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I should have said a bit more about Bush's speech and Muslim law...
There was enough vagueness in it to indicate that cooler heads may be
prevailing and the right questions may be beginning to surface, though we
must still worry about misuse of the military capacity that has been
dispatched toward the Middle East.
And we can only hope that behind Bush's dismissal of the importance of the
Taliban's response on expelling Bin Laden lies an appreciation that indeed
this is a strong signal that the Taliban will not protect his efforts. For
those who are knowledgeable about Muslim law, the action by the council of
clerics and the way it was phrased will hold a positive significance and
provides a sound basis for a US-Taliban negotiation about next steps. But
the Bush admin. has shown little comprehension about Muslim law and so the
importance may be missed.
Islamic law provides that a person is obligated to offer hospitality to
travellers. Formally, this specifies 3 days of hospitality, at which point
the traveller must be prepared to move on. Even one's enemy must be provided
with these three days of refuge, and then not molested when he departs. This
injunction traces to Arabic tribal nomadic custom, and has been interpreted
in Islam to cover political refugees, for as long as they do not jeopardise
the well-being of the host. Bin Laden was expelled from the Sudan (even
after dropping $millions on public works and charity there), and in essence
the Muslim clerics of Afghanistan are doing the same thing to him now.
I do wonder though at the wisdom of encouraging him to move. At least now we
can watch him, knowing where he is. But what if he leaves for Uzbekistan or
Tajikistan with only a handful of followers? He could be virtually
untraceable, though with his lines of communication still intact.
I expect now that while the US insists that the Afghan government turn him
over to us, that in fact Bin Laden will slip away to another country and
that the government will simply say, 'he's no longer here and we don't know
where he is. And then let some UN observers in to check the 'training camps'
to confirm that indeed there is no one left there.
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