A British-American bluestocking living in the UK writes about politics, pop culture, and emerging new paradigms as they unfold on both sides of the Atlantic. (New content.)

Sunday, 4 July 2010

My Wish for Independence Day? Freedom for Iranian Women

I wanted to write something jubilant and celebratory about the Fourth of July and freedom in America. But alas, I could not. A tiny blurb in the newspaper about a woman being stoned to death in Iran caught my eye and I could not in good faith write something happy today. It was really disturbing. I know that this happens in the world, but for some reason, hearing it today when a nation is celebrating its independence was difficult for me.  Because for all the freedom we have and especially in the United States, there are still those all over the world who are oppressed and silenced and dying (literally) to have the freedom that we enjoy. I sit in the UK, writing and looking out my window at the blossoming roses in the hedge on the quiet street where I live. While I have faced great challenges in my life and cried rivers of tears at times, it is miniscule compared to the pain and suffering that is being endured by scores of brave Iranian women who are fighting so valiantly for the freedom of expression that we take for granted in the UK and in America.  Iranian women are extremely well-educated and brilliant. They are chafing against the medieval laws that are imposed upon them and they are desperate to find a way out.

Someone challenged me recently when I said that Americans were so fortunate to have liberty and freedom in America. I realized that talking about liberty is just not politically correct anymore. It is  felt now that with the advent of the Tea Party movement, any mention of "freedom" or "patriotism" is immediately labeled "right-wing"....which is to me, blatantly unfair and unjust.  These terms were sacred to the founders of America and, therefore, nouns belonging to all, not just the few. It seems to be fashionable to bash America at the moment because of the mismanagement of past administrations, the corruption in the banking industry that has affected so many lives and the environmental mess that we have found ourselves in.  We have not been a blameless country, by any means.  But it is still a country where (for now) you are able to protest, voice an opinion, and make up your own mind about who you want in power. That's not how it is in many, many places in the world. That's why it upsets me so much when people take their freedom and liberty and their Bill of Rights so lightly. People are dying and being executed all over the world on trumped-up charges without due process and without a jury. And it is happening right now, to the women of Iran. Is anyone listening in Washington? Or in London? No.

As I write this, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year old mother of two children faces death by stoning having been accused of adultery. She had been abused and beaten by her husband and Iranian laws make it almost impossible to get a divorce. She had already been given 99 lashes in front of her son as punishment for conducting an "illicit affair" which was never proven. Her case was re-opened when she was accused of murdering her husband, but she was acquitted of those charges. However, her original case was reviewed and a "loophole" was found (one that does not require a jury) and she was given the death sentence for adultery.
Her children in London are begging the government to intervene on her behalf and they have been protesting at the embassy in London. They are teenagers. My heart breaks for them.  She has been in jail for four years awaiting her fate. It is reported that she has been carted out in several "mock stonings" simply to terrify her before the actual act is committed.

Do you know how stoning is carried out? The woman is buried up to her neck in sand so that she cannot move. And stones are thrown at her. The punishment meted out for Sakineh is death by stoning with medium stones which means that it will be a very slow and painful death. The stones will crack her face and skull and if thrown with force will break her neck. This is the punishment in Iran for choosing to love another other than your abusive and violent husband. But if your husband chooses to leave you, that's acceptable.

Mohammed Mostafaei, a very well-known and respected Iranian lawyer volunteered as her attorney when her sentence was announced. He wrote a public letter denouncing her conviction. "This is an absolutely illegal sentence," he said. "Two of five judges who investigated Sakineh's case in Tabriz prison concluded that there is no forensic evidence of adultery."

Three hundred and eighty-eight people have been executed in Iran this last year, second in number only to China. Two other women are awating their execution in the same holding block as Sakineh they are also being accused of adultery. It is suspected that they, also, are there on false charges simply for defying religious laws.

This is simply a symptom of something greater, the lack of equality for Iranian women. A campaign was mounted in 2006 called "One Million Signatures" to secure support from women across Iran for equal rights under the law. Even though their venue to assemble was closed on the day the first meeting was held, they organized outside and still went on with their plans. They are now training activists and organizing across Iran and forty-three of them have been imprisoned but have used their incarceration to improve the lives of prisoners and to inform other women in the prisons of the equal rights campaign.  These women are bold and brave and are the real Amazonians in the fight for freedom. They say that this millenium will see the return of the Divine Feminine. One only needs to look to Iran to see that in full flower. When I see the suffering of these well-educated and erudite women across Iran, it makes me only realize how much powerful women frighten the patriarchy. Women of power intimidate the living daylights out of weak and cowardly men who hide behind archaic religions that have continued to denigrate women as part of their agenda. Everyone is talking about 2012 and the end of the Mayan calendar. You know what?  I predict the end of oppression for the women of Iran and women everywhere!

If you want to help, I urge you to sign the petition at the top of this blog that was crafted by a lovely 11 year old boy who also cares about the unjust laws that are subjugating women and in this case, the stoning of Sakineh. Every day, brave women are being persecuted in Iran for standing up for their rights and that of their children. Did you know that children are also executed in Iran? Amnesty International has reported that many children under the age of 18 are executed without the benefit of a defense.

Instead of just celebrating your freedom today on this day of independence....choose to do something for those that are fighting for theirs. Stand with the women (and people) of Iran who desire to live free to choose their own destiny. And fight to stop the misogyny that is threatening to snuff out the brilliant lights that are the Iranian women. They deserve to have the rights to live and thrive in liberty.  All women do.

Freedom will come to Iran, through its brave warrior women. Today, on the Independence Day of America, I send my most fervent wish for the freedom of all the women and people of Iran and for the freedom of all oppressed people in this world. We are not truly free until all are free.