding of human nature, that lawful freedom was a right that God gave to all of His image-carriers. They did not believe that all cultures would achieve such freedoms.

Amputating your hands in the service of a theocratic thugs is a falsification of God’s grace, mercy and truth in this world. But it does reflect a strongly religious tribal and rural society that values ​​the semblance of trite justice over the disorder of a rights-based representative democracy.

More than 2,400 Americans died and over 20,000 were wounded, amid hundreds of billions of dollars spent in Afghanistan over 20 years. The Americans hoped that Afghans could achieve (and choose) an approximation of justice and liberty without the threat of hand mutilation and other horrors. But in the end, most Afghans seem to want the Taliban to rule a society that is characterized by orderly freedom.

Afghanistan’s choice should be instructive, at least for now. It’s a powerful reminder of human nature. There is an element in all of humanity that prefers the bondage of Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land. Freedom requires courage, responsibility, duty, trust and faith. Tyranny is an easier choice.

But tyranny, with its injustice and harassment, never serves God’s purpose for humanity to thrive better in willing service to Him. Afghanistan’s decision to have hand amputations has been a tragedy. But it is also a warning to us. Human depravity is universal and human rights are often shattered by tyrants.


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