The story of Benin Kataya is a great sign of the relativity in the practice of freedoms in Lebanon. Now if you are living in an urban area where the society is more open it is very different from the fact of living in a rural area in a family of a cleric man, and this was the case of Benin Kataya who made a very revolutionary decision (in context of her background) by converting her faith to Christianity. This introduction is to show that context matters but, it is not an excuse for what did follow Kataya’s conversion.
Constitutionally, Lebanon as a state is obliged to respect, protect and fulfil its commitments with regard to protecting freedoms in general and freedom of belief in this case. This means when Benin Kataya decided to convert to Christianity as an adult she has the full right to do so, and the government has to protect her right in case of any threat comes against her life.
Now Benin decided to leave her house to have more freedom of practicing her new beliefs as she said. Her disappearance lead her father the Muslim Shi’a cleric man to raise the issue and accuse live on air that the Christian priests kidnapped his daughter and he wants her back even if that leads to a civil war in Lebanon.
Now these emotions might be emerging out of his parental feelings however definitely accompanied by his religious views on Islam and women, this makes us think that it is impossible to change your faith when your initially Muslim and reminds us with the riots that used to happen in Egypt in similar cases when especially a Muslim girl converts to Christianity.
The threat again raises not only the status of human rights as all but also the status of women rights in Lebanon, you can easily observe that the girl Benin Kataya even though being an adult (24 years old) is felt vulnerable in this masculine system we’re living in which shapes even more severely in the rural areas and in conservative religious families.
The other phase of the issue we notice is the way of resolving this issue which was totally orchestrated by the clerics and Hezbollah with the full absence of the state involvement as far as we know. In other word the guarantor of the rights is the most absent. Not even a statement from any official has been announced to declare that the government is fully protecting the freedom of beliefs as mentioned in the constitution. This means probably and proves that it is not the state authorities that actually play this role but rather the Lebanese confessional balance that orchestrates what’s right and what’s wrong.
At the moment I would like to call the citizens, the civil society and all who really care about their freedom and the freedom of others in Lebanon to keep an eye on the coming fate of Benin Kataya in the next days, weeks or months. As I wouldn’t be surprised to see her in a while declaring (forcedly) her regret and return to the Islam faith.