Tuesday, September 29, 2009

In re Rifqa

Later this month judges in Ohio and Florida will step into the culture war skirmish that is the Rifqa Bary case. If you haven't heard about the case, the facts outline as follows. A teenage girl of immigrant parents gets involved with things the parents aren't wild about. The parents find out, harsh words are exchanged and the child thinks she's been threatened.

So far this is a case I saw more than once in my days as a prosecutor. I've seen cases where I sympathized with the parents (child acting sexually precocious, running with a criminal element) and with the child (child dating someone of a different race.) The Bary case worked its way into a national story of sorts because in this case Rifqa's means of pissing off her parents was converting from Islam to Christianity.

One of the few facts in the case which everyone agrees on is that Rifqa got interested in Christianity by meeting Christians at school and online, converted and kept it hidden from her parents. She claims that when her father found out, he picked up a laptop, threatened to hit her with it and threatened to kill her. She left home and somehow got a bus to Florida where she was sheltered by a Christian pastor and his wife.

So far a difficult but still less than Earth-shattering case. Enter the right wing blogosphere. Righty bloggers have elevated the case to no less than a referendum on America's willingness to stand up to the apocolyptic threat that Islam poses. They say.

The conservative attorneys on Rifqa's side argue that Rifqa's life is in danger if she is returned to her parents and to the Muslim community in suburban Columbus. They base the claim on the alleged threat from her father and the alleged ties of the mosque they attend to radical Islamists. They also note the thread of Islamic thought calling for death to apostates, and the threat of honor killings.

The stance of the right wing bloggers (and the more nutty elements of the right-wing media that have picked up the story) is remarkably -- but not surprisingly -- anti-family. If the term pro-family means something other than code for anti-gay, it presumably means that policies favoring keeping families intact are better than those that don't. But the pro-Rifqa side of the debate has argued consistently that she should be kept in Florida, well away from her parents.

To be sure, one does not need to be a right wing Islamaphobe to have concerns about the case. Regardless of whether killing apostates is a core belief of Islam, it certainly is true that a fair number of Muslims believe it. Similarly, honor killings are a real phenomenon. (Though I must ask here whether they are a real phenomenon in Sri Lanka where the family originates. My understanding is that honor killings are more a matter of custom among Arabic tribes than a feature of Islam. The custom extend to Sri Lanka -- I just don't know.) And frankly the apologists on the left go too far in pretending such threats do not exist.

But the rightysphere allows for no grey in this story. The parents are Muslim and have attended a mosque in which people have spoken who associate with people who associate with people in the Muslim Brotherhood, so case closed. The parents claim, in the first instance, that they aren't all that devout and only attend the mosque infrequently. While we can question the extent to which a threat assessment should take into account the associations of a parent's place of worship, we really should be concerned if the parents are the equivalent of C&E Muslims.

Voices in the right in this debate are -- OK I've said it once, so let's not mince words -- are mostly whack jobs. For example, one of the lead bloggers on the story is Pamela Gellar from Atlas Shrugs. Check out this piece she did on Obama's speech before the NAACP, contrasted with the actual speech. You can't argue with a piece like that. Either her perception of reality is hopelessly skewed or mine is. I prefer to assume my own sanity.

The customary procedure for a case like this is to put the child in foster care and begin a series of supervised visitations to a) try to reunify the family and b) continue to assess the threat to the child. The best first step would be transferring the case (and Rifqa) to Ohio. Hopefully the judges will put the holy war nonsense aside and do what's best for this girl and her family.