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Silencing Stoning of Soraya M.

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How a so-called human rights activist attacks and discredits the new film on stoning in Iran---a plain reproduction of real-life event---as sensationalist and counter-productive....

This article first appeared in Frontpage Magazine.

The Huffington Post ran an article, "Sensational Film Exploits Human Rights Issues in Iran," by Elise Auerbach, Amnesty International USA's Iran specialist. The author criticizes the new film, The Stoning of Soraya M, arguing that it does more harm than good. But perhaps she should tell that to her own organization, which recently hosted a screening in supporting the film. To Ms. Auerbach, I would like to say that the act of stoning is sensational to all those who cheer and participate in it. As a "specialist," perhaps she can compare the movie to videos of actual stonings, noting not just the horrific violence upon the victim, but also the chilling enthusiasm of the crowd.

The director of the movie, Cyrus Nowrasteh, simply showed the truth that no one in Hollywood dares to touch. Stoning is one of the most horrific acts committed against humanity. I want to thank Mr. Nowrasteh from the bottom of my heart, not just for the realistic stoning scene, but also for his portrayal of the Muslim culture of secrecy, pride and shame which condones, indeed encourages, such actions.

When I lived as a Muslim in the Middle East, I personally knew victims of honor killings, and heard about the bodies of women floating in the Nile that no one cared to report. Even the police ignored such horrific murders. In Muslim culture, women's bodies belong to men. If they are shamed, men cannot live with dignity and respect in society unless they kill the suspected wife or daughter. One of the most moving parts in the movie was the pressure placed on Soraya's father to throw the first stone. That father could not have survived in dignity if he had refused. It was brilliantly done and so true.

Speaking as though the defense of human rights in Iran are the exclusive right of one group or another, Auerbach sounds like an Iranian official when she say, "Iranians don't need people from outside Iran telling them what is good for them." Accordingly, since Amnesty International is an outside entity, can she say the same thing applies to both her and her organization? Indeed, it has been external pressure applied by that very organization and others which has compelled Iran to place moratoriums, however brief, on stoning in the past.

Ms. Auerbach also writes, "It is very unusual to see issues that Amnesty International has worked on appear on film." Again, she speaks as though independent efforts to expose women rights violations in Iran must receive her stamp of approval, as if she and her organization have an exclusive right to comment on these issues. Even though Mr. Nowrasteh and cast are almost all of Iranian origin, she said that "Iranians themselves -- and in particular Iranian women's rights activists -- have organized and carried out a vigorous campaign against the practice of stoning and have themselves been actively documenting the practice." Does she mean that since there are such Iranian organizations (almost all working with support from the West), there is no need for the film? In fact, in the July 12 Washington Times, Manda Zand Ervin, president of the Aliance of Iranian Women, wrote an op-ed piece praising The Stoning of Soraya M, where she wrote, "this movie can help our cause of human rights awareness" and suggested the U.S. Congress, the White House, the United Nations, and the European Parliament must see the film.

Even though death by stoning is still the written law of Iran today, Ms. Auerbach says that three men were stoned to death in Iran since last August. Is this a 'gotcha moment' because the victims were men instead of women? Does that somehow mitigate it? She ignores the fact that the film discusses a larger Sharia problem. The rest of the Muslim world, from Morocco to Indonesia, still practices this barbaric behavior, both officially by a few governments and more often unofficially and unreported, by street vigilante justice. I wonder if Ms. Auerbach knows that 'murderers of adulterers' are excused from punishment by Sharia, thus allowing vigilante justice free reign against adulterers (or alleged adulterers).

Auerbach also criticizes the film's main character, the stoned woman Soraya, as "merely a mutely suffering victim," an odd interpretation by anyone who's seen the film. Regardless, would that change the injustice? She also stated that women stoned have usually committed multiple crimes and not just adultery. This is immaterial and rejects the key fact that the laws of Islam regarding adultery clearly state that adulterers will be stoned, period. The laws never state that adultery must be linked to another crime as the Iranian "expert" claims.

Furthermore, it's clear that Ms. Auerbach is unaware of the famous book of the same title upon which the movie is based. Written by French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam in 1990, it became an international bestseller. All those who follow human rights and women's rights issues in Iran are aware of the book and its impact.

Ms. Auerbach is apparently very concerned that the film portrays Iranians "as barbaric, bloodthirsty savages." I cannot understand why she is more concerned about the reputation of Iran than the atrocity of stoning people to death there. The movie never generalizes about Iranians. It's a cheap shot by her to criticize a well-done movie that stands for human rights.

Auerbach stresses that "we must look at stoning in the overall context of executions in Iran." Wow. Is she talking about the slow hangings of homosexuals in public squares? I don't think so. Execution of murderers is swift, but perpetrators of "moral" crimes are killed torturously. Ms. Auerbach must understand that the barbaric, cruel and slow death by stoning in which fathers, sons and husbands participate is not equal to execution of mass murderers which must still be done humanely.

Amnesty International, a noble and well-intentioned organization, has less impact on ending tyranny in the world than a great and courageous film like "The Stoning of Soraya M."

Nonie Darwish is an American of Arab/Muslim origin. A freelance writer and public speaker, she runs the website http://www.arabsforisrael.com/. Her new book is Cruel and Usual Punishment: The Terrifying Global Implications of Islamic Law.

Comments (3)Add Comment
written by John , July 18, 2009
Silencing? I don't see silencing. I see criticism.
"Discredit" seems an inappropriate word also. Perhaps the criticism is politically motivated, but no one is trying to silence the film.

I'd ask where you got the idea that the reviewer was trying to silence this film, but my experience is that folks who want to link American liberalism with Islamic barbarism don't explain themselves very well.

And my guess is you wouldn't answer at all.

Oh what the heck... consider yourself asked.

re: Silencing
written by M. A. Khan , July 18, 2009
Silencing? I don't see silencing. I see criticism.
"Discredit" seems an inappropriate word also. Perhaps the criticism is politically motivated, but no one is trying to silence the film.

Calling a film portraying a real-life event, which is rather common in Arab countries, sensationalist amounts to discrediting it to some measure. Discrediting a critic/artist is to discourage him/her, discourage her/him or people of similar interest from taking up similar project in the time ahead. That, to some measure, amounts silencing... You may want to call it simply "criticism", but it does the same thing.
written by John , July 19, 2009
Movies get criticized. What makes this incident as newsworthy as it might be, is that the writer is highly placed in Amnesty International. She is evidently at odds with her organization on the value of the film as commentary on mideast culture.

I haven't seen the film, so I don't have a clue.

I'm concerned that there actually are people who would like to silence films.. and their enthusiasm is not a chain of reasoning wherein criticizing something means to try to silence it.

They really want to silence it... they're not offering an opinion. They say Salmon Rushdie must die, and they don't mean "on stage".

Yes, it's possible to create an arguement wherein calling it "sensationalistic" means "silence this film"... but the problem isn't the point of view of this writer... she's just looking after herself.

The problem is the guys who want to really silence films... and novels and newscasts. They don't work by criticizing things. They can't stand criticism.

You know... the stone throwers.

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