By Alec Rooney
The beginning of this week brought two news stories about two young Muslim women. Each had suffered an injustice.
The first is Bayan Zehlif, 17, who attends Los Osos High School in California. The second was Ambreen Riasat, also known as Haleema, 16, of Makol, Pakistan.
First Bayan, the Californian. When her school’s 2016 yearbook came out recently, the name printed under her photo did not read “Bayan Zehlif,” but rather “Isis Phillips.”
If you’ve already heard about this story, that’s not surprising. National news media jumped on it. The unspoken horror beneath it is that some person, maybe the kind of white, non-Muslim American that President Obama and his attorney general are always warning us about, changed the name beneath Bayan’s photo, in which she is wearing a headscarf.
ISIS is of course the murderous, sadistic Jihadi group trying to take over Iraq and Syria and wipe out the non-Muslims there. It has become synonymous with Islam at its most militant and extreme, and has slain thousands.
Luckily Bayan has both Facebook and Twitter accounts, and lives in the free West. She was able to blast news of the yearbook atrocity out over the entire world. The principal of her school apologized on Twitter. The yearbook staff sounded distraught in their statement: “We should have checked each name carefully in the book and we had no intention to create this misunderstanding. It is our fault and this is absolutely inexcusable on our part.”
The school district superintendent said it was a simple mistake — a swap of names with a student actually named Isis. Still, he promises an investigation, as does the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), who is seldom far from "crimes" like this.
The other Muslim teen girl in the news this week, Ambreen Riasat, suffered a different kind of insult: She was drugged, suffocated and burned up in a van.
She will not be making any Facebook or Twitter posts.
Ambreen was found guilty by her rural Pakistani village’s jirga — a group of males who resolve local disputes based on their interpretation of Islam — of helping a couple to elope, or get married without permission. Whether she actually did this is not known.
To the credit of the Pakistani justice system, 13 of the men involved have been arrested and will face trial. To the credit of the nation itself, many Pakistanis are voicing shock about the killing.
But what of the nearly 1,000 women and girls — and even men — killed every year in Pakistan in so-called honor killings involving alleged romances outside arranged marriages? Do the activists at CAIR … even care?
Maybe CAIR, per its name, is interested only in American incidents. Except that Muslims are pouring into this country, and bringing their culture with them, and the United States is not typically a place where relatives and neighbors may be disposed of because someone thinks they damaged the family honor ... so there could be difficulties ahead related to that.
Perhaps CAIR *should* care.
Finally, the family of Bayan Zehlif, of the mislabeled yearbook photo, are described by The Los Angeles Times as having “suffered emotional and psychological distress.” The Times story added that Bayan “probably would not return to school until the issue is resolved.”
How does that even come close to the terrible case of Ambreen Riasat, condemned to die by a panel of Muslim males, and in the news the same week?
The difference between these two stories about victimized young Muslim women is glaring. Yet they have gotten a kind of weird equal treatment.
One girl was, at the very worst, the victim of a hurtful prank based on her religion (unless it was a simple mistake, which seems equally likely). The other girl was condemned and executed *by* her religion, on the basis of a flimsy accusation for a questionable crime.
Bayan doesn’t want to return to her school, her family says.
Alec Rooney serves as communications director for the Christian Action Network. He is a longtime journalist, with experience as a writer and editor at five daily newspapers over 25 years. An award-winning print copy editor and copy desk chief, he also works as a freelance academic book editor. He is a 1986 graduate of the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., and holds an M.A. in English from the University of Kentucky.