Conservative circles are celebrating a new, fairly courageous movie about fanatical, primitive Islamist Iran, “The Stoning of Soraya M.” It’s after the true story of the public execution by stoning of a young mother accused of adultery in a backward Iranian village. The movie sounds well made, affecting, but the story is a cop-out.
It turns out the young woman was framed. She was not guilty of adultery but the victim of machination by her evil husband and weak officials. No commentator or critic I have read has asked what are to me obvious questions:
First, I want to know what is the fate in backward areas of Iran of women who are correctly convicted of adultery. Is Iran a society where the penalty for a woman who has sex with a man not her husband is an especially barbarous form of capital punishment?
Second, I want to know whether or not the same could happen in Tehran or in some other of Iran’s major cities. Even the most civilized societies experience occasional barbarous acts in their backward areas. The question is this: Is the Islamic Republic an uncivilized society?
Third, I want to know how the kind of Islamic law that prevails in Iran defines adultery. I ask, because several years ago, in Muslim Nigeria, a young woman was sentenced to death by stoning for becoming pregnant after divorcing her husband. (Her sentence was eventually commuted and the rest of the world lost track of her.)
My focus is on the Western commentaries on such practices, such as the movie in question. I fear there has been an erosion of our, western comprehension and, correspondingly, of our sensitivity to evil. I am not referring here to occasional acts of brutality by individuals, or by police, or by the military in battle, but to systemic, societal evil.
Of, course, if my perception is correct, our collective ability to stop evil also decreases. The US, with the help of other western countries who would not act on their own, did stop great evil in Bosnia, in 1995 and again in Kosovo, in 1999. (In both cases, we saved mostly Muslims. ( Islamists never acknowledge this simple fact; and American liberals stupidly forget it.)
But the US, and other Western nations shamefully, stood by in 1994 as Rwandans massacred hundreds of thousands of other Rwandans with bricks and machetes. Belgium even removed the troops it had on the ground in that area. They were equipped with armored vehicles and machine guns. They could have stopped most of the slaughter in days. Right now, we have allowed genocide to proceed in western Sudan, Darfur, for six years. Government-blessed bandits on camels and horses do most of the murdering, systematic raping, and burning of villages. Darfur is about an hour jet flight from the NATO air bases of Sicily. How many strafings of camel-back rapists would it take to stop the horror? And, by the way, there is no reason why European NATO allies couldn’t do it until it stops, or forever. It would be a much easier and less expensive task than customs control, for instance.
Once again, when the US does not act as the conscience of the world, the world has no conscience.
Insensitivity to evil encourages more evil. It’s also bad for us. It makes us lose our souls.
What do you think?
PS I have been neglecting this blog because my hands are hurting and the fish are biting in Monterey Bay during lovely red sunsets. (An effect of global warming, perhaps.) I wonder if the pain is psychosomatic, a way to give myself permission to go fishing.
[Editor’s note: this essay first appeared on Dr. Delacroix’s blog, Facts Matter, on July 9th 2009]