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Afghan Christian convert faces execution

Can an Afghan man be executed because he converted to Christianity?  Chris Matthews debates the issue with Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council
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This week there were several reminders of the deep religious and cultural rifts between the West and the Middle East.  That’s good news. 

Meanwhile, Christian activists around the country are rallying around an Afghan man who could potentially face execution under Sharia law, that’s Islamic law, for converting from Islam to Christianity.  Two days ago, the State Department said the case was a matter for Afghan authorities, but President Bush said the U.S. needs to act. Bush said, "We have got influence in Afghanistan, and we are going to use it to remind them that there are universal values.  It is deeply troubling that a country we help liberate would hold a person to account because they chose a particular religion over another.  We can solve this problem by working closely with the government that we’ve got contacts with and will.  We’ll deal with this issue diplomatically and remind people that there is something as universal as being able to choose religion."

Chris Matthews as joined by Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, to tackle these epic religious conflicts.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, 'HARDBALL':  What does this tell us about Islam, that they could have a precept that you must be killed if you convert to another religion?

TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL:  I think it challenges us in our attempts to replace one regime with another.  I mean, you cannot have democracy unless you have the very fundamental aspect of religious freedom.  And I think this is questioning whether or not how successful we will be unless we can ensure these most basic of human rights.

MATTHEWS:  Well that’s the key question.  We are a liberating country, we’re told, we’re liberating Afghanistan.  We put if Karzai, who seems like a wonderful man, a Victor Laszlo right out of “Casablanca,” a real hero.

And yet we’re told that sometime after the Constitution was ratified, it was amended to throw back in this deferral to Islamic law that included this duty perhaps to execute someone for switching religions.  I mean, that says a lot about the culture we’re dealing with, doesn’t it?

PERKINS:  Well I think it does, but I think more than all of these issues of clash between religions, I think you’re right at it.  This clash of civilizations, and iit’s much more difficult than I think we envisioned of taking democracy that we’ve enjoyed and transposing that to these troubled regions of the world.  But, I’ll have to say again, democracy is critically important to be successful, that it must have the most basic of human rights. 

MATTHEWS:  What happens if the majority of the people, you say democracy—we throw that term around.  But that means majority rule.  You say democracy will save us from tyranny and maybe it will.

But it doesn’t save us from the denial of human rights as we know them because a majority of people in Afghanistan may well believe that someone who gives up their religion should be executed and then where are we at?  Then where are we?

PERKINS:  Yes, I’m not sure that they do.  I think those that may be in charge of the regime may.  But I think what we had there was we had an oppressed people.  We went over to relieve them of their oppression, set up another administration, another regime, it appears now that is just as hostile to religious freedoms or just as hostile to human rights. 

We bear responsibility for that.  And what is concerning, Chris, about this, is that their constitution and the wording of giving deference to Sharia law is very similar to what is in the Iraqi constitution. 

Let me be clear, I served in the Marine Corps, I re-enlisted for the first Gulf War, but I would say that the resolve of the American people will not long stand if they know that they’re giving their sons and daughters to die for just changing the names of regimes and that kill Christians and those who want religious freedom.

MATTHEWS:  You know, Tony, this is a great country.  I live about two blocks from a big circle, Chevy Chase Circle, right on the border with D.C.  and you have a Catholic church, a Presbyterian church, I think we have a Baptist church, you have all around the circle.  It’s like they all joined together to show some sort of communion and you can choose and people seeing each other going to different services wave to each other.  I mean, this is America.  Can we sell America?

PERKINS:  Well, I’m not saying that Islam cannot be compatible with other religious freedom.  I mean, Turkey, it’s a more secular in its approach to Islam, but there’s more freedom in that country. 

I think it is much more difficult, I think we’re a little naive in thinking that we can easily transport the concepts of democracy to these troubled regions of the country that are dominated by Islam.  Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, by I think we should use every influence we can to make sure that in this case, of this gentleman Abdul, I think he represents many, many more like him that are being persecuted for their religious faith, whether it be Christian, Jewish, or another religion.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of Hillary Clinton, Senator Clinton from New York, talking about it being un-Christian, not to give aid to punish a person for aiding an illegal immigrant in this country?

PERKINS:  Well, first off, I think we have—No. 1, they call it illegal immigration because it’s illegal.

MATTHEWS:  Right, it’s definitional.

PERKINS:  That’s true.  I don’t think churches should be put in that position.  They wouldn’t be if the government did more to enforce the laws on immigration.  I think what you have here, I guess I hope you have, is Hillary acknowledging one, that churches, faith-based organizations have a role to play.  And two, the government hasn’t done its response—hasn’t done due diligence in its responsibilities.

MATTHEWS:  I think you’re being kind to Hillary.  I haven’t heard her come out against illegal immigration.  She says she’s against mistreatment of illegal aliens.

PERKINS:  That’s what I’m saying.  If she’s acknowledging that the churches are being put into this position, then she would realize—she must be acknowledging that the government hasn’t done its job to pursue illegal activity in terms of immigration.  That’s all.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we’ve got an immigration bill moving to the Senate.  We’ll see how she votes.  It’ll all be transparent.  Thank you very much, Tony Perkins.

PERKINS:  I hope she practices what she preaches.

Watch each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC.