In the mid-1980s, an Iranian-born, France-based journalist named Freidoune Sahebjam was traveling in his native land, assessing the impact of the Iranian Revolution, when he came upon a rural mountain village and learned of a ghastly crime. It had been committed by an entire community against a local woman. It was a crime that indicted a nation, a movement, and a religiously inspired ideology.
The victim was Soraya Manutchehri, a 35-year-old mother of seven who, in her own prophetic words, had become “an inconvenient wife.” Bartered away in an arranged marriage at 13 to a petty criminal named Ghorban-Ali, who was 20 years old at the time, Soraya bore nine children over the next two decades, enduring two stillborn births and regular beatings from her husband, along with his insults, his consorting with prostitutes, and his campaign to turn her two oldest sons against her.
On August 15, 1986, with the complicity of a local mullah who had been imprisoned for child molesting under the Shah, Ghorban-Ali showed himself to be more than a garden variety sociopath and town bully; he was a sadistic monster, and Islamic fundamentalism was his enabler, his aider, his abettor.
In the anarchic days of the Iranian Revolution, Ghorban-Ali had found work as a prison guard in a neighboring town. There, he met a 14-year-old girl whom he wanted to marry. 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. How to rid himself of his “old” wife? That was the easy part. Accuse her of infidelity. No 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, who as it turned out had been coerced into concurring with the vaguest of accusations: a smile here, a brushed hand there.
What court of law would find someone guilty on such flimsy evidence? A “sharia” court is the answer. And so Soraya was convicted. The sentence was death-death by stoning.
That was the story relayed to Freidoune Sahebjam by Soraya’s brave aunt, Zahra Khanum. His riveting and spare account became an international best-seller. Critics compared “The Stoning of Soraya M.” to Kafka, but actually nothing in the western canon of literature is comparable to the inadvertent self-parody — the simple lunacy — of a system of law that maintains that if a man is accused of infidelity by his wife, she must prove his guilt, but if a woman is accused, she must prove her innocence. Thus, in a single sentence, is a belief system codified. It is a system that rejects modernity, justice, equality and rationality — and treats female sexuality as a vice. Apparently, you can get away with this kind of madness in much of the world by simply inciting crowds to chant, “God is Great,” while you throw the stones.
It’s a fitting image, rock-throwing…fitting for the Stone Age, that is. Such show trials pay no heed to the natural rights we presume to be universal in a 21st century society: The right to be present at your own trial, to testify in your own defense, to cross-examine the witnesses against you, to be represented by counsel, to have an impartial arbiter of fact, to appeal the judgment to higher courts. None of these were present in rural Iran in the drunken days of “the Islamic Revolution.” For women and girls in Iran and in many other parts of the globe they are not present today.
The verdict against Soraya M., was carried out in a village called Kupayeh, but it could have been almost anywhere in rural Iran. It could happen, and does still, in Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, or anyplace where sharia is the law of the land. More common, by far, in the Muslim world is the perverse practice of “honor killings” — the slaying of a woman or girl by male members of her own family on the basis of some presumed sexual indiscretion. The barbarity of this practice is mirrored by its Orwellian description, for it is one of the most dishonorable practices in the world.
It is a real life story! It is a narrative tasting absinthe! Innocent blood flows and injustice abounds! My blood boils and my hear is torn when i watched those scenes. It is revolting. And it gets me bitter but…….
I have learned to cherish my privilege to be well treated as a woman in my country and i have become more aware of what life is for some other women like me around the Earth.
Watch it and let me know if you don’t share my feelings.