Friday, June 25, 2010

A Look Through Media at Women in the Middle East

I watched a really intense movie last night. It was called The Stoning of Soraya M. and it was extremely powerful. I've always kind of had an interest in regards to women in the Middle East. Back in my freshman year of high school, I read a biography entitled Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia which was written by American-born Jean Sasson who related the story of a woman she met while in Saudi Arabia. I hadn't known much about women's rights in the Middle East before then, and that book really opened my eyes. Since then, I've had a desire to learn more. I read Reading Lolita in Tehran a few years ago, which is amazing, by the way. Once I'm finished reading my current book (The Collected Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald...I find everything he writes absolutely delicious) I'm planning on reading a book my mom just sent me in the mail entitled Unveiling Islam, which is more of a look inside Muslim life and beliefs than a focus on women's rights, but I'm interested in learning more about that, as well.

Have you ever seen the movie Not Without My Daughter? It will totally freak you out. It's based on a true story of an American woman (played by the amazing Sally Field) who was married to a Middle Eastern man who had immigrated to the United States. She and her husband and daughter go to the Middle East to visit her husband's relatives, and her husband decides they are going to stay there... permanently. This woman can't bring her daughter back to the United States with her, because Islamic law states that her husband has full custody and he gets to keep her. She loses all of her rights in that foreign land. It's frightening, and you should watch it.
The movie I watched last night was based on a true story concerning a woman named Soraya, who lived in Iran and had a husband who wanted to divorce her so he could marry a fourteen year old girl. She refused to get a divorce because she knew there was no way she would be able to support her family without his financial help (because he wouldn't pay her anything once they were divorced). Her husband rallies other men in the village to figure out what they can do to convince Soraya to divorce him. They offer her a job cleaning a man's house...that way she can earn her own money and eventually divorce him when she has made enough to live on her own.

So, Soraya works for this man, knowing this is the only way out of her abusive marriage (her husband regularly beats her) while still being able to take care of her children. Well, her husband says that the wait is too long for her to save enough money, and he wants to get rid of her. He asks his friend to help convince the people in the town that his wife is having an affair with the man whose house she is cleaning. A woman cheating on her husband is considered a serious offense, and is punishable by death under Islamic law.

Soraya's husband convinces his friends to say that they saw his wife with this other man, and he even goes to the man and threatens to kill him and put his son (who is mentally challenged) in an institution if he doesn't tell everyone that he had an affair with his wife. The man is frightened, so he tells everyone they had an affair, even though it is nowhere close to the truth. The men in the town have a trial, declaring Soraya guilty of adultery, and have decreed she must die.

As you can guess by the title of the film, she is stoned to death. I knew people were stoned to death in the Middle East, but I always just pictured it as the person running around and people throwing rocks at them. This is not the case. They buried her waist deep into the ground, and tied her arms behind her back, leaving her completely helpless.
Like I said, I knew from the beginning of the film what was coming, but when the scene came where they showed her being stoned to death, I lost my shit. I started bawling. (And I am not a crier.) At first, they take turns throwing rocks at her, beginning with her own father. After that, her husband throws a rock that hits her right in the head, sending blood down her entire face. Then, her two sons both take rocks and hit her with them. Then, all the men in the village begin throwing stones at her. It was so brutal. To think that something like that happened . . . is still happening . . . makes me feel sick. To think that we, as human beings, can inflict that kind of pain on another person, and get enjoyment out of watching them suffer, is sickening.

The husband never even ended up marrying the fourteen year old girl, and the town soon found out that the alleged affair had been a lie. But no one seems to be too upset about it except Soraya's aunt. The day after the stoning, a French journalist was passing through the village, and Soraya's aunt tells him the entire story, because she wants the world to know what happened. The journalist tapes her recounting of the entire event, but when the men of the village find out, they try to steal it from him. He eventually gets away with tape intact and that is how Soraya's story is known.

Is that not the most awful thing you've ever heard? When I hear about these horrible events, it makes me want to do something, but what, I don't know. What can I do? The change has to come from within that society, and I don't see that happening. One thing is for sure, it makes me grateful that I was born in the US of A, baby. Sure, we have our problems, but we have a lot to be thankful for.

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