Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The stoning of Soraya M and other such victims

I don’t normally go out of my way to watch extremely gruesome movies but I decided to watch one involving the stoning of a woman in Iran which actually happened because I knew that I would be writing an article sooner or later about this horrible practice that occurs in some Muslim countries. But the film wasn’t a film against Islam or religion in general. A clear distinction should be made between Allah’s more vicious followers and the mercy of Allah himself.

Please be forewarned that this article is not for the faint of heart.

On April 24th 2011, I watched on TV, a film of a very gruesome but true story about the stoning to death of an innocent woman, Soraya Manutchehri who bore her evil husband two sons and two daughters. This true event took place on August 15, 1986 in Iran during the aftermath of the Iranian revolution.

In Southwestern Iran, roughly thirty-five miles outside of the city of Kerman, lies the small hillside village of Kupayeh. In 1986, French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam's car unexpectedly stalled on the steep, narrow roads zigzagging along Kupayeh's austere mountain ridges, stranding him in the wind-whipped village.

Walking among the sand-dusted brick houses, Sahebjam was accosted by a desperate woman, Zahra, who feverishly related a terrifying village conspiracy involving blackmail, misogyny, and murder. Zahra told the journalist that she, as a woman in Iran, no longer had a voice in the village and she pleaded with him to “take her voice” and tell the world her story.

Zahra who was the victim’s aunt told the story to the journalist about her niece, Soraya Manutchehri whose arranged marriage to her evil husband who was also an abusive tyrant, had a very tragic and sad ending. She was bartered away in an arranged marriage at age 13 to a petty criminal named Ghorban-Ali, who was 20 years old at the time. Soraya’s Iranian husband, Ali was tired of his marriage of twenty years with his 35-year-old wife, Soraya and wanted a younger spouse; one he had fallen in love with and who was only 14 years of age. Polygamy was encouraged in Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran, but Ghorban-Ali didn't want to support two families, and did not desire to return his wife's dowry so rather than pursue a divorce in which he would then have to pay support to two wives and their children and return his wife’s dowry, he concocted a scheme to get rid of Soraya by falsely accusing her of infidelity.

It didn’t matter that her husband had not actually seen anything untoward, or that Soraya was completely innocent, or that her husband's cynical accusations were only backed up by his cousin, (the village mechanic) who as it turned out had been coerced into concurring with the vaguest of accusations: a smile here, a brushed hand there etc.

The fabricated charge was adultery, which under the town leaders' judgment was a crime not only against her husband but also against Islam. The penalty was death by public stoning, and nothing Zahra or Soraya could do or say would stop it. "It is God's law," one person said while the local mullah says to the men about to stone Soraya to death, "With each stone you throw, your honor will return."

Her horrible husband spread the vicious rumor that his wife was having an affair with the village mechanic, a recent widower. Needing two witnesses, Ali blackmailed a faux-mullah-by threatening to denounce him as a previous collaborator of the Shah-and then went after the mechanic, warning him that his mentally disabled son could be sent to an institution. The accusation of infidelity was based on the following facts. The villagers asked her to cook and care for the village’s mechanic whose wife had just died. She was given a small wage for this service.

Soraya’s husband presumed that his wife was sleeping with the mechanic (which she was not) so the husband and the mayor visited the mechanic in his home. When he denied the accusation (and he was telling the truth) he was then threatened by the husband who also said that he could also be stoned to death for having sex with a married woman. The mechanic was fearful for his life and his son so he told the husband in the presence of the mayor of the village that one day she lay beside him and said things that (as he said it) “…that no woman should say to a man who is not her husband.” That having been said and with the accusation of her husband. that was all that was needed for the village elders to convict her and sentence her to death by stoning.

The town mayor was partially savvy to Ali's political machinations and partially willfully ignorant of Ali’s real motive. He told the victim’s aunt that under Islam law, "Women are guilty unless proven innocent and men are innocent unless proven guilty," to which Zahra retorted, "Right, all men are innocent and all women are guilty." This kind of thinking on the part of the mayor exposes the perils of violence rooted in religious righteousness especially when it relates to the treatment of women.

