Rifqa Madness

The Rifqa Bary bandwagon shows no sign of losing steam, with various conservative groups and outfits using the opportunity to issue statements. Americans for a Safe Israel thunders:

Rifqa Bary is a seventeen year old girl who faces danger, abuse and possibly death if she is forced to return to her parents. Her crime under American standards of law? None. Her disrespect for American law? None. Anti-social behavior as dictated by the mores of our society? None.

Why then does Rifqa Bary fear her parents so that on Thursday September 3rd, a Florida Circuit Judge will decide whether to send her home to her family or be given a haven and freedom?

What do her parents and her mosque and Islam see as her crime and violation of law and social behavior and honor? Her conversion to Christianity four years ago. While her conversion remained secret her parents thrived economically in Columbus, Ohio where they worshipped in a local mosque where sermons offered the strictest interpretation of the Koran.

When the mosque, which has been under suspicion for abetting terrrism deliberately “outed” Rifqa’s conversion to her family she was subjected to bruises and death threats and fled from her home. In Florida, an Evangelical church gave her shelter and guidance in filing for restraint.

While the Institute for Religion and Democracy warns that the girl has

committed a crime against the Ummah, or nation state of Islam.

 …those who have been “quick” to believe Rifqa Bary are not interested in proving a point about Muslims, but in protecting a vulnerable girl, convinced that when it comes to honor killing and apostasy it is better to err on the side of caution than to add another name and face to the list of the dead. The best assessment of most of the American Christian church’s comprehension of life under Islamic law came from Rifqa herself. Trying to explain the danger she faces from her Muslim parents, the Islamic community in the Columbus, Ohio area, and the entire Ummah, she exclaimed despairingly, “I’m fighting for my life, you guys don’t understand. You don’t understand.”

Not to be outdone, Herbert London of the Hudson Institute has composed a pompous and risible “Letter to Judge Dawson”, comparing the girl to Joan of Arc:

…this case involves more than one youthful life; it represents a defense of our Constitution and our way of life. Just as a Christian can covert to Islam, a Muslim should be free to covert to Christianity whatever her parents think and whatever the Koran indicates.

To suggest anything else is to allow Islam to be superordinated over our law and tradition. If there was ever a time to assert our beliefs and customs, this is it. Americans are increasingly unsure about what this nation stands for. But there really isn’t ambiguity about this matter. Sharia is not our custom or our law, and you, sir, should not recognize it as dispositive in your legal judgment.

Rifqa’s cause should prevail because this recent immigrant is fighting for the most basic of American principles. She is our Joan of Arc, and I ardently hope you will recognize the need to assert traditional jurisprudential precedent in this case.

Meanwhile, journalists who remain unconvinced get short shrift. Mike Thomas of the Orlando Sentinal raised some reasonable doubts and suggested that the custody case ought to be held in the girl’s home state of Ohio. For Pamela Geller, this means that the Sentinel is actually advocating murder, and that Thomas “ought to be charged with incitement to violent honor killing” – a clear sign that we’re dealing with someone drunk on the power of incendiary rhetoric to rabble-rouse rather than a person with any interest in considering the truth of a situation. Geller has also rooted around the internet to find evidence that Bary’s father has wound up his jewellery business as part of plan to “flee” to Sri Lanka, either before or after bumping off his daughter, and to get tax-payer funds to fight his case. Meanwhile, the anti-Muslim Jawa Report has found shocking evidence that an article in the Ohio Columbus Dispatch was written by a journalist who wore a headscarf when she visited Bary’s father’s mosque!

The same website also touts an article in the Florida Baptist Witness:

According to Ergun Mehmet Caner, the threat to Rifqa for her rejection of Islam and conversion to Christianity is real. “There’s no question,” Caner said in an Aug. 27 interview with the Witness.

Caner, who converted to Christianity as a 16-year-old in Columbus, Ohio, grew-up in the mosque, the Islamic Foundation of Central Ohio, out of which the Bary family mosque, Noor Islamic Cultural Center, was started and remains connected.

Now a Baptist minister and president of Liberty Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Va., Caner is a well-known apologist for the Christian faith – activity for which a fatwa, an Islamic religious ruling calling for his death, was issued last year “that put us on the road for a while.”

Because of his outspoken repudiation of Islam and defense of Christianity, Caner said he has to take special security precautions.

Caner and his two brothers, who became Christians within 14 months of his conversion, were disowned by their father, who was the architect of their Columbus mosque.

Rather than sending his sons back to their home country of Turkey, the decision of the eldest Caner to disown his children “was an act of mercy,” Caner told the Witness. Caner said his father died in 1999 as a Muslim, while his mother is now a Christian.

“When someone says, ‘Oh, it’s horrible what happened to you.’ No, what my father did was merciful,” Caner explained, noting his fate could have been much worse.

The risk of an “honor killing” – an obligation under Islamic law for those who reject Islam – is routine in Muslim nations.

