A ‘different culture’ doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt when one is stoned


In September 2011, Mina Ahadi was invited to give a speech at the TEDxESPM conference in São Paulo, Brazil on her campaign against stoning and execution. In her speech she talks about her work and the campaign to save Iran stoning case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. Mina’s first husband was executed in the same prison that Sakineh awaits her death by stoning sentence. Read on…

I am Mina Ahadi from Iran. About 5 years ago a boy called me from Iran. He was 17/18 years old and said: “Is this human rights office?” And I replied: “Yes, I deal with human rights.” He said: “Are you Mina Ahadi?” and I said: “Yes, what can I do to help you?” And he said: “My mother is going to be stoned to death. Mina, you have to help me.” I took a deep breath and said: “Who is your mother?” And he replied: “Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.” I asked: “Where is your mother?” And he answered: “In Tabriz prison.”

I had to take several breaths for Sakineh sits in the prison where my husband was executed. That’s when I said: “Okay, wait, I’m writing down the name, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, and I promise you Sajjad, I’ll help you. I won’t allow your mother to be stoned to death.”

He called again on 2nd June 2010. He said: “Mina, now it’s time. In 2 weeks my mother will be stoned to death.” I said: “You and your sister Saideh (17 years old) have to write a letter and we will translate this letter and I’ll ask people all over the world: Are we going to let this woman be stoned to death in Iran? What are we going to do about it?”

They wrote the letter and we at the International Committee against Stoning translated it into German and English and published it on the Internet. After two days, people, ordinary people from all over the world, had translated it into 30 languages and we have reached millions of people through this campaign. We managed to organise demonstrations in 110 cities. All these people stood up and did something against this barbarism.

I want to explain here why my husband was executed in Iran in the very same prison Sakineh languishes in. I was a medical student in Iran; I was born in a small village named Abhar and because of religion I was forced to go out from the age of nine dressed in a chador. I wanted to play. I asked my mother why my brother could and I couldn’t and the answer was always: because we are Muslims, because we are a Muslim family. Then I thought, I’m going to go to a big city, and then I’ll have my freedom. There I was allowed to study medicine at the University of Tabriz. The first day when I entered the university I threw away my chador and wore a mini skirt and went out. And I thought: Okay, now I have my freedom. At the University of Tabriz (back then it was the Shah’s time) I slowly realised that it’s not a free life because we were for example not allowed to discuss many things or to think. We were not allowed to read Maxim Gorky, and of course, reading Marx was also prohibited. I participated in a revolution against the Shah’s regime. Back then, we young people were on the streets but we didn’t have the chance to give reports of our revolution. There was no Facebook or Twitter then. I heard from the BBC that our revolution was an ‘Islamic’ revolution, and I laughed. Our leader was supposed to be a man named Khomeini. When we heard that name from the BBC, we all laughed. But this was no laughing matter, because the Islamists gained power in Iran. From the beginning I was against the Islamic regime of Iran too.

My husband was a student too we were married on 4 July 1979. And he was executed on July 4, 1980 in Tabriz prison. After that, I spent one year in Tehran, living clandestinely without papers, without anything. One can easily imagine what the situation was like there; I had to keep moving from place to place in order to evade arrest. My brother for example allowed me to stay for only one night at his place. I was in real danger because the Islamic regime had issued a death sentence against me too. In 1981 I fled to Kurdistan and spent 10 years there as a guerrilla fighter. When I was there I tried through radio broadcasts and other means to talk to people about what was happening and what could be done.

I remember one time when we were bombed by the Islamic regime and I was working at the radio station. At that time I was supposed to read from a script. I had read the first page; we were in a mountain, between two rocks, and I spoke in Persian and Turkish on the radio. Suddenly the second page went missing. I stood there and did not know what to do. Then I started to speak freely. And somehow I think it’s better if you can speak freely. I explained the situation. So I try to work for human rights using communication and collaboration between people.