Young boys roamed the barren landscape for fist-sized stones and placed them in a wheelbarrow which was then to be taken to the village square. The boys rapped the stones against the other stones they had in their hands. Then men in the village did the same thing. The beating intensified, like a thunderous drumbeat heralding an impending war.

Prior to her being taken into the village square, three men with pickaxes chopped a hole in the centre of the square where their victim would be forced to kneel. Another man drew a line with powdered whitewash, a line that was designated as to where the men who were to throw the stones could stand.

Donning a pristine white bridal gown, Soraya was escorted to the village centre by her fiercely protective aunt (Zahra) amidst a blood-thirsty crowd. On the way there, Zahra promised Soraya that she bring her story to light. “I will tell the truth. I’ll tell everyone. I’ll tell the world.” And as it turned out, she did.

When the mayor asked her if she had any final words to say, her last words were not a plea of innocence, but a condemnation of mob-mentality and the practice of stoning. She reminded them that she had been a guest in their homes and they had considered her as a friend.

Her aunt (Zhara) offered to take her niece place in the hole but her offer was refused.

When Soraya was placed into the hole after her arms were tied by her sides, the men shoveled the dirt back into the hole so that the only part of her body that could be seen was from her waist up.

Meanwhile, the small children were led away so that they wouldn’t see what was about to happen to Soraya.

Her father condemned her by exclaiming that Soraya was no longer his daughter. He then actually screamed out, “Kill the whore!” However, he purposely threw two stones, one on each side of her instead of at her. Then her husband viciously threw his stone at her head. It struck her forehead and blood began ozzing out of the wound and down her face and chest and finally to the ground. She began to cry in pain.

This was followed by the actions of the really disgusting mullah whose stone hit her. He then handed a stone to each of her sons. When it was her two son’s turn, (they appeared to be around 14 and 12) their stones hit their mother in her chest. The man with whom she was alleged to have illicit sex was told that he could throw the next stone but he refused and walked away to his credit. Then all the male members of the village were given an opportunity to defend the honour of the village by casting stones at Soraya so they could finish her off.

About ten minutes later, she had slumped forward and it appeared as if she was dead. Her husband walked towards her and then while on his hands and knees, he crept up close to her face. He noticed that one of her eyes opened so he stood up and screamed, “The bitch is still alive. Kill her!”

It was then that a barrage of stones thrown by the men finally killed her. All that could be seen after that was a mangled corpse covered with blood.

Only a person with a heart of stone could fail to recoil in horror during the film's brutal finale. When I watched it, I was truly moved to tears.

That night, the men celebrated the death of their victim.

The women were not permitted to bury her but they were told that they could leave her body by a small river nearby. They placed her body in a wheelbarrow and took her to the small river and left her by that body of water. The following night, her aunt went to the place where her niece's body had been left but she only found a few bones after the dogs got at Soraya’s corpse. She buried her niece's remaining bones in the sand.

The next day, her aunt told the man whose car had broken down the previous day what had happened and he tape recorded what she told him. Between them, they were able to get the recording out of the village despite the efforts of the village leaders trying to prevent him from smuggling the tape recording out. He later published a book with the title The Stoning of M in 1990 and it was distributed world-wide and with great reviews.

It was later made into a film by the same name but the film unfortunately doesn’t accomplish what should be its primary goal – helping us understand the social phenomenon that allows a woman to be tortured by loved ones for allegedly ‘disobeying God’ by committing adultery. But it does illustrate as just how evil this practice is. When you watch the film, you will be shocked at the brutality of how real nasty husbands can act against their wives in some countries.

Every scene is an accusation: Soraya's husband is a monster. The town's Muslim cleric is a preening, self-regarding ogre who actually tried to get Soraya to have sex with him. Set up by her philandering husband bent on divorce and a complicit mullah, the young mother falls victim to typical mob persecution that recalls similar-like themes in such movies as The Crucible and The Ox-Bow Incident.

