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Posted in: Honor Killings, Arts, Film & Culture, Iran

Published on Jul 11, 2009 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for Pajamas Media

Death to the Turbans, No More Stoning: Free Iran


Defiantly, bravely, they are marching for their freedom in the streets of Teheran. The mullahs' men are gassing, beating, shooting and jailing them.

The people are chanting: "Death to the turbans," "Down with the dictator," "We want democracy." The demonstrators are risking their very lives in order to tell the world the truth about Iran: that it is one gigantic prison in which elections are rigged, children are sacrificed to clear landmines from the fields, and women, intellectuals, and homosexuals are routinely jailed and murdered by corrupt dictators who sponsor terrorism abroad.

We tell children that if they "tell the truth, they will be safe." But this is a lie. Truth tellers invariably get into trouble. Even in the West, whistleblowers get harassed, maligned, isolated, fired. Those who expose family "secrets" are treated as evil or crazy and are often driven out of the family. The evil-doers are protected, those who expose them are punished. This seems to be a fairly universal phenomenon.

While I am no fan of the Islamist Mir Hossein Moussavi or of his Islamist wife, at least Moussavi ran on a platform which promised to ban the stoning of Iranian women.

Last night I finally saw The Stoning of Soraya M. The film is both beautiful and terrible, painfully graphic, quite true to Sahebjam's narrative, well worth seeing. I have been writing and speaking about this stoning for about five years now but I was still riveted to my seat. I had to cover my face several times as the actual stoning was re-enacted.This is ironic, given my stand against female cowering/"covering." But this time, doing so allowed me to avoid the most unpleasant reality–perhaps this is a self-destructive act. We must face evil in order to stop it.

Some points about the story and the film which the reviewers may not have noticed:

First, Soraya Manoucheri could have lived–had she granted Ghorban Ali, her husband, an immediate divorce, given up her two sons whom Ali, a frequenter of brothels, had turned against her, and simply accepted her fate as a vulnerable, impoverished women with absolutely no way to support herself and her two daughters other than prostitution which is both shameful and illegal. This small amount of spirit, or outraged dignity that Soraya showed is precisely what doomed her. It makes no difference that the 40 year-old Ghorban Ali could have married the 14 year-old who had aroused his lust anyway, without having to divorce Soraya. He would still have had to pay some support and this he refused to do. He chose to falsely accuse her of improper behavior with her male employer and to have her stoned to death.

Second, although Soraya and her magnificent aunt Zahra were relatively "spirited" women, neither really believed that their lives were unbearably tragic and/or they were incapable of acting on that belief. To save her life, Soraya would have had to flee immediately, (yes, into the same dreadful poverty and prostitution); that, in the era of the mullahs, once targeted by an evil man, there would be no escape for her or for any woman. Failing that, Soraya would have had to wrestle the rifle out of the hands of the man guarding her, and turned it on him and then on herself in order to avoid the most torturous of deaths.

If they are lucky, Iranian prostitutes routinely spend many years in prison, as do rape victims. In 2001-2002, Iranian filmmaker Manijeh Hekmat released a film Women's Prison which depicts the heartbreaking lives of women behind bars from 1979-1999.

Many prisoners have been accused falsely of being prostitutes, or have been forced into prostitution and then punished for it–or have killed their potential rapists or longtime rapists.

In 2007-2008, Mehmoushe Solouki, a Canadian-French-Iranian and a former inmate of Evin Prison, released yet another film, The Evil and the Good, about women in Iranian prisons. Solouki was–and still is haunted by the cries of other women prisoners, many of whom were women's rights activists who had been arrested for marching for women's rights.

"I heard the cries and yelling of other women prisoners," she says. "I thought that they were terrorists, but when I asked about it, the answer was that they were women activists arrested during the ceremony of March 8 [International Women's Day]. I couldn't tell whether this answer was tragic or comic…I have heard some things about Guantanamo Bay — that terrorists are kept there." Solouki says. "But I can't believe there could be a place in the world with so many students, intellectuals, writers, and women's rights activists [as Evin prison]."

This is what happens when people tell the truth anywhere but especially in totalitarian, Islamist countries. To name only three Muslim countries: In Iran, Afghanistan, and Iraq, women, especially dissidents, are not only forced to veil; they are also harassed and threatened, shot down, beaten up, and jailed, where they are raped, tortured in other ways, hung, stoned, and shot.

And all for telling the truth about their lives and the lives of others and for demanding a change: Less violence, more freedom, "democracy," an end to stoning and to repressive female dress codes.

The stoning of Soraya M was a cultural honor killing. The people in her village, where she had been born and had lived all her life, were easily convinced that she had shamed and dishonored them and that only by shedding her blood could the villagers themselves be cleansed. These are Ghorban Ali's exact words–and they inspired the murderous-sexual rage of the all-male stoning mob. As did the fake mullah's repeated cries of "Allahuakbar." A traveling theatrical-musical company stays to watch the "entertainment" and also joins in by pounding their large drums in a way that excites and thrills the stoners.

This is precisely the kind of sexually-fueled Islamist rage that may account for family honor killings in which the poor female victim is stabbed 22 times or raped and then set on fire or slowly suffocated or stoned to death.

I am keeping the brave Iranian demonstrators close to my heart and I am always mindful of Soraya M, whose body was exposed to the dogs to eat and whose bones were then lovingly buried by her aunt Zahra near a stream that Soraya loved.

I want to thank Joy Rose of Mammapalooza for accompanying me down to see this film and for sighing right along with me. No woman should have to sigh alone.


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