So, the fact that Caner’s father didn’t kill his sons is simply evidence that he might have done so! (Incidentally, this is the first we’ve heard of a “fatwa” against Caner, although it wouldn’t be surprising if, as an anti-Muslim polemicist, he has received death threats from extremists. Caner’s Swedish mother was born a Christian, and his parents divorced when he was 16)

The Orlando Sentinal has also interviewed Bary’s parents, which will doubtless inspire a further round of frothing. The article includes some input from people who know the family:

“There is no way this man would hurt his daughter,” said Neil Javery, 52, a Hindu and family friend in Westerville, the Columbus suburb where the Barys live.

Mohamed Bary, 47, is a kind, gentle man who loves his daughter, takes great pride in Rifqa’s school accomplishments.

He sells jewelry and Amway products, friends say.

Aysha Bary is a stay-at-home mom who speaks little English but breaks into tears over what has happened.

“My heart goes out to them,” said Holly Easton of Plain City, Ohio, who owns a wedding gown business and pays Rifqa’s mother to stitch beads onto gowns. “It’s horrible. … I hope they’re able to reconcile, and she comes home and they can be a family again.”

By contrast, tales of the father as cruel and abusive being pasted around the internet have come from anonymous sources.

The focus has also been put back Pastor Blake Lorenz, who took her in for several weeks before the authorities became aware of her location; the St. Petersburg Times explains that:

Florida law says you can’t shelter an unmarried minor for more than 24 hours without calling either the authorities or the parents or guardians of the minor.

…”The 21/2 weeks that Rifqa was missing were a living hell for the parents. Was she dead? Was she alive?” said Shayan Elahi, an Orlando lawyer who’s serving as a spokesman for the family. “The Lorenzes, under the statute, had the obligation to go to the authorities and they did not.

“They didn’t follow the law,” Elahi said.

However, Lorenz did use Bary, under an assumed name, as a sermon topic on 9 August, as WDBO Radio notes:

“The persecution is here already. Anna’s been living this out. Anna is a wonderful young woman of God. 17-years-old tomorrow,” Lorenz told his followers. “She is a dynamo, where the spirit loves Jesus. She was a Muslim. Gave her life to Christ, fell in love with Jesus. She fled for her life, threatened to be killed because she gave her life to Jesus. Renounce Jesus, and we’ll let you live.”

Lorenz told the church Bary had been staying with him and his wife, Beverly, at their home for 2-and-a-half weeks.

“The fear we live with is the police are going to show up, take us off, arrest us,” Lorenz said. “Oh that couldn’t happen? It happened to the man that baptized her!”

Lorenz was referring to a young pastor in Kansas City, Missouri who helped Columbus police track down where Bary had gone, after they threatened to arrest him.

“The police showed up at his apartment in Kansas City to arrest him. Illegally searched his apartment and all the apartments there looking for her, convinced she was there. Don’t say it can’t happen in America!” Lorenz preached.

Before fleeing to Florida, Bary was involved with “Xenos Christian Fellowship, a megachurch that emphasizes small groups meeting at home”, and which has a website here. Back in February, it was in the news when a woman claimed it had “brainwashed” her formerly Roman Catholic son:

Online, she makes allegations of alcohol abuse, vandalism and brainwashing of young children. She calls the church leader and his family “Devil man,” “Devil wife” and “Devil son.”

…The local Xenos leader, Keith McCallum, a bearded former software writer, accuses Smith of a “terror campaign” and threatening to shoot him. He said her allegations have no merit.

In a quarter century of ministry, he said, “we’ve never had any lawsuits, crimes or misdemeanors filed against us.”

This website has further details that rebut the “cult” accuation. There has also been an anonymous attempt to link Xenos with Brian L. Williams, a pastor currently in prison for sexual abuse; this seems to be a deliberate ploy to mislead, as there is no connection.

Just in case anyone is interested in what I think: on the one hand, the case has some obvious problematic aspects. Bary believes her father wants to kill her because it would be “a great honour” for him and would show his love for Allah. But this is a misunderstanding of what honour killing is, and we have to suppose it has been put into her head by one of her Christian associates. “Honour killing” is also being deliberately conflated with the formal traditional punishment of capital punishment for apostasy. The IRD’s claim that they are “not interested in proving a point about Muslims” is an insult to our intelligence – of course this is all about publicising the idea that American Muslims are horrible and brutal people who will scheme at any length in order to kill their own children in circumstances when their religion commands it, and perhaps letting Muslims know that if they live in America they can expect the authorities to remove their children simply because of the nature of Islam. The hucksters and demagogues who are using this case for political ends add nothing to the cause of Bary’s welfare, and Lorenz has behaved like a fool in not going at once to the authorities (his poor judgment is compounded by creepy pictures of her hugging him for protection). But on the other hand, when a minor makes a serious allegation against a parent the authorities have to take it seriously, so it’s difficult to see how she can be returned to her parents against her will while she maintains that her life is in danger – even though the father looks like a very unlikely Islamic extremist, and “honour killing” is rare in Sri Lanka. And at 17 years old, is it really worth the bother of a drawn-out legal process that will be moot in year anyway?