The film's ominous tone is in place from the start. The car of a French-Iranian journalist (Freidoune Sahebjam) breaks down in rural Iran. A local woman, Zahra – a crazy woman, some say – seeks him out. She has a story to tell. Out it all comes, in flashback in which Soraya M. has been falsely accused, betrayed, tried and cruelly executed by stoning by her own neighbours and family members.

The 20-minute depiction of her being stoned to death causes anyone watching it, to go into states of sorrow and anger at the same time. Sorrow for the innocent woman and anger at the disgusting men who participated in the stoning of the woman.

Her evil husband, Ali explained to their sons, “This is a man's world, boys – never forget it.” This was his explanation to their sons as to why he wanted their mother tortured and killed by being stoned to death. Stoning is slower than other forms of execution, and hence is a form of execution by torture.

Archbishop Chaput addressed the claim that the movie could be seen as anti-Islamic. He said, “While The Stoning of Soraya M implicitly shows the deep differences between Christianity and Islam regarding the role of women, the film is not a critique of Islam. Quite the opposite: What happened to Soraya was an abuse of Islamic law fueled by revolutionary extremism, personal corruption and rural tradition.”

He added, that the film also reminds us of the soul-destroying power of a lie; how tempting and easy it can be to victimize the weak; how precious the truth is; and how vigilant over our own hearts each of us needs to remain if we want to be human, even when we claim to believe in God.

Several Muslim countries, such as Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and northern states of Nigeria, adultery is officially punishable by capital punishment by stoning to death the condemned adulterer. Stoning as a punishment for adultery is not mentioned in the Qur’an so some modernist Muslim scholars take the view that stoning to death is not part of Islamic law. Muhammad's words and deeds outside of the Qur’an demonstrate beyond doubt that Muhammad, under Allah's direction, stoned adulterers to death and flogged fornicators as this last punishment comes from the Qur’an, (Sura 24:2.) According to the Hanbali jurist Ibn Qudamah, "Muslim jurists are unanimous on the fact that stoning to death is a specified punishment for the married adulterer and adulteress.

A Taliban-ordered public stoning of a couple accused of adultery took place in Kunduz, Afghanistan on August 15, 2010. In 2009, a law was introduced in Aceh, Indonesia that called for the stoning of married adulterers but no cases of the sentence having been carried out have yet been reported in Indonesia.

In Iran, stoning as a punishment did not exist until 1983, when the contemporary Islamic Penal Code was ratified. Under Iran's Islamic law, adultery is punishable by stoning, but such sentences were only common in the early years after the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the pro-Western government and brought hard-line clerics to power. Iran's reformist legislators have advocated abolishing death by stoning as a punishment for adultery, but opposition from hard-line clerics had quashed their efforts. However the Iranian judiciary later officially placed a moratorium on stoning in 2002, although the punishment remained on the books, and there were a few cases of judges handing down stoning sentences in 2006 and 2007 but they weren’t carried out. Many Muslim jurists in Iran are of the opinion that while stoning can be considered Islamic, the criteria under which it can be imposed as a sentence are stringent: Because of the large burden of proof needed to reach a guilty sentence of adultery, its penalty is hardly ever applicable. Finally, in 2008, Iran's judiciary decided to scrap the punishment of stoning in draft legislation submitted to parliament for approval. The Iranian judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimirad was quoted as saying "Stoning has been dropped from the penal code for a long time, and in the Islamic republic, we do not see such punishments being carried out", further adding that if stoning sentences were passed by lower courts, they were over-ruled by higher courts and "no such verdicts have been carried out."

Since the Sharia legal system was introduced in the predominantly Muslim north of Nigeria in 2000, more than a dozen Nigerian Muslims have been sentenced to death by stoning for sexual offences ranging from adultery to homosexuality. However, none of these sentences has actually been carried out. They have either been thrown out on appeal or commuted to prison terms as a result of pressure from human rights groups.

