Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A New Women’s Movement Paradigm in Iran
Roozonline -By Mehrangiz Kar
04 Oct 2006

Iranian women are using new methods to confront discrimination and violence. In the course of their past struggles, they have learned that a society with deeply entrenched anti-women beliefs does not change quickly.

Iranian women are using new methods to confront discrimination and violence. In the course of their past struggles, they have learned that a society with deeply entrenched anti-women beliefs does not change quickly. They have learned that they must take small steps, that they must not try to push every struggle towards achieving a specific aim, a “total war.” Now, with these lessons, the women’s rights movement in Iran is slowly coming together as a coherent whole and realizing its vast potential.
The latest instance of this shift in methods is demonstrated by the campaign to repeal the stoning laws, which is spearheaded by forty individuals under Ms Shadi Sadr’s leadership.
Stoning is a violent form of punishment prescribed by various religions. Due to the separation of church and state, however, it is no longer practiced in non-Muslim societies. This is because principles of secularism forbid lawmakers to turn rules that belong to previous millennia into modern law.
The supporters of legalizing traditional forms of punishment argue that stoning and similar acts are necessary to deter sinners and prevent crime. And while the measure is not necessarily Islamic, but more fanatic and insensitive to human values, its contenders claim the act does not constitute violence. In their view, stoning is a punishment similar to capital punishment that is practiced in many Western societies where it is not characterized as violence.
I have witnessed myself a Sharia (Islamic jurisprudence) judge who asked a person accused of incest to step outside the courtroom three times, asking her to come back each time and confess again. Why? Because the judge wanted to pass his sentence quickly and without any trouble. This way he could write in his judgement that the defendant had confessed four times. The unfortunate defendant did not know what was going on. He thought that the judge wanted to help him. As a result, he did what was equivalent to confessing four times on four different occassions under normal circumstances.
The discussion is not about whether stoning, if implemented correctly and accurately, is a good form of punishment. Rather, the discussion is about the fact that murderers, even mass murderers and perpetuators of genocide, either do not go to jail, or if they do, they are ultimately punished by death. So why is it that a man or woman who has not murdered anybody should get stoned? Does this not contradict Islam? Many believe that it does. Ayatollah Mojtahed Shabestari, for instance, writes in “A Critique of the Official Interpretation of Religion” that not only does a person have the opportunity to reform Islamic penal codes, but that such a reformation is essentially necessary.
Regardless of its specific manifestations, stoning has often been used to undermine the credibility of Iranian governments. Every time someone wants to undermine Iran’s national interests, a documentary or fictional movie about stoning is screened somewhere. And it is not easy for the Iranian people to change these laws. So long as people cannot freely elect their lawmakers, and the Guardian Council continues to screen candidates, it is not easy to repeal the stoning law. Only through free elections would Iran’s laws get in synch with the necessities of the time. But one cannot wait until that happens. Something must be done.
The campaign to repeal the stoning law, which has been organized by forty lawyers, is a step in the right direction. A fresh issue that this campaign has picked up on is the fact that, according to Iran’s laws, stoning as a punishment applies to both men and women. As a result, the organizers of this campaign have framed their struggle in terms of defending values of human existence, and not just women’s rights.
The campaign’s organizers are motivated mainly by a desire to reduce ordinary people’s pains and sufferings. To this end, they have called on the public as well as the government for help. They do not claim to spearhead a total war in order to enact bring about a fundamental change. Rather, the campaign’s organizers are experienced and modest enough to tackle the problems step by step, and not in a hurried fashion either. Let us help them, not just because they want to defend human values and remove a thorn from a country’s pride, but also because they have, out of wisdom and experience, started a gradual but united move.

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