March 13, 2010

The Stoning of Soraya M.

The Stoning of Soraya M. is a film by Cyrus Nowrasteh, based on a true story and an international best seller with the same title by the French-Iranian journalist, Freidoune Sahebjam. A must see for anyone contemplating marriage with a citizen — or, someone with the potential of becoming a citizen — of a nation that legalizes stoning to death as a punishment for adultery.

A video is worth a million words, but I could not find the clip online that details the execution of this monstrosity masquerading as the law. In brief: my wife, who thought she couldn't stomach the stoning scene, walked out before the first stone was cast. I decided to watch the entire sequence of horror, because I wanted to be angry, very angry. What follows is the stoning of Soraya in my own words, perhaps the most harrowing 30 minutes of my movie watching experience ever.

The killing begins with her father aiming poorly and missing her repeatedly. Then, the conniving husband takes over, and hits her right on the forehead. And once more, this time knocking Sorya's half-buried body over. Next, the two sons take their turns, the younger one reluctantly, and the older one exultantly. They learn quickly, don't they? A perjuring but remorseful witness, who had, under duress, accused Soraya of adulterous behavior towards him, is unable to cast the stones — of course. Soraya's face is now a bloody mess.

The mayor of the town, as would every politician whose sole aim is to keep his job, takes his aim. He is followed by the local representative of allah, the town's mullah, who is only too pleased to do the bidding of his heavenly boss whose hatred for women is all too well known. Religion, they say, is a bag of superstitious beliefs, but harmless. Then, why is Soraya, buried to her waist and profusely bleeding now, barely conscious? Go, figure!

After the family and the officialdom, it becomes a community festival, complete with a traveling circus and its ring master. A nice cinematic touch, Cyrus Nowrasteh, I'd like to say, but cannot under the circumstances. The stones are now raining on Soraya's convulsing body, with shouts of "allahu akbar" reverberating across my living room and beyond. God is great, yeah right!

In a matter of minutes, Soraya is turned into a gruesome heap of flesh, blood, and bones, which, according to her god's law, cannot be buried, but must be left for the dogs to feast on. Now, close your eyes, and imagine Soraya as your mother, your sister, your lover, your daughter, your granddaughter. I did. So much for allah, the compassionate and the merciful!

I have written against "honor killing" here and here. It is undeniable that the practice cuts across cultures and religions. Yet, when law takes the side of murderous barbarians who kill for their "honor", it becomes a crime against humanity. It cannot be, and ought not to be, tolerated in the name of multiculturalism or whatever else the nonsense the apologists bandy about. Samuel Huntington was wrong. This is not a clash of civilizations. Societies that prescribe or condone killing to restore "honor" cannot be seen as civilizations. Quite the opposite.

Adultery and its implications merely concern two, at most three, individuals. At worst, it's tantamount to reneging on the implicit contract, if any, between a couple to remain monogamous in their relationship. Either party reserves the right to divorce the relationship in the event of non-compliance with this contract, without the uninvited intrusion of the state or the society into their bedroom or family room. Indeed, they have the right to break it up, if the relationship were to turn sour for any reason. Adultery is just one of those precipitating events.

Friends and members of the extended family, much less the society at large, have no right to butt into the affairs of the couple. Counseling may be welcome, but only at the discretion of the couple involved. To make adultery a social crime, and grant the state the right to punish, cruelly or otherwise, is a bad idea. It belongs only to the ash-heap of such religulous ideas, not to the governing law of a civilized society.

Soraya's words to the gathering of her sons, husband, father, and her neighbors will remain with me until I die:

How can you do this to me? I am your neighbor, your mother, your daughter, your wife. How can you do this to anybody?

Really, how can you?

  1. If forgiveness and mercy are equal to God, how in the name of God can people do this. I think the beast in the human needs an excuse to come out and it is ironic that the beast leaps out in the name of all merciful.. I read your description with great difficulty and I dont think I can ever watch the picturization.

    On another note, it is the desensitization process that worries me. If people can watch crime and gore day after day, will they ever be sensitive to the pain of others

  2. You must remember that 'marriage' is not just a 'contractual relationship' in many societies,but a 'sacred' one. The 'adulterous wife', or for that matter, the 'adulterous husband' is not always 'condoned' and the couple concerned move on after dissolving whatever is left of their marriage ties, as is the practice in vogue apparently in 'modern', 'liberal' societies. Even in such societies because of emotional ties and / or jealousy, 'shoot outs' and other forms of violence do occur. The more modern and liberal societies across the world also understand the impact of such behaviour by one spouse against the other and,therefore, do keep 'adultery' as a 'crime' on their statute book, though the 'criminal process' is initiated at the instance of the aggrieved spouse. In India, the 'adulterous wife' is not punished under the Indian Penal Code because the Britishers, who framed the said Code when they were ruling, thought that the Indian women (both Hindu and Muslim women) were getting a 'raw deal' because their husbands could marry any number of times (before monogamy became the rule for the Hindus under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1956) and they also kept concubines while their wives were not allowed any such liberty. The Muslims in India or in other nations where Islamic law prevails that have been under British or other European power rule do not 'stone their wives to death' for adultery. Such brutal 'corporal punishment' practices still prevail in some countries because they are tribal in nature and the members of the tribe feel bound to act as per their customs. If you are really a champion of the 'fallen women', as your post seems to suggest, you should be crusading for their rights to 'life', 'liberty' and 'dignity' by moving to those societies and trying to convert them to civilization as the Christian missionaries have done across the world trying to bring about the benefits of modern civilization to savage tribes. What you are doing is mere 'mocking', 'heckling' and 'scorning' sitting in the comfort of your home in a modern part of the world. That is not really useful, you know. I need not read your blogs, I know, as they only instigate and inflame crusader passions. On that, however, you seem to thrive!