Here are the names of other victims stoned to death in this current century.

Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow (age 13) was killed on Monday, 27 October 2008, by a group of 50 men who stoned her to death in a Somalian stadium in the southern port of Kismayu, in front of around 1,000 spectators. The stoning occurred after she had allegedly pleaded guilty to adultery in a sharia court in Kismayu, a city controlled by Islamist insurgents.

She was accused of adultery in breach of Islamic law but, her father and other sources told Amnesty International that she had in fact been raped by three men, and had attempted to report this rape to the al-Shabab militia who control Kismayo, and it was this act of sex between her and her rapists that resulted in her being accused of adultery and detained. None of men she accused of rape were arrested.

“This was not justice, nor was it an execution. This child suffered a horrendous death at the behest of the armed opposition groups who currently control Kismayo,” said David Copeman, Amnesty International's Somalia Campaigner.

Amnesty International had learned that she was detained by the militia of the Kismayo authorities, a coalition of Al-shabab and clan militias. During this time, she was reportedly extremely distressed, with some individuals stating she had become mentally unstable.

A truckload of stones was brought into the stadium to be used in the stoning. At one point during the stoning, Amnesty International has been told by numerous eyewitnesses that nurses were instructed to check whether Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was still alive while buried in the ground up to her neck. They removed her from the ground, declared that she was dead but they were then ordered to put her back into the hole so that the stoning could continue.

An individual calling himself Sheik Hayakalah, was quoted on Radio Shabelle saying: "The evidence came from her side and she officially confirmed her guilt, while she told us that she is happy with the punishment under Islamic law.''

In contradiction to this claim, a number of eye witnesses had told Amnesty International that she struggled with her captors and had to be forcibly carried into the stadium. Further, the victim had been crying, that she begged for mercy and had to be forced into the hole before being buried up to her neck in the ground.

Inside the stadium, militia members opened fire when some of the witnesses to the killing attempted to save her life, and shot dead a boy who was a bystander. An al-Shabab spokeperson for the militia was later reported to have apologized for the death of the boy and said the milita member would be punished

Du’a Khalil Aswad, a 17-year-old was stoned to death in Iraq in 2007, Solange Medina, a 20 year old was stoned to death in Juárez, Mexico in 2009. Gustavo Santoro, a small town mayor in Mexico is believed to have been murdered by stoning in 2010. Murray Seidman, a 70 year old senior in Philadelphia, was stoned to death in 2011, by 28 year old John Thomas after allegedly making sexual advances towards the younger man. Thomas' defence is that he did it because the Bible says to stone homosexuals.

The Saudi Ambassador to London, Ghazi al-Qusaibi, said that stoning may seem irrational to the Western mind, but it is 'at the core of the Islamic faith.' He also said that Westerners should respect Muslin culture on this matter. He said that stoning adulterers to death is a legitimate punishment for society.

Muslim apologists adopt two strategies for justifying the indefensible punishments of flogging fornicators and stoning adulterers. The punishments (allegedly) are just and appropriate first because they serve as deterrents and second because they purge society of sexual crimes.

First, the apologists claim that these punishments serve as a deterrent. This is implied in Sura 24:2 when the flogging and stoning should be carried out in public and ensure that a group of believers witness the punishment. This public humiliation is designed to scare other people into obeying the laws of Allah.

The second strategy of traditional Muslims is to claim that flogging and stoning are designed to purge society from sexual crimes and to protect it from collapse and ruin. Here the logic of the apologists must make the effects of the sexual crimes so horrible and devastating that applying the punishments seems only just and appropriate.

It is true that society suffers from rampant sexual sins but are the punishments of flogging and death by stoning the answer? I hardly think so.

The true believers are united by their strong faith in Allah and behave in the best manner possible. The Qur'an governs their behaviour. In a community of true believers, if lewd behaviour is proven between two people, they should be appropriately punished. However, instead of following the Qur'an, deviate Muslims have introduced a different form of punishment—stoning the offenders to death.

