Choice of Blogging Topics:

A commenter on the Conversion to Christianity Earns Death Threats, Risk of Incarceration thread agrees that the story is quite troubling ("As to the post itself I am horrified at this practice," but goes on to ask:

However, I do have to wonder what purpose is served by posting this particular example in such detail. Human rights abuses suck but they are happening all the time. Why pick this one about islam rather than the jailing of Chinese dissidents or oppressive actions by other governments? (Do third world christian nations behave differently or does the influence of first world churches keep them in check?)

If the poster feels that this sort of inhuman treatment goes underreported/uncondemned out of fear of offending religious sensibilities then, assuming his assesment is correct, I share his goals. However, I am skeptical of the appropriatness of this particular incident to accomplish this purpose. Jailing people for conversion to christianity is clearly no worse than jailing them for conversion to any other religion, advocacy of heretical islamic views or violation of any other religious law. Choosing an example where the individual wishes to convert to christianity when the mention of prison camps in the article suggests a wealth of other examples seems designed to inflame a christian audience.

I realize that you probably didn't run across any of the other stories so I don't want to cast blame. However, I do feel that the choice of examples is unfortunate and more good could be done with examples that don't encourage people to view this as a religious conflict.

Another reader likewise asks (with a good deal of detailed discussion following), "What is the purpose of picking up stories about the horrors of repressive Islamic regimes?"

A few thoughts:

1. "This" in the sense of "this story" does involve a religious conflict. "This" in the sense of the broader issue of "jailing ... for conversion to any other religion [or] advocacy of hereitcal islamic views" also involves religious conflicts, albeit ones with other religions.

2. I'm quite sure that the Chinese government represses people's human rights, too; I don't blog much about Chinese repression because I don't get a lot of e-mails about them, and at least some of those stories are complex enough that it's hard to opine on them without investing more time than I have to invest. This story struck me as pretty simple; there'll always be a bias in favor of such stories, especially among part-time writers (though I suspect among full-time writers as well).

3. While some balance of perspective is valuable, insisting that people not complain about the misbehavior of one country (or ideological movement) unless they somehow evenly calibrate their condemnation among all countries, in proportion to the countries' actual misconduct, is a recipe for total silence. Seems to me better that some people point out the misbehavior of some groups and others of other groups (depending on the speakers' knowledge base, interests, and so on), than that no-one point out anything out of an attempt at pure balance.

4. I agree that if you fault country X for doing something and defend country Y for doing the same thing, you could be faulted for inconsistency. Likewise, if X and Y are adversaries, and you fault X for certain behavior in the conflict without noting Y's misbehavior, you can be faulted for partiality. And if you fault country or movement X harshly for doing something that lots of other comparable countries do, without noting that this misbehavior is very common, you can be faulted for lack of perspective. Yet I don't think that any of these problems are present here.

5. The sad fact is that, as best I can tell, many Islamic regimes are indeed quite repressive of religious freedom, as well as of other freedoms. That's important for us to know, and to know in some detail.

6. However, I'm happy to say that if anyone can point me to a non-Islamic country in which religious conversion leads to private death threats, and threat of governmentally authorized incarceration, I'll be glad to note that as well. (I've certainly noted what seem to me improper religious discrimination in my own country, albeit a less egregious discrimination than we're discussing here.) I'm interested in such matters, and it's always good to get interesting blogfodder.

But no need to tell me that revealing accurate information will somehow "inflame a Christian audience," or suggest that it's somehow not "appropriate"; that's not going to go far with me.

UPDATE: The second commenter I quote above posts a follow-up comment, which asks, in part, "Why this story now?"

Well, because a former student (actually, a very liberal former student) e-mailed me this story, and this story was published -- in the New York Times, mind you -- now. What was I supposed to do? Not post it? Sit on it for months until someone sent me some story about a Christian country doing the same to converts to Islam (a story that might never come)? Sit on it until I could spend a week researching all the ways in which a wide range of countries violate a wide range of rights and then post a paper on the subject?

The commenter also writes, "I think one or two of your points above erect strawmen. I don't think anyone -- at least, not anyone that need be taken seriously -- is trying to 'insist that people not complain' about one country or movement unless it is done evenly according to some schedule." I wonder about that. It's hard to figure out what's in my commenters' minds, but the comments as I read them point precisely in that direction: They're suggesting that there was something wrong with posting about the Malaysian government's misbehavior, apparently because I don't comment enough on misbehavior of other governments and therefore because my post somehow paints an unfairly grim picture of Islamic law. Isn't that an argument that people shouldn't be complaining about Islamic misconduct unless one somehow finds some matching set of misconduct by non-Islamic countries that one can serve up as some supposed balance?