Last Tuesday two men were stoned to death in Mashad in north-eastern Iran. They were accused of having sexual relationship with married women. Iran’s Justice Authority says stoning and lashing are in accordance with the Islamic law, the Sharia. Thanks God, they don’t usually cut off the hands or feet of suspected thieves in Iran, as is the case in Saudi Arabia.
I know that stoning has existed in many societies in the past and I never forget the wonderful story about Jesus saying 2000 years ago: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at Her”! …when people were gathered to stone a prostitute on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
But when you see those punishments still practiced now, in the 21st century, in some countries and societies, you feel a deep sorrow and frustration. Brutal, inhumane, archaic. The European Union protested against stoning of the two men in Mashad and urged Tehran to stop stoning as a method of punishment. But who in Tehran listens to the EU?
To the credit of all Iranian democrats, liberals, and intellectuals: we had an outrage in many websites and émigré newspapers. But Tehran doesn’t listen to them either.
Even worse, in the 30 years since the founding of the Islamic Republic, all these inhumane practices have become routine and people have got used in them — most probably not agreeing with, but ignoring them as part of their daily lives — what they see on the TV and read in newspapers. Sometimes they even organize public demonstrations of these punishments: stoning, hanging, lashing — and people come with their kids watching.
What is even more frustrating are the answers you receive from some Iranian clerics and lawyers or even intellectuals who do not agree with these methods but are too careful in touching the core of the problem. “It’s not so easy to sentence somebody to stoning. Conditions for such a judgment are so complicated that make it practically impossible to issue such a verdict.” That means you do not rule out stoning or lashing as an archaic, outdated way of deterrence that should be banned into history. That means we have a problem in either seeing what is right and wrong or we are are too fearful too speak out.
When we see inhumane scenes from the former Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the way some U.S. military personnel treated Iraqi prisoners, we get angry and protest loudly. And we don’t forget it. If Israel attacks Palestinian civilians and kills dozens, we talk of arrogance and inhumanity of Israel and the West against the Islamic world. We pour into the streets and protest. Loudly and clearly.
But when we see a woman placed in the earth up to her belly to be stoned to death we start with arguments starting with “Yes, but…” Or if a Palestinian blows up a public transportation bus full of Jewish civilians, we try to find excuses. “Yes it was not fine.” Not fine? No terrorist attack? No criminal act? “But the reason is the policy of Israel …” The reason? An excuse for blowing up innocent passengers? You keep silent? You don’t pour into the streets and protest? Loudly and clearly?
And we keep talking about Western hypocrisy and double standards. As if we would be consistent with our values and judgments.