Although these propagators cannot change the physical words of the Qur'an, they try their best to prove to their followers that their interpolations (alterations) based on invented hearsay are true. One wonders, why do they continue to do such a thing to this day if they are true believers and are faithful followers of the teachings of the Qur'an? A Muslim can never be a true believer if he is a distorter of the Qur’an’s teachings. These people show themselves to be devout Muslims and yet, they twist the teachings of the Qur’an and change the truth from hearsay without hesitancy.

This is seen analogously, in the severe Islamic punishment for theft: cutting off the hand. According to the hadith (Bukhari 9:6895), two men accused a man of theft. Ali, Muhammad's son-in-law and cousin, accepted their testimony and cut off the accused man's hand. Afterwards, another man stepped forward and showed that the now disfigured man did not commit the theft. Ali accepted his testimony, but it was too late. The man's hand was already cut off. The punishment could not be reversed. Ali said that if he thought for even one moment that the first two witnesses had deliberately falsified their testimony, he would apply the same punishment of chopping off their hand. Therefore, in the same way, the penalty of stoning to death cannot be reversed, even in the best of circumstances if the condemned is already dead.

A confusing policy in sharia is the concealment of one's sexual crimes when the goal is to deter them and preserve society. Maududi cites three hadiths (those which are regarded by traditional Islamic schools of jurisprudence as important tools for understanding the Qur'an and in matters of jurisprudence) that show Muhammad telling the criminals that it would have been better for them if they had concealed their crimes. First, this hadiths reports that Muhammad says: 'If any of you is guilty of any immorality, he should better remain hidden under the curtain of Allah, but if he discloses it to us, we shall certainly enforce the law of Allah on him' (Maududi 3:305). Second, the following one says that a man confessed his sin to the Prophet, so he ordered the man to be stoned to death. But at the same time he said to the condemned man: 'Would that you had kept the matter hidden: this would have been better for you' (3:305). Finally, Maududi cites this hadith that has Muhammad saying: 'You should yourselves pardon the crimes which merit prescribed punishment because when a crime which calls for such a punishment comes to my notice, it will become obligatory on me to award the punishment' (3:305)

However, this concealment contradicts the ultimate purposes of punishing violators and to preserve the family and society and to deter future sexual criminals. These three hadiths say just the opposite. Instead, Islamic law only encourages criminals to go further underground, rather than confess their crimes openly in order to receive help and healing. Concealment serves only to make society collapse secretly—that is, if Muslim apologists are to be believed about the danger of sexual sins being the only factor in a large civilization's downfall.

As I see it, civilization is a human society that has highly developed material and spiritual resources and a complex cultural, political, and legal organization; in other words, an advanced state in social development.

Emerson in his written work, Society and Solitude: Civilization said of civilization that the true test of civilization is not the census nor is it the size of cities nor the size of its crops. He says that it is the kind of man the country turns out.

I don’t think that those countries that have men who approve of stoning human beings to death to get a point across, are countries that can lay claim that they are civilized nations. To do so would bring the word ‘civilization’ into disrepute.

1 comment:

Marie said...

I just watched the movie The stoning of Soraya and never have I been so angry. I hope and pray that these men or men like them do not immigrate to Canada. Unfortunately, I know they do. It isn't just the stoning but the mentality that women are less and matter less. There was a case in Edmonton Alberta were the husband brought his laws with him and thought he could do what he wanted to his wife here in Canada. He threw her off the balcony and she ended up in a wheelchair. Our laws found him not guilty only because no one saw him doing it. Her word wasn't good enough. Her whole family disowned her for speaking out. I try every day not to be predjudice but I am failing at that. I would never consider having a man from any of those foreign countries as a mate. My heart aches for those women. I understand there is good and bad in every race but to hide behind your god so you can perform atrocities against women is pathetic. I'm ashamed to be human today.

Nicole St. Pierre