‘Take My Voice’: An Everywoman’s Story from Iran

Starting last Friday, theaters across the country gave Americans a vivid, dramatic and most timely insight into the struggle now playing out in Iran.  More importantly, the extraordinary new film, The Stoning of Soraya M., offers each of us a way to help the the Iranian people — and most especially the women — to free themselves from the theocratic repression with which they have been afflicted for the past 30 years.

The Stoning unflinchingly depicts an act of unimaginable brutality: a small Iranian town’s collective execution of a woman who became inconvenient to her faithless husband.  Soraya M., however, is not just a victim of Shariah — the theo-political-legal program of authoritative Islam that makes a capital offense of adultery, the charge falsely leveled at this mother of four.

No, Soraya truly is an Everywoman under the mysogenistic, Shariah-adherent Islamic Republic of Iran.  Of course, not all of Iran’s females are stoned to death.  But each of them must live every day with the knowledge that they can be abused and perhaps killed by their own men-folk or by the authorities for behavior deemed un-Islamic or otherwise proscribed.

New York Times columnist Richard Cohen, courageously reporting from Tehran, wrote movingly on Saturday of the plight of what he calls “Iran’s Second Sex.” His column concludes with this chilling paragraph:

“I asked one [Iranian] woman about her fears.  She said sometimes she imagines an earthquake in Tehran.  She dashes out but forgets her hijab.  She stands in the ruins, hair loose and paralyzed, awaiting her punishment [for such a display of immodesty].  And she looked at me wide-eyed as if to say: Do you understand, does the world understand our desperation?”

Well, thanks to The Stoning, the world is being given a short-course on the desperation of Iran’s women — and that of others who are similarly afflicted.  Remember the girls in Saudi Arabia a few years ago who were forced back into their burning school lest they be seen in public uncovered?  Or the You Tube video of the young woman being flogged earlier this year in the Swat Valley for refusing to marry a Taliban capo?  Or the innumerable Muslim women of Darfur gang-raped and sold into slavery for the crime of being black Sudanese, rather than Arab ones?  Or, most recently, the video of Neda Agha-Sultan, the attractive young Iranian woman shot dead during a demonstration in Tehran by a police sniper who apparently singled her out for not being sufficiently modestly dressed.

Until now, most of us have paid little attention to these events, and countless others like them.  Even similar events closer to home have gone largely unremarked: the systematic raping of Scandanavian and European women at the hands of Islamists, who are taught under Shariah to consider such infidels to be theirs for the taking; the Shariah-sanctioned “honor killings” of young girls and women in the West; and the diminished rights and freedoms enjoyed by Muslim females in enclaves in Britain and on the Continent where Shariah has been allowed to supplant the host countries’ laws.

It may be too much to hope that any one film will change such willful blindness to these virulently mysogenistic practices, let alone to the threat posed by Shariah’s adherents to homosexuals, Jews and atheists — let alone non-adherent Muslims, to say nothing of those judged to be “apostates.”  Still, if one movie can make a difference, it will be The Stoning.

At the very least, it is a certitude that no one who sees The Stoning will ever be quite the same.  The screenplay, brilliantly adapted by the husband-and-wife team of Cyrus and Betsy Nowrasteh from the true story captured by a Franco-Iranian journalist    Freidoune Sadebjam and directed by Mr. Nowrasteh, cries out for justice.  In fact, one of the film’s most gripping moments comes as its main protagonist, Zahra — Soraya’s irrepressibly courageous aunt — pleads with the reporter to “take my voice” and, by so doing, to tell the world of the crime perpetrated against her Everywoman niece.

Each of us can do something to maximize the impact of this movie — both in the West and in Iran — by helping make it a box-office success.  The more people who see it during its first two-weekends, the more distributors will be confident of its appeal and the more theaters will carry it.  That, in turn, will maximize the number of our countrymen and women who are equipped to challenge Shariah and efforts to insinuate it into the United States, whether by violent means or by stealth.  And the more buzz about it here, the more likely it will be seen by audiences elsewhere, including (at least covertly) by Iranian ones.

In short, if each of us takes Zahra’s voice, if each of us makes the story she tells a rallying cry for all those who believe in freedom, we may just be able to help bring liberty to those like Soraya who have for far too long been utterly denied it — and, in some cases, their lives.

As it happens, an Iranian-American friend tells me that Neda – the name of the woman murdered by the mullahocracy some three decades after its system took the life of Soraya M. — roughly translates into “whisper” in English.  We all have an interest in ensuring that these and other desperate women’s voices are amplified and heard, not silenced.

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  • Terri Kimmel

    Let’s do some juxtapositioning.

    Iran has been immovable on the issue of abortion. They refuse to allow imposition of “reproductive rights” on its society by foreign entities. So even though women are treated monstrously as outlined in this article, the wombs of Iranian women remain legally inviolable. (Someone please correct me if I am making incorrect assumptions here.)

    In the United States, women are paraded practically naked in all forms of the mainstream media. In fact, we often are depicted totally naked and sex-starved. The shopping mall and other clothing outlets are in full compliance with the societal expectation that women are not allowed sexual integrity on any level. Women have to look for alternate sources for clothing that doesn’t degrade and expose us. Physical feminity is considered so disordered in this country that dangerous drugs (birth control) and surgical procedures (sterilization and abortion) are required to keep it in line with the societal role of sex toy. Contraception and abortion are the defaults.

    Yes, we can go outside with our heads uncovered. Yes, we can have professional careers. But Americans are still no better than the Iranians. American exploitation and abuse of women is, in many ways, even more brazen and certainly more intimate.