  3. @Anon1
    ... If people can watch crime and gore day after day, will they ever be sensitive to the pain of others
    It depends on the context of the gore. The effect of Hotel Rwanda is not the same as Kill Bill - not on me. I suggest that you watch the Stoning of Soraya M., in particular the stoning sequence, and see for yourself the impact.

    ... 'marriage' is not just a 'contractual relationship' in many societies,but a 'sacred' one...
    The trouble begins right there!

    ... the Britishers, who framed the said Code when they were ruling, thought that the Indian women (both Hindu and Muslim women) were getting a 'raw deal'...
    Can you substantiate this with references? Actually, in the IPC, adultery is treated as theft of property (always the female), and therefore only the thief (always the male) is punishable.

    ... in other nations where Islamic law prevails that have been under British or other European power rule do not 'stone their wives to death' for adultery. Such brutal 'corporal punishment' practices still prevail in some countries because they are tribal in nature...

    Malaysia: Malaysia has caned three women for having extramarital sex, in a move at odds with the moderate Islamic nation that the Government wants to project to the world... Malaysia has increasingly applied Sharia...

    Pakistan: In this year 2002 'Stoning to Death' sentence {under Pakistan's [under the Hudood Ordinance] was passed by the Additional District and Session Judge, Kohat to a lady Zafran Bi Bi (28)...

    Indonesia: New law in Aceh makes adultery punishable by stoning

    Iran:...Nine people in Iran - eight women and one man - have been sentenced to death by stoning after being convicted of adultery in verdicts lawyers blame on a resurgence of hardline Islamic fundamentalism.

    The sentences have been imposed in courts across the country despite a supposed moratorium on the punishment, which Iran says is justified under sharia law.

    Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Somalia, UAE... Do I really need to go on?

    ...If you are really a champion of the 'fallen women'...
    'fallen women'? You mean, women felled by stone throwing religulous thugs?

  4. As regards your comments, it is widely accepted that 'marriage' as a social institution is the foundation of 'family' which is yet another social institution and the strength of these institutions gives stability to society. Law, understood in the sense of a secular, democratic, state law, as distinguished from 'customs and traditions' that also have the 'force of law' in some other societies, has rightly recognized its value in both its civil and criminal branches and given protection to marital ties by punishing their violations.
    In India,the first 'Law Commission' appointed by the British in India was headed by one Lord Thomas B. Macaulay. It is said that Lord Macaulay, a brief-less Barrister, was the author of the Indian Penal Code -- see, Sir Fitz-James Stephen's 'A History of Criminal Law' (Vol.3, p.292). It became law, vide Act XLV of 1860, in British India. It was brought into force with effect from 1st Jan., 1862. Though 'adultery' is not an offence under English law, it is an offence under Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code. It is considered as a 'transgression of exclusive marital ties or conjugal rights' and not as a matter of 'treatment of the wife as a chattel or property of the husband', though such notions were also prevalent in those times. Note under Section 497 of the I.P.C. the 'adulterous wife' is not made punishable, because the First Law Commissioners thought that in the peculiar circumstances of India where married women were subjected to various disabilities , it would not be fair to punish them for such transgressions. To quote from their Report submitted way back in 1838:
    "The condition of the women in this country is unhappily very different from that of the women in England or France. They are married while they are still children; they are neglected for other wives while still young; they share the attention of a husband with several rivals; to make laws for punishing the inconstancy of the wife while the law admits the privilege of the husband -- to fill the 'zenana' with women -- is a course which we are most reluctant to admit."
    Do not immediately think,
    'oh, our great British masters!" and become their voice. Just in the 18th Century, the great English people were having 'capital punishment' (i.e., death penalty) for about 350 offences, most of them inflicted for 'religious offences' (by religulous thugs, as you call them) and 'property-related offences' often trivial in nature like stealing of a pair of shoes! For source you can refer to Leon Radzinowicz : "A History of English Criminal Law and Its Administration from 1750" [Macmillan, New York, 1948]. For the parallel situation that prevailed in Europe, you can refer to: Karl L. von Bar, "A History of Continental Criminal Law" [Little Brown, Boston, 1916]. The Anglo-American and European heritage after 19th Century took a different turn no doubt with the 'age of enlightenment' setting in. However, it cannot be forgotten that they also acted in a 'collective manner' 'to conquer the world' and instead of pelting stones at adulterous women, they used cannon balls and bombs (WMDs) to annihilate people by the millions across the world just so they can be 'rulers of the new world as well as the old world'. It was even boasted that "the sun will never set over the British empire"! And I remember a wag commenting that it must be because "God will not trust the British in the dark"!

    [Moderator: Anon3, personal attacks are not permitted in comments on this blog. These have been edited out of your comment.]

  5. This has nothing to do with god or religion - or even adultery, and everything to do with deeply and widely held sentiments of misogyny across all cultures in the human race (ie., feelings of fear, insecurity, confusion, even envy, regarding women). Religion is simply an easily available and handy rationalization that gives permission to act on the sentiment - particularly where civil law (which has barely itself been purged of misogynistic rules!) has been subordinated to religious practice. Across the board, there is no religion that does not discriminate in favor of men - some with extreme violence as cited by you - others through less dramatic but more passive and latent practices (nonetheless shocking, at least to me) that both men and women seem to routinely accept. The difference is merely a matter of degree. Were there no religion, some other socio-cultural phenomenon would emerge as the tool. Misogyny, it would appear, will be served, regardless of which MAN made structure enshrines it in legitimacy.

  6. @rinka
    ... The difference [between religions] is merely a matter of degree.

    I beg to disagree. The difference between your body at 98.4F and at the room temperature (say, 72F), may be a matter of degree, but is of terrifying significance!


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