Rambling ...

I'm an Irish Girl, A Dubliner, with the 'Gift of the Gab' ... I like to talk & to tell you things. In Celtic times news, views and comment were carried from place to place by wandering Seanachaí ~ Storytellers ~ who relied on their host's hospitality and appreciation. I will need that from you too, as I venture to share Politics, Poetry, Laughter, Love, Life & everything in-between ... from Bog to Blog!!

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Woman's Voice ...

Today, as I pen this piece, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a mother of two now grown sons, is facing the punishment of being stoned to death. The world has responded to her sentence with numerous protests and a measure of public outcry. It seems that her country, the Islamic Republic of Iran has not heard that cry ....

This woman was 'discovered' to have been having relationships with two different men, following the death of her husband. Whether true or not,  it is viewed as the harshest of crimes in Iran, and is punished very severely. She was initially sentenced to 99 lashings.  These lashes were handed out to her in front of her son, (where she apparently said she no longer cares about continuing to live as she had now lost all dignity,) and after her beating came to an end, a judge re-opened her case and sentenced her to death.  Death by Stoning.

 In the stoning ceremony, a woman is buried up to her neck, and then has rocks thrown at her head.  There are even  instructions issued about the size of the stones it is permissable to use.  It reminds me of a scene from Monty Python's 'Life of Brian' except that this scene is real and chilling,  & quite without any comedic value.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani has already spent five years in prison, and her two children are very upset with the sentence that she has received. Her son & lawyer are both now imprisoned for speaking out against the regime.  More Importantly,  there are reportedly an additional  50 women who are awaiting a stoning death right now.  Today.  In Iran.  But Iran is not the only country guilty of this horror ~ the stoning of women is practiced in Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Somalia and Saudi Arabia.

"When a man accuses his wife, she must prove her innocence. That is the law. On the other hand, if a wife accuses her husband, she must prove his guilt. Do you understand?"

Another voice.  Another Woman.  Zahra Khanum, the equally courageous and charismatic woman portrayed in this harrowing  movie, "The Stoning of Soraya M",   about the death of another Iranian woman on trumped-up charges of adultery.    It is an emotionally wrenching concept,  and that’s even before you slide the disc in and read “based on a true story.”   Stranded in a remote Iranian village, a French journalist is approached by Zahra, a woman who has a harrowing tale to tell ~ a tale of her niece,  Soraya, and the bloody circumstances of her death only the day before ...

As the journalist turns on his tape recorder,  Zahra takes us back to the beginning of her story which involves Soraya's husband, the local phony mullah, and a town all too easily led down a path of deceit, coercion, and hysteria. The women, stripped of all rights and without recourse, nobly confront the overwhelming desires of corrupt men who use and abuse their authority to condemn Soraya, an innocent but inconvenient wife, to an unjust and torturous death by stoning.
Based on the book by Freidoune Sahebjam (portrayed in the movie by Jim Caviezel), The Stoning plays out much as it must have been told to him.   It unspools like a fable, the terrible course of Soraya’s life before the story begins, and the plot to end it.  Briefly, Zahra's niece Soraya, mother of four, had been accused of adultery by her abusive, unfaithful husband. The truth was that he wanted a divorce so he could marry another. When Soraya refused, he and the village mullah conspired to accuse her of adultery.  As the title suggests, Soraya was convicted and condemned to death by stoning.
The long, shockingly barbaric stoning sequence near the film's climax is indeed grueling, and the film's depiction of the events leading up to it paints a horrifying picture of the powerlessness of women in rural Iran.  McEveety the Movie producer,  and director Cyrus Nowrasteh,  felt that the stoning scene needed to be accurately portrayed or the film would be an insult to Soraya's suffering.  And it will be hard for many to get through to the end.  I confess that I (even damaged little me) spent some time peeking through the cracks of my fingers, and I did need help divorcing my rational brain from my empathy.  

Everyone gives a profoundly affecting performance.  Zahra (Shoreh Aghdashloo), a fearless woman who wields some of the only feminine authority in that village where evil dwelt unchecked.  Aghdashloo has always impressed in small roles and large, but here is a role of cunning, bravery, misery, steely resolve, and crumpled hope. Mozhan Marno’s role (Soraya) is in some ways easier ~ she has only to suffer, resign, mourn. I don’t mean at all to belittle her performance: ~ it was harrowing! Her end can only elicit horror and despair, no matter how well she succeeds in making us love her. Aghdashloo has a showy role, but one where she must dole out her showiness in careful measure.  She does this to perfection.
I can’t imagine being asked to play any of these men ... even the gentlest male soul has to bury his actorly humanity in service of the character by the end of the film. I wonder too how close these actors (both male and female) are culturally to the world they are depicting, and how it must also have affected them.   The reign of the Ayatollah Khomeni continued for three years after this story takes place, and, like the Taliban in Afghanistan, set the cultural attitudes back in that country by 2,000 years almost overnight. For such ugliness of humanity to rise so easily, for such unfairness and cruelty to bloom so virulently requires such a deficit of empathy, rationality & compassion that it hurts to think about it.   To live it is unthinkable.  And yet we must think about Sakineh Ashtiani today.  

Because Sakineh Ashtiani may yet share Soraya's fate.  Despite the brutality, this film is also beautiful and true. It reminds us that a woman in some parts of the world can be destroyed at a man's whim without consequence.  But it also becomes a Woman Voice.   In Arabic,  Zahra means "The Shining One."    In English, I think we'd call that a light.  A beacon even.  A Call to be the Voice for the Women of Iran & Islam who have been denied a Voice!

1 comment:

  1. This blog is so well written it is mindblowing! In fact I'm very surprised I'm the first to leave a comment, it would be impossible not to do so!

    It touches the emotions & tugs the heartstrings. I too have seen Soraya M & I concur with everything you have said above. Honor Killings is another taboo topic you should deal with Pana, especially as it relates to the UK & we could use some of your hands on experience with that on this side of the big pond!

    Why do we continue to trade & do business with thise corrupt & evil regimes?

    As your fellow countryman Edmund Burke once said (I hope I'm right, he is Irish & not British??) "All that is takes for Evil to triumph is for good men to stay silent". Or something like that.

    Well Done, Pana! You are a very brave little lady to write as you do on a public forum. Thank you for your bravery ... we could all learn a lesson from that.