Friday, July 30, 2010

The Stoning of Soraya M.: A Film That Depicts the Ultimate Example of Honour Killing

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In the movie, Soraya's hands are being tied on her back and she is
being made to stand in a waist-deep hole before her stoning death

Photo courtesy: http://movies.nytimes.com/

In a recent evening, a film title in the Rogers cable channel drew my attention. The title of the film was The Stoning of Soraya M. I immediately viewed it and was overwhelmed by the intensity of the portrayal of honour killing in the name of the religion of Islam.

This 2008 film, directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh Aghdashloo, an Iranian living in the USA, is based on the real-life story portrayed in the 1994 book, The Stoning of Soraya M., by French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam. The book had become an international bestseller at the time.

Jim Caviezel, who portrayed Jesus Christ in The Passion of the Christ film, acted as the French-Iranian journalist in this movie.

Summary of the Story

Soraya is a simple Iranian village wife. Her ambitious and cunning husband, in course of his job in a local prison, comes in contact with a condemned man's early teen daughter. He wants to marry her. As he wouldn't be able to bear two wives' expenses at the same time, he puts pressure on his present wife to agree to divorce him. She refuses to do so. This angers the husband so much so that he looks for ways to get rid of her.

The husband then goes to influence and manipulate the local mullah (religious priest) and village mayor (headman). He also spreads rumour that his wife committed adultery with a man whose wife died sometime earlier. The Islamic Shariah law requires two male witnesses to the adultery to make it a crime and eligible for the person involved in adultery (in most cases, the voiceless female) to be stoned to death. The husband, mullah and the village mayor wield unjust influence and cunning in getting innocent Soraya officially condemned to death by stoning.

The saddest thing is, Soraya's own elderly father believes her husband and his co-conspirators. He also condemns her and blames her for bringing in shame and dishonour to her husband and the village.

On a set date, a waist-deep hole is dug in the village public square where most of the villagers -- men, women and children -- are present. In the meantime, the influential perpetrators use some very young boys to collect egg to fist size stones from nearby hilly roadsides. Soraya is then brought to the square and made to enter the hole and stand upright. Two villagers then cover up the hole around her with the dugup earth. Now she is unable to move her legs on any angle.

The mullah then gives a short speech to the crowd and begins the stoning ceremony in God's name. Soraya's father is given a stone to be pelted at his daughter from a marked distance. He fails to strike her. Another stone is given and, again, he fails -- not because he is pitiful towards his daughter but because he does not have enough strength as an old guy to throw the stone straight at Soraya.

The husband of Soraya gets furious. He snaps a stone and throws it straight at her with all his might. It strikes her so hard that blood begins to shoot out from the wound. He pelts her another time with the same result.

The father gives stones to his two pre-teen sons to do the same. They hesitate, they quiver. On egging, they take the stones and hit her hard. Then there is public frenzy. As if it is a spectacle to be enjoyed like the ancient Romans viewing the gladiatorial fights in the coliseum. Men give their approval, some women express their satisfaction on their face. Male crowd also pick up stones and repeatedly strike at her. Soraya is covered in blood. At one time, the upper portion of her body falls on the ground like a rag-doll. The husband rushes to Soraya's devastated body to check if she actually died or not. He finds that one of her closed eyes half-opened for a time. He shouts out that she isn't dead yet! More stones fall on her. Finally, Soraya leaves this cruel and pitiless world.

Everyone leaves the square without touching Soraya's corpse. The adulteress is not to be buried. In the evening, Soraya's aunt gathers some women to take out her body from the closed hole and carry her dead body to a nearby river bank. They leave the body there covered in a chaddor (shawl). The body was later devoured by wild animals.

Sometime after Soraya's death by stoning in 1986, a French-Iranian journalist, on a trip through that remote, dusty and stony village in north-western Iran, gets stranded due to breakdown of his car. He leaves his car with a man for repair. When Soraya's aunt comes to know of this journalist, she surreptitiously contacts him and takes him to her house. She tells the complete story of the stoning death of Soraya to be recorded in his cassette-tape recorder. After evading prying eyes and physical confrontation with the perpetrators, the journalist is able to flee the village with the cassette-tape in his repaired car.

What do viewers learn from this film?

  • In the Islamic societies, the Shariah law is supposed to be implemented for actual cases of adultery. In this real case in Iran, the law was used as a tool of the influential and powerful people to take revenge on an innocent woman to serve their own purpose. Fictitious accusations were brought against Soraya to get rid of her.
  • It shows, in a male-dominated society, how a group of sly, vindictive and conniving men can use the Shariah law to reach their evil goals.
  • In a mostly illiterate or half-literate society, tribalism and patriarchal culture prevails to the detriment of the rights and status of women. In such a society, honour killing in the name of religion will never be eradicated.
  • Many males easily fall victim to the false propaganda and accusations of the influential men. When they see the revered mullah and village headman participate in these machinations, they easily believe them and act accordingly.
  • The sacrifice of Soraya is the ultimate example of an honour killing in an Islamic society.


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