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My God can beat up your God 

You've heard the story: A young Ohio girl from a Muslim family converts to Christianity, then runs away to an Orlando evangelical couple she met over the Internet. She claims that her Muslim parents want to kill her. The couple shelters her for two weeks before telling the cops where she is. Now the mess is tied up in the courts as a judge decides whether to send the girl back to Ohio.

Over the last month, the case of Fathima Rifqa Bary has reached near-ubiquity. The pastoral couple that took her in — Blake and Beverly Lorenz — have been lauded as heroes. Attorney John Stemberger, who led the anti-gay marriage campaign last year, took up Bary's cause by making outlandish and unsupported claims in the local press about Bary's family's mosque and its alleged ties to terrorism.

This is very much a Florida story, rooted in sensationalism, ignorance and bigotry. So, even if there's little evidence to support the idea that Bary's father is set on killing his daughter to preserve the family honor — he knew his teenager had converted years before she ran away and didn't kill her; he also let her be a cheerleader, which would seem unlikely for a terrorist sympathizer — there's a lingering inclination to believe what might otherwise be dismissed. (Both Florida and Ohio officials have investigated and turned up nothing to indicate that the 17-year-old is in danger.)

But Bary's parents, the reasoning goes, belong to a religion that does not tolerate apostates. As the Quran says (4:89), "They but wish that ye should reject Faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing (as they): But take not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of Allah (from what is forbidden). But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them; and (in any case) take no friends or helpers from their ranks."

Inherent in supposing the girl safer here than in Ohio is the notion that the fundamentalist Christianity of Stemberger and the Lorenzes is far more civilized than the Islam of the Barys. And to believe that requires a very selective reading of the Bible.

Ezekiel 9:4-6, for instance, demands the slaughter of the unfaithful. From the King James version: "And the LORD said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof. And to the others he said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity: Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary."

The God of the Old Testament is a vengeful and often vicious deity. In the Noah's flood myth, God wipes out almost all of the humanity he created. In the story of Job, he allows a faithful servant to undergo merciless suffering. In Exodus, God kills all of the first-born sons of Egypt, many of whom presumably had nothing to do with the Hebrews' plight. Leviticus mandates death for a number of sins, including homosexuality, cursing your parents and touching the skin of a pig.

In Numbers 31, Moses and the Israelites go to war. His soldiers kill all the men and take the women and children as slaves. This angers Moses, but not for the reasons you think: "And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive? … Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known a man by lying with him. But all the women-children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves."

King David, the hero of Israel, was a premeditated murderer and adulterer. Lot, a Biblical hero, offered his two virgin daughters to a mob to stop them from raping two angels. He later got drunk and impregnated his two daughters (Genesis 19). And yes, even the New Testament promises God's wrath for the unbeliever. As John 3:36 says, "He that believeth in the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him."

For all of the Beatitudes and the "love thy neighbor" talk, the Bible is a very violent book. And so is the Quran. The key is in the interpretation. These books are products of the unscientific and brutal ages in which they were written. The problem with radical Islam is that it hasn't evolved; it still sees the world in fundamentalist hues.

But unless there's proof that Bary's father is indeed the bloodthirsty Muslim caricature that Stemberger and his ilk would have you believe, perhaps we shouldn't assume his guilt based on Muslim scripture alone.

As someone once said, "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?"


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