The oppression of women living in Islamic states has been exposed this month in the Western media. Nearly every major paper has reported the exhilaration of Iranian women who are posting chador-less selfies on the Facebook page My Stealthy Freedom.
Its creator, Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad, now living in the UK, says “It is a basic right for any person to have freedom of choice. Women in Iran, along with many other countries, want to choose what they wear. It should not be legislated nor should it be enforced.”
Who could disagree with that? No one. More than 300,000 people have “liked” the page; it has been reported admiringly in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Independent, The Guardian, and everywhere the great and good gather and congratulate each other on their progressive views.
The women of Iran deserve to have freedom of choice about their chadors. It is a disgrace that their mullahs deny them a basic human freedom.
But almost no one in the gallery of gushing approval is raising her voice to defend Meriam Yehya Ibrahim who was condemned to death in Sudan on May 1. Meriam is eight months pregnant, but a court in Khartoum found her guilty of adultery and apostatising from Islam.
The case against her is an absurd travesty of justice by all standards except the standards of the fundamentalist regime which currently governs Sudan. Twenty-seven-year-old Meriam is the daughter of a Muslim father and a Ethiopian Coptic Orthodox mother. Meriam’s father deserted the family when she was a baby and she was raised as a Christian. She qualified as a doctor at University of Khartoum Medical School and married a Christian man from South Sudan, Daniel Wani. Mr Wani is an American citizen who lives in New Hampshire. They have a 20-month-old son and were hoping to emigrate to the US.
But then a relative of her father – one source said that it was her brother — reported her to the police. The daughter of a Muslim man is considered a Muslim and therefore Meriam’s Christian faith was labelled apostasy. A Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim and therefore Meriam’s marriage to Daniel was labelled adultery.
For the crime of adultery Meriam has been condemned to 100 lashes; for the crime of apostasy, she has been condemned to death by hanging.
Who is speaking up for Meriam? Women have a right to wear the clothes they want; they also have a right to worship as they want. Where is Maureen Dowd’s column in the New York Times?
Had Meriam been condemned to hang by the neck until dead for wearing a bikini, her photo would have been splashed over the front page of every paper in the US and the UK. But she has been condemned for being a Christian. Her husband claims that the US Embassy in Khartoum initially told him that they did not care about the case – even though his son, now in prison with his mother, is an American citizen.
Meriam has behaved with great courage. She has been denied adequate medical attention for her pregnancy and has been pressured by other women in the prison and by imams who have harangued her to recant. But she repeatedly told them as she told the judge in court: “I am a Christian, and I have never been a Muslim.”
There is no right more fundamental than the right to religious freedom. If citizens are compelled to violate their consciences no other rights ultimately have any meaning. A society which fails to respect transcendent values quickly lapses into tyranny and the basest forms of pragmatism. As Professor Robert P. George, the chair of the US government’s Commission on International Religious Freedom, says:
“To respect this liberty and other fundamental rights ultimately means to honor and favor our fellow human beings and the inherent dignity they possess. It is to acknowledge that in order to flourish, people must be free to address the deepest questions of existence and meaning so they may lead lives of authenticity and integrity by following the dictates of conscience, peacefully fulfilling what they firmly believe to be their religious and moral duties.”
So why hasn’t Meriam’s impending martyrdom captured the imagination of women columnists? Is it because she is prepared to die rather than renounce her Christian faith? Is it because she is prepared to die rather than repudiate her Christian marriage? Is it because she is a professional woman who married young and quickly had two children? The chatterati have been very vocal in defending the rights of gays in Uganda where no one has ever been sentenced to death. Doesn’t the defiant faith of Meriam Yehya Ibrahim deserve the same attention?
There is still time for Polly Toynbee, of The Guardian, to tweet about this appalling miscarriage of justice. An appeal is possible and under Sharia law, a pregnant woman cannot be executed until her child is weaned at two years of age. If journalists want to highlight gutsy women, determined women, women who know their own mind, Meriam Yehya Ibrahim is a star. Even if she is a mother. Even if she is a Christian.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.