Much has been made in Christian circles about Rifqa Bary, the Christian convert from a Muslim family that ran away from home earlier this year, but few in atheist circles have made mention of Ms. Bary, perhaps viewing the case as an interreligious conflict that doesn't affect atheists at all.
We should care about Ms. Bary. The entire fiasco reveals a shocking bigotry toward Muslims, and we all know whom Christians hate more than Muslims: atheists.
In a nutshell, Ms. Bary is a 17-year-old girl who lived an average American life until quite recently. She attended a private school, was a cheerleader, had an active internet life. Her family is Muslim, but as the above picture amply demonstrates, not of the fundamentalist variety. There is no headscarf, hijab or burqa in the above picture, in fact, you can see her legs. Her father bought her a laptop and allowed her to prance around half naked at football games.
All of which makes what happened next, and the media attention given to it, outrageous. Apparently, Ms. Bary converted to Christianity at 14, and her family found out a few months ago. Unsurprisingly, her parents were angry, as would be Christian parents upon finding out their child had converted to Islam. Ms. Bary then ran away, from Ohio to Florida, to live with a man she met on the internet. This man, a Christian minister, failed to report her presence to the authorities as Florida law requires.
Ms. Bary's parents reported her as a runaway, and when the authorities found her in Florida she told them that she feared her father would kill her, being Muslim and all. Honor killings do occur, but it is a custom of fundamentalist Muslims, not the sort of Muslims who send their daughters to private schools, buy them laptops and allow them to show their legs. The Barys are originally from Sri Lanka, a country with a small Muslim population and no history of honor killings. (In fact, Ms. Bary's parents immigrated to the US to get her better medical treatment for an injury to her eye.)
If Ms. Bary's parents were not Muslim, do you suppose her claims would have been taken seriously? Do you suppose the national media would have picked up the story? What about the minister who hid Ms. Bary in his home? Do you think he would have avoided being charged for harboring a runaway? Ms. Bary still has not been sent home. In fact, it looks like she will never be sent home, and will be kept in foster care until her 18th birthday.
Why should this matter to the atheist community? A family was unfairly demonized simply for being Muslim. They have now lost custody of their child, though there is no evidence they have, or will, harm her in any way. Considering the way Christians feel about atheists, this sets an alarming precedent for our community as well. What happens when the child of an atheist converts to Christianity and then makes wild claims about their parents to the authorities? Given this example, I can picture such children being encouraged to do so in order to be fostered in a Christian home.
All I can say is that we, as atheists, should pay attention to this case. It may well show us the future for our community, too.