Thursday, July 27, 2006

Iran's Execution of a Girl

A deeply disturbing (though well-researched) new documentary details the horrors of sharia law in Iran. The documentary, "Execution of a Teenage Girl" by filmmaker Monica Garnsey, brings to light the penetratingly disturbing case we all heard about two years ago but knew nothing of except rumors that the girl had been a child with mental problems, an orphan, and a victim of rape by a much older man. From the interviews and facts presented in this documentary, it seems that while all of those things were indeed true about young Atefeh Sahaaleh, it was also true that she was an incredibly courageous and intelligent young woman whose death will not be in vain as more and more people become aware of the inhumanity, ruthlessness and, in effect, lawlessness of sharia -- especially when it comes to women.

Painfully, Atefeh's case is not unique in Iran. Like many girls -- most of whose accounts go unrecorded and therefore unknown -- Atefeh was gang-raped by the very officials, the so-called morals police, who repeatedly dragged her into prison for violations of chastity even as she was not yet 13 years old. Like many girls, after the age of 9 (the age at which, according to Islamic law a mere girl is considered a woman) she was continually under threat of rape or accusations of violation of chastity because she was physically developed and quite beautiful (the townsfolk called her Madhuri, after the popular Hindi film actress of the same name). Like many girls, her only hope for a future at all, let alone a positive one, was marriage. Like many girls, the system was brutally unfair to her because she was a woman -- the 51 year old married man and father of 3 who regularly raped her was give 90 lashes for what in most nations would have been legally termed statutory rape. Like many girls in a society that doesn't consider females equal to males and leaves females very little hope or prospects for a future, Atefeh lashed out. Like many girls and women in Iranian society, she paid the price set by a government that, like all totalitarian systems, cares pittance for its very own citizens.

What makes Atefeh's case stand out is that the judge in her case, Haji Rezaii -- an older man, at least as old as the 51-year-old rapist whose crimes sent her to the gallows -- personally took out a vendetta on this child. He so frustrated and no doubt insulted her during the so-called trial in which he was the judge, the jury, and as it turns out, the executioner, that she became emotionally overwhelmed and hysterical, shouting at him, crying, removing her veil, and eventually throwing her shoe at him. According to one report, Rezaii claimed afterwards that the main reason he executed her was "for her sharp tongue," as shockingly illegal as that would seem to be. In an entirely illegal act, he assisted in fabricating her age (from 16 to 22) thus avoiding the crime of executing a minor, and personally hand-delivered and rushed the execution order to the Supreme Court in Tehran. In a final act of inconceivable hatred and sadism, he personally tied the execution rope around this poor child's neck.

Of course the West becomes arrogant and condescending toward the East, toward the developing world! Though the West is itself far from total gender equality, civil rights, and due process, the strides it has made in these fields far, far outdo the East. But what can Easterners do when our governments are puppets or handlers for the economic and power needs of the West?

I don't fully blame Iran, the Iranians, or even fundamentalist Islam for this abyssmal state of affairs -- I mostly blame the Western nations who never gave us a chance for democracy, who ever impeded any efforts we made to advance ourselves, by ourselves. And who actually introduced and fully condoned fundamentalist Islam as a movement when they trained, funded and encouraged the Taliban in Afghanistan 30 years ago as they were trying to defeat the Russians -- those 'damn Commies' for whom the entire world had to pay the price. The Islamic Republic of Iran was never chosen by the people of Iran, was never even voted for. Islamists, with the help of the West (who can ever forget Khomeini's royal treatment in France where he was courted by Western diplomats of all shapes and sizes?) hijacked a popular revolution and formed a religious dictatorship -- and the innocents, as always, are suffering the consequences.

It seems our only hope of ever being let alone to choose our own government and to run our own societies will be the day when that last bitter drop of oil is sucked out of our lands and our value as a Western commodity instantly disappears. Till then, there will be no shortage of Atefeh Sahaalehs over which to despair.

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