A Muslim teenager has run away from her Ohio home, claiming she's in danger of honor killing after converting to Christianity. Her parents say it's not true. It's become a cause celebre. So, what to believe?
When 17-yera-old Rifqa Bary ran away from her parents' house, it was to the Florida home of the Rev. Blake Lorenz, a pastor of the evangelical Global Revolution Church, which Bary had found through a Facebook group. The police tracked her down two weeks later, but she doesn't want to return to Columbus, claiming her conversion has endangered her life. As she said on YouTube, "If I had stayed in Ohio, I wouldn't be alive...In 150 generations in family, no one has known Jesus. I am the first - imagine the honor in killing me. There is great honor in that, because if they love Allah more than me, they have to do it. It's in the Koran."
The teenager, in a sworn affidavit, claims her father, Mohamed Bary, 47, was pressured by the mosque the family attends in Ohio to "deal with the situation." In the court filing, Rifqa Bary stated her father said, "If you have this Jesus in your heart, you are dead to me!" The teenager claims her father added, "I will kill you!"
Her lawyer, John Stemberger, is also president of the Christian advocacy organization Florida Family Policy Council. He says that his client has been abused by her father in the past, punched in the face for not wanting to wear a hijab, and "is ripe for apostate killing or mercy killing." He also accused the parents' mosque of having ties to terrorism and radical Islam. The pastor and his wife have said they fear for their lives.
Her father, however, says that while he'd have preferred she not convert, "I have no problem with her practicing any faith," "we wouldn't do her harm" and that "We are not bad people...We are not like that, we are normal."
The whole case is setting off alarm bells for me. Now, on the one hand, it's very good that authorities are taking possible violence against women seriously, as so-called "honor killings" do happen and it's crucial to cut down on systemic abuse that can foster such a culture, and take such claims very seriously. However, the crusade-like nature of the rhetoric, the vague charges of "radical Islam" and the enthusiasm with which the story's being taken up as a cudgel against the religion generally is very worrisome. When we were first tipped off about the story, it was in an inflammatory email that referenced "radical Islam" and ended, "Because of these mainstream and authoritative Islamic teachings, a girl's life is in danger today. And as long as American authorities continue to pretend that the great mass of Muslims in the United States ignore or reject these traditional teachings of Islam, there will be many more young girls who will share Rifqa Bary's plight."
Whatever the father's threats - and I certainly think her claims should be treated with all due seriousness; she is clearly not manufacturing her emotion on the widely-circulated video, and her friends have backed up her stories - it's really hard to imagine any non-Christian using language like "Jesus in your heart." That's Christian rhetoric. And in her case, it sounds like the language of Christian martyrdom. A missing-persons cop who worked on the case is skeptical, saying that her father "appears to be a loving parent who knew about her conversion to Christianity months ago." Her parents argue that she's been "brainwashed" by the pastor, who's seen holding her protectively in the video. And her brother adds,
"we don't think the safest person is the pastor she met two weeks ago on Facebook." But her lawyer has asked that she be placed in protective custody until she turns 18. For the moment, an Orlando judge has placed Bary into the custody of Florida's Department of Children and Families until another hearing next week.
It's reassuring to see that the police and the legal system are handling this case responsibly, because they may be the only ones. I'll admit, my initial reaction, on hearing about the case, was something akin to, "how horrible! Protect her from zealots!" Then I read more, saw that groups like "Faith Under Fire" and "Exposing Liberal Lies" were taking up her cause so eagerly, and thought, ""how horrible! Protect her from zealots!" And herein lies the problem. This girl's case - whatever the facts - is not an ideological cudgel - however tempting it might be to rally behind the cause of a beautiful young cheerleader-martyr. It's her life, and deserves the respect of objective analysis, and compassion untainted by our views or hers.
Muslim Teen Fears For Life After Changing Religion [CNN]
Rifqa Bary: "I Am Fighting For My Life"Parents Say Local Runaway Was Brainwashed [MSNBC]
Runaway Cites Fear Of Father Over Leaving Islam
<a href="http://rifqabary.com/Rifqa Bary: Couple That Took Rifqa Bary Says They Have No Regrets [Orlando Sentinel]
A Florida Culture-War Circus Over Rifqa Bary [Time]