How The Religious Right Turned a Runaway Into A Holy War

Over the last several days, I have seen various articles popping up on right-wing websites about the need to protect Fathima Rifqa Bary, a young Muslim woman from Ohio who converted to Christianity and then fled to Florida out of fear that she would become the victim of an “honor killing” by her father.

Human Events has been all over the story, as has WorldNetDaily and OneNewsNow, while right wing organizations like the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission have been busy leveling outlandish claims:

She fled out of fear that she would be killed because she has become a Christian and she has good reasons.

Her father screamed at her that if she had Jesus in her heart, she was dead to him and he would kill her. Prior to that Rifqa had been repeatedly beaten by her family even to the point of losing vision in one eye.

Not surprisingly, these sorts of allegations don’t appear to be backed up by any facts:

Sgt. Jerry Cupp of the missing-persons unit of the Columbus police special-victims bureau, disputes Fathima Rifqa Bary’s allegation. He said her father, Mohamed Bary, appears to be a loving parent who knew about her conversion to Christianity months ago.

It “seems outlandish to me,” he said, “but that’s not for me to decide. We’ll gladly let the courts work this thing out.”

Rifqa reportedly became a Christian four years ago and her parents say they have known about her conversion for nearly a year and have told her that she can practice whatever religion she wants, but it was only recently when his daughter began spending hours on Facebook, where she met Blake and Beverly Lorenz, that she became convinced that she would be killed because of her conversion, leading her to flee to Florida, where she was taken in by the Lorenzes, who seem to see the case as part of a war between Islam and Christianity:

Mohamed Bary and his wife Aysha adamantly insist it is “completely false” that they ever threatened to kill Rifqa over her conversion. “We love her; we want her back. She is free to practice her religion, whatever she believes in. That’s O.K.,” Mohamed told the Associated Press last week.

Columbus police tell TIME they’re watching the case closely and are in contact with the courts and social-services agencies in Ohio and Florida; so far they have found no evidence or other information to support Rifqa’s accusation. Craig McCarthy, one of two Orlando attorneys appointed to represent the Barys in Florida, says that while they may have been dismayed at first by Rifqa’s conversion, as devout parents of any faith would be, they are hardly the kind of fundamentalist Muslims who would declare a medieval fatwa, or death sentence, on their daughter. “There is a vast, vast difference between not being pleased that your child has not chosen your faith and wanting to kill your child,” says McCarthy. “This is a family with Westernized kids. Their daughter is a cheerleader.”

If Rifqa’s claims are indeed false, that raises the question of whether she may have been prodded by her new friends at Global Revolution Church to make the death-threat accusations, and whether she was somehow lured to Orlando by the Lorenzes via the Internet. The couple, who could not be reached for comment, have denied it to the media. But Beverly Lorenz has acknowledged that she talked by phone with Rifqa before the girl ran away. Blake Lorenz, who insists that Rifqa will be killed if she goes home, earlier this month made clear to reporters his Crusades-era belief that this is part of Christianity’s holy struggle against Islam: “These are the last days; these are the end times,” he said, “and this conflict between Islam and Christianity is going to grow greater. This conflict between good and evil is going to grow greater.” 

After her arrival, the Lorenzes contacted “longtime friend” Mat Staver of the Liberty Counsel and ultimately secured legal representation for her from John Stemberger, who just so happens to be the President of the Florida Family Policy Council, the “fully associated” state affiliate of Focus on the Family.

And Stemberger now seems to be doing all that he can to turn this incident into a full-blown holy war, first by claiming that if Rifqa is sent back to her parents, she’ll be immediately killed:

“There is a significant population, a growing population, of extremist Muslims who take the Quran quite literally and apply it as they have on this case,” said Bary’s attorney John Stemberger. “My concern is she is literally a dead girl if she is sent back to Ohio. It’s only a matter of time until she disappears into the night.”

And then alleging that the mosque to which her parents belong has ties to terrorists:

The attorney for Rifqa Bary released information Monday that portrays the girl’s parents’ mosque as a hotbed of Islamic extremists with ties to terrorists.

Bary is the 17-year-old girl from near Columbus, Ohio, who fled to Florida on a bus last month because she believes her Muslim family now must murder her because of her conversion to Christianity.

The next hearing in the controversial custody case that some see as a key battle in a clash of cultures is set for Thursday afternoon in Orlando.

The first of two documents released Monday is a 33-page, 130-footnote memo that says the leaders of the Noor Islamic Cultural Center in Dublin, Ohio, have links to terrorist organizations, including the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaida.