In Britain there's a story circulating about a young woman of Pakistani ethnicity who converted to Christianity and was persecuted by her family. Specifically:
Last week, it was reported that the daughter of a British imam was living under police protection, after receiving death threats from her family for having left Islam.
There's more. Note that this is about converts to Christianity. This is a particular problem, secularism or private atheism are less likely to be the target of violence because it is not a defection to an alternative and vigorous rival faith. There have been other stories over the years about this problem among Muslims in the United Kingdom. Of course, the British media is prone toward exaggeration and bending the truth in the interests of a wild story. But, these data are pretty well attested:
And yet a significant portion of British Muslims think that such behaviour is not merely right, but a religious obligation: a survey by the think-tank Policy Exchange, for instance, revealed that 36 per cent of young Muslims believe that those who leave Islam should be killed.
This is just what they tell pollsters, it's measuring sentiment, not their own actions when confronted with a situation. Additionally, it is probably lower than in most of the Muslim world, where the consensus follows the tradition in the Sharia (Muslim law) where apostates are executed. Views on this issue from Muslims aren't always easy to categorize. Note:
Inayat Bunglawala, also a spokesman for the MCB, insists that such behaviour in Britain is "awful and quite wrong. The police should crack down on it."
The reluctance to condemn sharia law is widespread. I asked Mr Bunglawala, for instance, to condemn the Islamic states that imposed the death penalty for apostasy. He did not do so, merely commenting that "it was a matter for those states".
Context matters. Muslim elites understand that they can not promote the common apostasy laws in the Western world if they want to have credibility and standing outside of their subculture; but that does not mean that they will also deny the legitimacy of those very laws on the basis of universal human rights and as a matter of principle (poll numbers such as the ones above reinforce the perception that Islam is a medieval & barbarous religion, which isn't good for community leaders and spokespersons). Psychology is complex, the same people speaking out of one side of their mouth about no compulsion in religion will defend apostasy laws based on the need for social order. In a predominantly non-Muslim state conversion away from Islam isn't resulting in the undermining of the dominance of Muslims so perhaps a jurist could argue that the situation does not warrant the death penalty for treason? I find most "logic" of the religious tortured, and I think the psychology is not always explicitly understood by the believer. For example, I think social circumstances matter quite a bit, the article above profiles young women, who are for all practical purposes the property of male lineages in most Muslim countries. The apostasy of women might trigger especially drastic reactions because the act is aimed at more than simply the religious establishment, it is undermining the patriarchal glue which holds a subculture together (the same issues are at work with Taslima Nasrin). I note that the former president of Argentina, Carlos Menem, converted from Islam to Catholicism; a constitutional requirement at the time for ascending to the executive office in that nation. But he had good relations with the Arab world and remained married to his Muslim wife. Similarly, in much of Africa and in Indonesia conversion from Islam to other religions is not uncommon (a sizable number of Javanese after the conflicts of the 1960s converted to Hinduism from nominal Islam, and nominal Muslims also convert to Christianity). Even within Muslim nations where apostasy laws are on the books they are often enforced or implemented spottily. Killing apostates is like Trial by Ordeal, it isn't enacted frequently, but the very fact that it remains an option says something about the values of a culture. The last man was executed for heresy (atheism specifically) in the British Isles around 1700.