"I don't know if you know about honor killings? But this faith—you guys don't understand, Islam is very different than you guys think." So avows runaway apostate Rifqa Bary, the focus of a so-called dependency battle that is expanding into a national debate on the conflict between Islamic mores and American freedom.
The 17-year-old had been practicing Christianity in secret for four years when she fled her home in central Ohio in July, fearing for her life after her parents discovered her defection. The Sri Lankan Bary family has been in the U.S. since 2000.
The girl, describing her parents as "devout Muslims," can be seen on WFTV's website telling her story to one of the station's reporters. She speaks from the Florida home of Blake and Beverly Lorenz, a pastor couple with the Global Revolution Church who took her in.
"They have to kill me," Miss Bary says. "My blood is now halal, which means that because I'm now a Christian—I'm from a Muslim background—it's an honor. If they love God more than me, they have to do this. I'm fighting for my life, you guys don't understand." The juxtaposition of American teen lingo with medieval precepts is a chilling confirmation that a long-understood reality in Europe is only now dawning on American minds. "You guys talk about religious freedom? No—I don't have that...I don't want to die."
At Thursday's hearing before a packed Orlando courtroom, Judge Daniel Dawson rejected pleas from Mohamed and Aysha Bary to send their daughter back to Ohio, confirming she will remain in Florida pending investigation, with another hearing scheduled for Sept. 29.
Miss Bary's counsel, John Stemberger, has filed a sworn affidavit from his client, underlining her father's close connection to Ohio's Noor Islamic Cultural Center, and a 33-page report on the mosque's ties to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. Noor spokesmen have entered the fray, denying the evidence and claiming there is no such thing as death for apostasy in Islamic law.
Extensive coverage in the Orlando Sentinel echoes the narrative developed by the local Council on American-Islamic Relations chapter, which is campaigning against anyone who defends Miss Bary.
They both dismiss the purportedly melodramatic fears of a gullible teen exploited by Christian zealots, defended by Islamophobes bent on fomenting religious war, and opportunist politicians fishing for the right wing vote.
"[Mr.] Bary is a middle-class jeweler with no documented history of abuse and no record of radical actions or beliefs," the Orlando Sentinel's Mike Thomas wrote last month in a piece alleging anti-Muslim bias in Miss Bary's case.
Mr. Thomas seems to see no reason why Mr. Bary would kill his daughter—after all, he said in court she would be free to worship as she chooses.
Miss Bary affirms in a sworn affidavit that her father said, "in a fit of anger that I had never seen before in my life…'If you have this Jesus in your heart, you are dead to me! You are no longer my daughter…I will kill you!'"
Can an outside observer weigh the measure of truth in each of these assertions and dismiss Ms. Bary's fears as adolescent histrionics? Five thousand victims of honor killings annually world-wide, according to a conservative U.N. estimate, bear witness against Mr. Thomas's placid supposition. Women in Muslim countries and immigrant communities everywhere fall prey to an elaborate legal code enforced by torture and murder that deprives them of their civil rights, their human rights, their right to exist.
Sharia-sanctioned death for apostasy was recently confirmed by Harvard chaplain Taha Abdul-Basser, who sparked controversy in April when a private e-mail discussing punishment for leaving Islam was made public. Mr. Abdul-Basser notes, "There is great wisdom (hikma) associated with the established and preserved position (capital punishment) and so, even if it makes some uncomfortable in the face of the hegemonic modern human rights discourse, one should not dismiss it out of hand."
As for human rights, the 1990 Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, affirmed by 54 Muslim countries, notes these can be restricted for "Sharia-prescribed reasons," including forced marriage and death for apostasy.
European awareness of honor killings contrasts with the artificial ignorance surrounding Ms. Bary's case in the U.S. Europeans can't ignore the specificity of savage murders of "wayward" girls who want the freedoms of their adopted countries. Stories of runaways enticed to come home and let all be forgiven, only to be met by their executioners, abound on the continent. Banaz Mahmod, a 20-year-old Iraqi refugee in London, was murdered by her father and uncle in 2006 after police dismissed her requests for protection. In 2002, 17-year-old Sohane Benziane was burned alive in a Paris suburb by a fellow teenager. In April, a 20-year-old Turkish man was jailed for allegedly strangling, beating and ultimately killing his twin sister, Gulsum Semin, after learning of her abortion, Agence France-Presse reported.
Europeans cannot escape the headlines. European police met in The Hague in 2004 to confer on a strategy to combat honor killings. The Council of Europe published a report in June warning the practice is increasingly common in France, Sweden, the Netherlands, the U.K. and Turkey.
A nationwide safety net against this form of oppression has developed in France, which hosts Europe's largest Muslim population. There, a minor like Ms. Bary who feels threatened by her family can find associations offering counseling and asylum, from Voix de Femmes (Voice of Women) formed by an Algerian victim of a forced marriage, to a safe house association in Montpellier, to Ni Putes Ni Soumises (Neither Whores Nor Doormats), created in the wake of Ms. Benziane's immolation. Young women railroaded into marriage while on vacation in their parents' home country can turn to French consular officials for help.
No one would doubt Miss Bary's story.
"Do you really think that this is true, or do you think this is just a threat?" the journalist asks in the WFTV video.
Miss Bary, doubled up in anguish, begs not for mercy but for lucidity.
"How many more cases do you want? There's case after case, there's hundreds of them, I am one—I am one of hundreds."
How many more must die?
Ms. Poller is an American novelist living in Paris since 1972.