Al-Ahram Weekly Online   2 - 8 September 2010
Issue No. 1014
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Crocodile tears

Those planning to invade Iran because of its nuclear programme have found a new tact, notes Amani Maged

Click to view caption
A protester depicts a woman stoned to death in a demonstration in Paris, protesting the death sentence of Sakina Mohamedi Ashtyani. The stoning sentence was reportedly overtuned, but she still faces execution by hanging

After the start-up of the Bushehr nuclear power plant made headlines around the world, news programmes continue their obsession with the fear of an Iranian nuclear bomb, the imminence of war against Tehran, and possible future scenarios.

To add to the argument for invasion, the case of the Iranian woman Sakina, convicted of murdering her husband, is being hyped in the world media, especially in Europe and human rights groups. There are protests and petitions by these more pious "liberal" critics of the Islamic regime, calling for a stay of her sentence of death by stoning, adding fuel to the fire of those calling for invasion.

Sakina Mohamedi Ashtyani, a woman in her 40s and mother of two, had an extramarital affair with a man, and together with her lover, killed her husband. She confessed to the crime, but later recanted after receiving 90 lashes, insisting that she confessed under torture. Whether or not Sakina is a criminal, the fact that she was sentenced to death by stoning remains an internal issue for Iran, if not an issue of religion since Islamic jurisprudence rules that a married adulteress and adulterer should be stoned to death for their sin. One way or another, the case remains the concern of Iran's judiciary.

But the West has morphed this trial into an issue of human rights. Demonstrators in the West took to the streets denouncing Iran's position and demanding that Sakina be released. French women's movements raced to announce their support for her, while France's First Lady Carla Sarkozy took a personal interest and declared that France will not abandon Sakina in her time of need. Madame Sarkozy went as far as saying that she refuses to recognise the legal arguments against Sakina.

On the banks of the Seine, crowds of artists, intellectuals, politicians, both government supporters and the opposition, joined supporters of the Iranian opposition to show their solidarity with Iranians opposed to their government's policies. Human rights organisations were prominent at the event.

But it appears that Sakina is not the real reason for all this commotion. It is really just a manifestation of the ongoing Iranian opposition movement abroad, as demonstrated by the large number of public figures who signed a petition initiated by French writer Henri Bernard Lévy in opposition to Tehran's domestic policies. The petition rejected what it calls Iran's use of terror and oppression to stifle the revolutionary uprising sparked by the government's refusal of new elections after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won in 2009.

Signatories to the petition include former French presidents Jacques Chirac, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, First Lady Carla Bruni, Ségolène Royal, Isabelle Adjani, Mia Farrow and others who disagree with Iran's policies of capital punishment, and what they call indiscriminate killing of citizens for expressing their opinion with the aim of terrorising the population. Those who signed the petition also demanded that the verdict against Sakina be overturned "to recognise her innocence".

The French government launched joint diplomatic moves with other European nations to demand that the Iranian government intervene to prevent the stoning, adding another issue to the already full Iran agenda. The wheels have started to turn within the European Union, putting Sakina's fate on a par with uranium enrichment. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner discussed the matter with Catherine Ashton, EU high commissioner for foreign affairs, and asked her to find ways to convince Iran to stay the execution.

Brazilian President Luiz Inàcio Lula da Silva offered political asylum for the woman, but Iran has not responded. Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Amorim attempted to persuade Iran to make a humanitarian gesture towards Sakina, arguing that clemency would greatly improve Iran's image in the eyes of the world because the possibility of death by stoning upsets the sensibilities of the Brazilian people.

All these efforts by the West on behalf of Sakina and human rights come at a time when thousands of women in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan are killed and raped without any such loud protest from Western leaders and human rights groups. The amount of attention Sakina is receiving is reminiscent of the Algerian runner Hassiba Boulmerka. The West feared for her safety during the massacres in Algeria, and the world-class runner was all they focussed on while hundreds of women like her were being killed without a peep of protest. But it seems Boulmerka's legs were more important than those of hundreds of other Algerian women.

The West is championing Sakina, who confessed to infidelity, yet it turned a blind eye to the 460 women who were killed during the Al-Aqsa uprising, not to mention the 42 girls and women killed in Basra last year at the hands of armed militia, the death of 15 women in Baghdad Al-Karkh, and the targeting of civilians in arbitrary bombings which do not discriminate between man, woman or child. All this is somehow less important.

There were no demonstrations in Paris along the banks of the Seine, and public figures did not gather to protest the incarceration of 90 female detainees in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, before they were released or relocated to other prisons after a scandal at the prison. While the West holds Boulmerka's legs and Sakina's infidelity in high regard, 87 per cent of women in Afghanistan have faced violence; half of those have been raped in a country which has been occupied since 2001. Eighty of these women tried to burn themselves alive in 2008 to escape the shame, and some succeeded. None of these tragic victims merit Western tears as much as does Sakina.

France, which is working hard to uphold Sakina's human rights, is at the same time preparing to deport 700 Roma and hundreds of other refugees to Romania and Bulgaria, and has even been censured by the UN. Yet President Nicolas Sarkozy ignores this criticism and insists that France was "responsible" for Sakina.

The West is pressuring Iran to begin negotiations to stop enriching uranium, and is now loudly urging Tehran not to carry out the sentence against Sakina. Strangely, the two issues have become connected and the EU has called for new pressure to remind Tehran that not obeying the West has a price. France's Kouchner called for Iran to address the issue during the meeting of EU foreign ministers on 10 September.

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