Is Newsweek Trying to Kill Rifqa Bary?

Rifqa Bary, the teenage girl who converted to Christianity from Islam and then fled for her life after her father threatened to kill her, faces daunting obstacles in her quest to be free. As a high-profile apostate, she is a high value target for Islamists. And she faces a Leftist media that is complicit with those who want to see her fall prey to them.

Witness the treatment that Newsweek gave to her story in its September 9 issue, and especially to Jamal Jivanjee, Rifqa’s friend and confidante.

Newsweek reporter Arian Campo-Flores, Jivanjee told me, asked him for an interview “about my connection to Rifqa Bary, as well as other questions regarding her situation.” But when Jivanjee saw the Newsweek published, he told me in a detailed interview about the newsmagazine’s unfair coverage that he was “very disappointed at the clear bias that was demonstrated in the article,” and that he found many aspects of the piece “troubling.”

Campo-Flores’ Newsweek article describes Mohamed Bary, Rifqa’s father, as “a polite, mild-mannered man who seems deeply pained by the acrimony.” Jivanjee asked pointedly, “What is the journalistic purpose of describing Rifqa’s father in such a manner?” And he supplied what Campo-Flores left out: “Rifqa has been physically and psychologically abused in the past at the hands of her family.” These charges did not come from third parties: “Rifqa has made these allegations personally, and these claims are being investigated and will be brought out should a court trial become necessary.” Rifqa has previously recounted that her father said to her, “If you have this Jesus in your heart, you are dead to me! You are no longer my daughter…I will kill you! Tell me the truth!”  

Jivanjee also explained Rifqa’s side of the story: “Based on the past violence and abuse suffered at the hands of her family, Rifqa had every reason to take her father’s threats seriously. Also, because Rifqa is not a U.S. citizen, she lived in the fear that she could have been taken out of the country at the hands of her parents where she would be afforded no protection of life or rights to practice her Christian faith.”

But none of this found its way into Newsweek. Jivanjee asked, “Is Newsweek making the statement that because he was polite to the reporter, he is polite and gentle toward his daughter?” The bias was obvious: “This is a subtle attempt to paint Rifqa’s father in a positive light, and make it harder to believe Rifqa’s own testimony about the threats that she faced at the hands of her father.”

Campo-Flores, said Jivanjee, “could have just as easily described Rifqa as a ‘tiny and broken girl who seems to be extremely frightened at the thought of being returned to her parent’s custody.’” But he didn’t, because he is not on Rifqa’s side.

Newsweek showed its bias against Rifqa again when Campo-Flores followed up Rifqa’s statement that she was in danger of being killed as an apostate by claiming that “Muslim scholars say that in Islam, there’s no such thing as an honor killing for apostasy.” Here Newsweek was conflating two distinct Islamic practices: honor killing and the killing of apostates. Usually girls murdered by their fathers or brothers in honor killings have been guilty, or are thought to be guilty, of some immoral behavior.

There is, strictly speaking, no “honor killing for apostasy,” but there is certainly honor killing, and killing for apostasy. Jivanjee’s response to this was contemptuous: “Would Newsweek deny that there are over 5000 honor killings a year according to U.N. estimates? This is ignorant journalism at best, and biased and deceptive journalism at worst.”

Campo-Flores’s bias was further demonstrated in his description of the 33-page memorandum that Rifqa’s attorney, John Stemberger, filed about the Noor Mosque.  Stemberger’s memo argues the mosque’s connection with Islamic terrorists and radical elements. But Newsweek’s report says it is filled with “innuendo and provocative allegations.” Jivanjee asked: “Is this not a judgment call? On what does Newsweek base this assessment? Why did they not choose to list the sources that the 33-page report was based on?”

Campo-Flores also showed ignorance of the Bary family’s connection to the Noor Mosque, reporting factually incorrect information regarding the family’s involvement with the mosque. His article says: “In her affidavit, Bary contends that her father forced her to attend youth gatherings every Saturday at the Noor Islamic Cultural Center in Dublin, Ohio (though the center says its records show she attended only three classes there in 2007).” Campo-Flores apparently took the mosque’s claim at face value, describing the Noor Mosque as one that the Barys “occasionally attend.”

Jivanjee, however, said that this was “absolutely false.” He explained that because of the Noor Mosque’s radical ties, “it is in their best interest to distance themselves from the Bary family so that they can avoid being scrutinized through the investigation.”

Jivanjee, himself an ex-Muslim, said that “anyone who knew the Barys knew that they were heavily involved with the Noor Mosque, as they even hosted Noor gatherings in their home. It was people from the Noor Mosque who reported to Rifqa’s parents themselves that they thought Rifqa was an apostate.”

This sounds as if there was more than a casual relationship between the Bary family and the Noor Mosque. Why was it not reported? Not for want of trying: Jivanjee said, “I mentioned that to the Newsweek reporter and it was never included in the published article.”

This is a story that we must get right. Jivanjee elucidated the stakes involved: “If we get this story right, Rifqa’s story may set many people like her free, and if we get this story wrong, a life could be lost.”