Honor Killing Averted: Muslim Convert to Christianity Flees For Her Life
by Phyllis Chesler
Yesterday afternoon, my living room was filled with lights, cameras, and two very friendly ABC crew men. We were taping an interview for Good Morning America which appeared today and which is preserved at their website. We talked about honor killings and the plight of Fathima Rifqa Bary, the Muslim teenager from Ohio who converted to Christianity and who ran away from home because she knows her father will kill her.
Seventeen year-old Rifqa's interview is heartbreaking. She knows that if a Muslim leaves Islam, converts to another religion, is an "apostate," that they are supposed to be killed by any other Muslim; this includes members of her own family.
If someone from a Jewish or Christian fundamentalist home converts out, they may be ostracized, they may be treated as if they had died, but they are not physically killed.
Weeping, the very frightened teenager from Sri Lanka knows that most western journalists (and the police who turned her over to the state and forced her into a public trial), do not believe this can be true. How quickly they forget Salman Rushdie's plight. How easily everyone is lulled into viewing fundamentalist Islam as a religion just like any other, as if Islam-on-the-march today is still the "soft," cosmopolitan, hospitable culture it has occasionally been in the past, in certain cities and for certain monied people.
In 1989, the authorities in St Louis Missouri, also chose to allow a battered and bruised Palestina Isa, who had turned to them for help, to remain at the cruel mercies of the very family that had battered her. Palestina was sixteen-years-old and her father was, quite literally, a Palestinian terrorist. The social worker who made a home visit agreed that kids were difficult to control but that the effort to do so must be made. Palestina was held down by her mother as her father viciously kept stabbing her. Palestina's crime? She had an African-American friend who was a boy, and her mother, sisters, and father all perceived her as a "whore" because she was becoming too "westernized."
Now, twenty years later, Rifqa Bary is trying to make us understand something that we still fail to comprehend, do not want to believe is true. On camera, Rifqa keeps saying: "You guys don't understand, my life is at stake, this is reality, this is the truth, they have to kill me if they love God more than they love me." You can see her interview here.
Here is what can happen to her. Rifqa may be "forced" to return to Islam. Her family may place her under house arrest, and bring in the mullahs to reason with or to brainwash her; her mother may beg her to relent so that the family may remain together as before. If all else fails, Rifqa may be sent back to Sri Lanka either to be killed or to be confined to a lunatic asylum. She may be killed here. What absolutely cannot happen is for her religious Muslim family to remain close to her as she follows another religious path very publicly.
I do not have all the facts at my disposal. Thus, it is possible that Rifqa's father may genuinely view her as mentally ill (because only a "crazy" girl would do such a blasphemous thing) and, because he loves her, has decided not to abandon her, but to try and reach her, help her….return to her senses and therefore to Islam.
And, by the way: the weeping and terrified Rifqa has possibly been coached for the interview, she is slightly "hysterical," she seems somewhat auto-hypnotized. And yet, she also makes perfect sense. She is quite in touch with reality.
What can we offer someone like Rifqa in America? There is, as yet, no shelter in America for the intended victims of an honor killing. So far, no prosecutor has accused any murderer of committing an honor killing in America.
Even if we leave religion, culture, and ethnicity out of the equation, (to please every last political correct-nik), an honor killing is not like western-style domestic violence, it is a family collaboration and conspiracy to redeem lost family honor by murdering a daughter, wife, sister, or female cousin. Only her blood can "cleanse" their public shame. The murderer and his accomplices are viewed as valorous, they are not demonized or viewed as sociopathic criminals. They are rarely prosecuted in Third World countries. Men can also be honor murdered if they are seen as marrying or having an affair with a woman whose family views itself as of a higher class and of another religion.
Please see my study on this subject "Are Honor Killings Simply Domestic Violence?" in the Middle East Quarterly.
I hope and pray that Rifqa Bary is not returned to her parents. Even so, her life will be very hard. She is a young immigrant with, as yet, no marketable skills, who will never again be able to claim an extended family of origin. She may have to live in hiding for the rest of her life. But, she will have her religion, and to the extent to which she remains fervently religious, she may also have a faith-based community.
And, she will remain alive. Nothing more but at least that.
The Muslim parents have "lawyered up" and through their lawyer, Craig McCarthy, are insisting that they never threatened their daughter's life, that in fact, Pastors Blake and Beverly Lorenz are to blame for their daughter Rifqa's fears. However, Rifqa sought the Lorenzes out herself, many years after she secretly converted to Christianity.
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