Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Stoning of Soraya M.

A serious word of caution:

            This is not  a "nice" post…I offer no pretty pictures or poetry for International Women's Day. What you will find is graphic depiction of violence in words and images to tell a story that is ugly beyond belief, but is a story that needs to be told until such things never happen again. If you choose to skip my page today, please know that I very much appreciate you stopping by. 


      Most of us are neither naïve nor ignorant of world affairs. We know that life is harsh and that we humans are frequently less than our best selves, yet we doggedly seek out goodness in life and cling to optimism even in the face of adversity. This can be easy to do for those of us sustained by the bounty of lush lands and bolstered by the love of family and friends. Other realities are far more horrific.

      My comfortable life was dealt a visceral blow recently in the guise of an ordinary TV movie, stumbled upon while I ate my gooey dessert and idly flicked through channels. I caught only the end of this film, but in that half hour, the savagery of the story stunned me and quickly turned dessert into bile.

         Based on true-life,” The Stoning of Soraya M” is the account of a tragedy that took place in 1986 as Khomeini was coming into power in Iran. Within a marriage arranged in her early teens, Soraya and the nine children she bore suffered repeated abuse under the heavy hands of husband and father, Ali. When Ali requested a divorce in order to wed a 14 yr old girl, Soraya protested, knowing her family would starve to death without the support of her husband.

            The devious and tyrannical Ali was undeterred…as adultery is a crime punishable by death under law he simply bribed a local man to testify to Soraya’s infidelity. In a cruel twist, her paid accuser was the husband of a recently deceased friend, for whom she’d helped daily to cook and look after his children, a fact that was conveniently twisted to help condemn her. With no means of defence, and no offer of aide, Soraya’s fate was sealed. To her husband’s demand that she be stoned to death to cleanse the village of her, the village officials with whom he was colluding responded enthusiastically.

            It is said that 1,000 women have been stoned to death in the last two decades. I have read accounts of these brutal punishments, described briefly in a paragraph or two posted in the local paper…I wonder now how I remained emotionally removed from them for so long. A few minutes into this film, I began to shake, and was unable to control that shaking all evening, so great was my distress. I am beyond horrified, and can find no words to convey the hole this story tore in my heart.

            How have we gotten to a place in life where burying a bound and defenceless women up to her chest in sand, then systematically pelting her with rocks and bricks till she dies is an acceptable thing to do, indeed an honorable thing to do in the name of God’s will? No God I know -or want to know- would advocate the inhumanity this story depicts.

            I watched the film in horror, as Soraya’s own father stepped to the front, exercising his right to take the traditional first shot. A respected village elder, he would thus claim revenge for the shame his adulterous daughter had brought down on his head. The first heavy stone he aimed at Soraya’s face missed its mark, but at his feet were left three of the four stones each man in the village was allowed. Angry with the miss, the father picked up a larger piece and threw again with more force. When that also went wide, he impatiently grabbed a third, not stopping until he’d cut through the skin of this daughter to whom he’d given life.

          As is the custom, Soraya’s husband was next to hoist a stone, hurling it unprompted with eager excitement. When it did not hit her, his smile slipped and he quickly shot again, this rock barely glancing off a shoulder. Now becoming enraged, he hurled a jagged rock with such force that it bounced wildly off his wife’s head, and snapped her backwards. Forehead split open and bleeding profusely, Soraya still managed to right herself and raise her head once more.

            When I thought the story could not get more abhorrent, I watched the husband pull his two oldest sons out of the crowd. Roughly, he placed rocks in their hands and pushed them to the front so they might fulfil their duty of glorifying God and the Iman by ridding their village of the wicked infidel who had borne them. They did as they were bid with swift and simultaneous throws. I have never been impacted by a movie to the extent I was upon watching these young men stone their innocent mother and be lauded for it by the frenzied mob of villagers. Rocks began showering Soraya, occasionally making contact, but when she still refused to die, the enraged men circled the bleeding woman and threw rocks with such force that her head split wide open.

              If you have the heart, and the stomach, to watch this film you will share my horror. I need not watch it again; it’s burned into my head for all time. The 1994 novel, on which this film is based, was written by journalist Freidoune Sahebjam. Its English title is, “The Stoning of Soraya M: A Story of Injustice in Iran”, translated from the original French edition of four years earlier, “La Femme Lapidée”. It is an horrific, compelling and infinitely disturbing read.

            Whether or not you choose to pursue the story please let me know what you think. Show me there are many who abhor the gender apartheid that marginalizes women, the religious fanaticism that condones violence and the mob mentality that dares masquerade as law; please remind me there are countless numbers of people for whom such barbarity will never be mistaken for justice.....