    I hope this movie makes a profound impact. I also wish Americans would wake up to the women’s rights crisis here at home.

  • Kathryn

    It is my understanding that contraception was in fact legalized in Iran and their fertility rates are way down (Population Reserach Institute has more information, but I didn’t find exactly whether or not Iran finally permitted birth control. I think they did, but can’t remember.)

    I am not entirely sure you can equate the oppression the Iranian (amoung others) women face with the “oppression” we American women face. I have not seen the Amish stoned for wearing traditional Amish clothing. Nor for refusing abortions. I’ve never used contraception and although that puzzles people, no one refuses to talk to me like I am some kind of freak.

  • Terri Kimmel

    Kathryn,

    Thanks for your comments.

    Whether or not contraception was legalized, blatant, open, shameless sexual exploitation of women is still not the norm in Muslim societies. The legalization of contraception, if it was legalized, is likely the result of Western pressure. That’s not the point, though.

    I would concede that one can’t equate what happens in Iran with what happens to women in the United States. “But Americans are still no better than the Iranians. American exploitation and abuse of women is, in many ways, even more brazen and certainly more intimate.”

    I’m repeating myself…

    My hope is that Americans will wake up to the injustices we impose on our own citizens as well as speak out for women’s rights all over the world.

  • Kathryn

    Terri:

    Last time I checked (okay, honestly, I didn’t check), Britney Spears made a positive choice to sing “If U Seek Amy” and “Break the Ice” (if you have no idea what I am talking about, you are a better lady than I). No one stoned her for refusing to sing them or make the videos, unlike many Muslim women who apparantly cannot walk outside without a Burka or face covering (although many Muslim women do make the positive choice to do so, especially in our own country and in the Western world.)

    Western women, in general, simply do not suffer the same abuse that those “trapped behind the veil” appear to. The abuse you seem to think Western world women suffer is abuse by CHOICE–they choose to abuse themselves by wearing (or not wearing) clothing they CHOOSE to buy (good, modest choices really aren’t that hard to find, thank you. I’ve got lots of it and I hate shopping), etc. It cannot blame it on the culture, no matter how decadent it has become. We are a long way from being the totalitarian state that Iran and many Muslim countries appear to be.

  • Terri Kimmel

    Kathryn,

    You’re arguing a point I haven’t disputed.

    No one can deny your experiences and you have every right to your opinions.

  • Kathryn

    Terri:

    Actually, I am trying to understand how “Americans are still no better than the Iranians. American exploitation and abuse of women is, in many ways, even more brazen and certainly more intimate.”

    If you were talking abortions and what not, then I could say, yes, we Americans are pretty rotten, and we really shouldn’t be throwing stones (no pun intended) on “backwards” places like Iran, who do, still, have a better track record in the area of abortion (and possibly contraception–but if there fertility rate is that low, then there is something going on. And we don’t know of the illegal abortion rate.)

    But you seem to be indicating that the way many, many Western/American women choose to live their lives is some how forced on them by the ruling elite–like certain countries require the burka, or execute them for converting to Christianity, etc. And I just don’t see that.

    American women are not “paraded practically naked in all forms of the mainstream media.” The passive form of the verb indicates the women didn’t have a say in the matter. They did, and they choose not to put much, if anything, on. You state that “The shopping mall and other clothing outlets are in full compliance with the societal expectation that women are not allowed sexual integrity on any level.” Not allowed? Who is not doing the allowing? (I’ll admit nursing clothes really are difficult to find, but then again, I always found the best nursing outfit to be a pair of jeans and an oversized T-shirt, both of which are readily available at the mall.)

    I can see no “women’s rights crisis” in this country. I do however see a morality crisis.

  • http://arkanabar.blogspot.com Arkanabar Ilarsadin

    Kathryn,

    something to think about when considering abortion:

    “[O]ne survey found that 64 percent of American women who had abortions reported feeling pressured to abort” ( http://catholicexchange.com/2009/07/07/120166/ )

    Evil creates the scope for more evil. The evils of contraception create the scope for abortion, which creates the scope for Britney Spears and the hook-up culture. Women in college especially live in a culture which presumes that they are BY DEFAULT available for the sexual gratification of men, and those who do not comply are snubbed if not cast out.

  • Kathryn

    Arkanabar:

    Yes, I did have that in mind when I wrote what I wrote. I am aware that women feel pressured to have abortions and contracept. Some are killed for refusing. I am aware of that.

    But simply “feeling pressured” is not the same as truly being pressured–having a gun to your head and marched into an abortion clinic. (Or being forced by the Relgious Police back into a burning school because of a forgotten head covering.)

    Being snubbed hurts. Oh boy, does it hurt. My high school and college years were misery.

    Then I grew up and realized a few things: Sin hurts too: spiritually, mentally, and can leave lasting physical scars that can haunt you for the rest of your life. Only through the tireless activity of my guardian angel I escaped the worst of it.

    If the people who are snubbing you are doing so because you won’t cooperate with sin, then maybe you need new friends.

    Let us not equate the pain of high school girls burning to death with the pain of being snubbed because someone wouldn’t along with the crowd. For one thing, I think it takes away from the girls who did no wrong, and lessens the responsibility of those who choose to do wrong for in order to avoid a pain less than burning alive.

    I know I sound harsh. But if things like abortion and contraception and walking around naked are truly “imposed” on us, how can we be held responsible for these sins? And if we are not responsible–if we are powerless–then how can we better ourselves?

  • Kathryn

    I came across this article after I wrote the above: http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2009/jul/09070614.html It is above a man who pulled a gun on a sidewalk counselor while escorting his girlfriend to the abortion clinic.

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