Friday, October 30, 2009

Why Atheists Should Care About Rifqa Bary

rifqa bary, muslim, islam, atheism, atheist, bigotry
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.


  1. I do know Rifqa has been ordered by a judge to be returned to her family, so I suppose it’s a matter of time until we see whether she does or doesn’t. I do hope she does, and that maybe her family, which sounds like a very decent, loving and caring homestead to me from what I’ve read, will talk some sense into her.

    As I’ve concluded in my own post on the matter a while back, Rifqa has obviously been brainwashed by a fundamentalist Christian sect into believing her family would be out to kill her. ’Cuz, after all, that’s all Muslims do, isn’t it, behead their children? [/snark]

  2. I hadn't heard she was ordered home. (You have to wade through a lot of nasty antimuslim stuff to get any info on this case.) Thanks.

  3. This seems like a knee-jerk reaction to believe the worst not just of Christians but of Rifqa Barry herself. She's 17 years old, not a little kid. Isn't it possible that she might know a little bit more about her family situation than you do?

    The situation may be as presented in the post, but in my opinion it is nowhere near that clearcut. If I remember correctly, there have been some other incidents where seemingly moderate westernized people resorted to types of honor killings.

    I don't really have a strong opinion on the overall case, but I don't think her fears should simply be dismissed out of hand. And at 17, I think it should ultimately be up to her who she wants to live with.

  4. She's 17, and 17-year-olds are known for a certain dramatic flair. (I've met a few. And been one.) If she were truly worried for her life, why run away with a man she met on the internet instead of, I don't know, calling the police? Telling a teacher? Any of a number of reasonable actions that would have led to her removal from the house?

    Plus, children are abused every day, with documented proof of their abuse, and we never hear about it. So why the national media press?

    As to 17-year-olds deciding where they live, for one thing, 17-year-olds aren't adults. We have a cutoff, everybody has to abide by it, though another option available to her was emancipation.

  5. True, and like I said, your take on this may be correct. But I'm not so sure about that.

  6. What seems most odd to me is this minister. In the spirit of full disclosure I should say that I am a Christian, but what kind of "minister" meets a young girl on the internet and proceeds to move her in with him. It would seem to me much wiser, if you really fear for her life, to get her in touch with local authorities. Instead he moves her in with him several states away. Perhaps his motives were pure, but it sure seems odd to me.

  7. I agree with Jay. Her ending up with a minister in Florida is pretty strange.

    I also agree with UNRR that none of us knows enough to predict how her parents would/will treat her.

    PF, I think you are right that it became such a big news story because her parents are Muslim. And I think it would also be big news if her parents were atheists, although I don't think anyone would believe the claim that her parents might kill her if they were atheists. You don't read about atheist honor killings.

  8. It has nothing whatsoever to do with religion. It is about human rights and people ignoring her bruises and death threats. I thought liberals and atheists cared about people. I guess I was wrong.

  9. @Anonymous:
    Exactly which part of this story isn’t about religion, religious brainwashing, and the girl now fearing her parents for religious reasons, due to threats with a religious basis? You obviously are either incapable of comprehending what you read, or are just an idiot.


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