Powerful portrait of persecuted Pakistani

Read this story. Now.

That's my first and prevailing statement concerning a Houston Chronicle profile this week of a Pakistani woman who suffered extreme persecution because of her Christian faith.

The 1,300-word narrative is extremely powerful, filled with vivid scenes, precise details and compelling dialogue. The top of the remarkable piece:

She was 16 years old, working as an operator in a tiny, public call office in Pakistan, when a man walked in and saw the silver cross dangling around her neck.

He asked her three times: "Are you a Christian?"

Julie Aftab answered, "Yes, sir," the first two times, and then got frustrated.

"Didn't you hear me?" she asked.

They argued, and the man abruptly left the little office, returning 30 or 40 minutes later with a turquoise bottle. Aftab tried to block the arc of battery acid, but it melted much of the right side of her face and left her with swirling, bone-deep burns on her chest and arms. She ran for the door, but a second man grabbed her hair, and they poured the acid down her throat, searing her esophagus.

A decade and 31 surgeries later, Aftab is an accounting major at the University of Houston-Clear Lake with a melodic laugh. She spoke no English when she arrived in Houston in February 2004, but is poised to take her citizenship test later this month.

Doctors in Houston have donated their time to painstakingly reconstruct her cheek, nose, upper lip and replace her eyelids. Over time, her scars have faded from hues of deep wine to mocha.

And, with time, the 26-year-old said, she has learned to forgive.

"Those people, they think they did a bad thing to me, but they brought me closer to God," Aftab said. "They helped me fulfill my dreams. I never imagined I could be the person I am today."

I'm tempted to cut and paste several other sections of the story. There's just so much exceptional material. But instead, I'll refer back to what I said earlier: Read this story. Now.

(I'll wait while you peruse it, and then we can finish our discussion.)

OK ... welcome back!

What's your reaction to the story? Did find it as moving as I did? If so, what made it work? Any criticisms?

As much as I liked the piece, a couple of things about it gnawed at me. My largely minor criticisms:

— The story is told almost entirely from the perspective of the victim. That's probably out of necessity, and I don't know how you avoid that. But as a result, Muslims in general play the role of villains in this story. Perhaps that's entirely appropriate. However, I wondered if the Chronicle might have considered including the voice of a Muslim in Houston. Undoubtedly, reading about this woman's experience outraged Christian readers in Houston. But what about Muslim readers? What's their reaction to the persecution this woman endured?

— Since the story relies on the victim's recollection (with little way for the reporter to verify facts), we get vague references in some places. For example, we read that authorities did not file a crime report until "Christian leaders" complained. We read that the victim's parents sought help from a "nondenominational bishop." I found myself wanting more concrete information about these people. Maybe I'm totally off base on my complaints. I'd love some feedback from GR readers on whether I'm just a nitpicky buzzkill (or maybe my wife is the only onewho thinks that).

Anyway, if you've made it all the way to the bottom of this post and still haven't followed directions, shame on you. Read this story. Now.

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