Sakineh’s campaign was a very successful campaign. From my perspective, if you want to know me, I’m like this, I explain myself like this. I’ve tried to give people worldwide a chance to stand up against barbarism and to do something about it. That’s my job. I tried to give a platform to all the people in the world who looked at her photo and said: No, this woman must not be stoned. Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is still in jail right now but I’m sure that no Islamic regime will be able to stone a woman easily ever again. This is the result of our work worldwide. Sakineh’s photo is now a symbol for women’s rights, the fight against stoning and the fight for women’s rights.

I would like to talk about another person’s fate too. In countries under Islamic rule, the women are not only stoned to death but also executed. Another case I worked on was that of Shahla Jahed. She was 32 years old when she was arrested. She was in love with an Iranian football player and was his lover. The man was married and also shared an apartment in Tehran with Shahla. One day the wife of the football player was murdered and the regime arrested Shahla Jahed. Women are very quickly sentenced in Iran. Women have nothing. A woman, particularly in prison, is nothing. She often spoke to me on the phone. She called me from prison. We spoke Turkish, my native language. She sang Turkish songs for me and she said: “Mina, you have to help me.” This is how I raise awareness on cases I work on. I cannot just talk with people and explain to them that this woman is going to be stoned to death or executed; I need a photo. I said you have to send a photo. Somehow a photo has to come. One can look at this photo and see it’s a human being. I try to give people who are in prison, to give people who sit on death row, a face. She’s a person. She was. She was executed. I try to explain what music she likes. What she thinks about politics. And I do an interview with these people who are in prison and we publish it. We are a group and we work like this. But unfortunately, on December 4, 2010 at 6 O’clock they called me from Iran and said: She’ll be executed. Although a film was made about her and a lot was published about Shahla, but the time had come. I spoke to the German Foreign Ministry, phoned the EU parliament, back and forth. All of a sudden my phone rang at 11 O’clock on 4 December. And I heard a voice, Shahla’s voice. Shahla said: “Mina, I want to say goodbye. You have worked very well. You’ve worked a lot. But it was in vain. Today is the day.” I was crying and she said “Stay calm. This is my fate.” At 3am German time I was there on the phone when Shahla’s parents who had gone to Evin prison, and I heard everything up to 4 O’clock. Then they said it was over and she had been executed.

How is a stoning done? Of course people do not like, don’t have the strength to think about something like this. But it is important. Nowadays it is published in the media, that Ms so-and-so is going to be stoned to death tomorrow at 8 or 6 O’clock on such and such street. The regime brings the woman wrapped in a shroud onto the street. All around men are standing and throwing stones until the woman is dead. Who threw the last stone? No one knows. This is a collaboration of some. They are killing a woman and no one has a bad conscience. I think that’s barbaric, inhuman. And when I saw a stoning for the first time when I was 22, I said: Wait Mina, when the world hears about this, the clocks will stand still, the factories will stand still. And humanity will say something or do something about it. I came to Europe in 1990. In 1993 I participated in the human rights conference in Vienna, in 1995 I joined the International Women’s Conference in Beijing with 35000 women, and also 10 years later in New York. I always asked for a resolution against stoning to be passed. That did not happen. Why? Because there was a theory, there was a thesis. Iran, for example, Afghanistan is an ‘Islamic’ country. The people there have a different culture, a different mentality. Maybe it does not hurt when a woman is bei ng beaten there. Maybe it does not hurt if a woman is stoned to death there. If a human rights activist like myself wants to do something against stoning then I had to answer this theory. I have tried to explain that we are all human. Look at me. It’s women like me that are buried in the street and stoned to death. We are all human beings. No matter what religion I have, no matter what hair colour or skin colour. We are human beings. And the humiliation of women hurts. All people should do something, especially against this brutality. I think it worked somehow. We organised demonstrations. We have done a lot of work and in the end it was recognised when I received the Secularist of the Year award in London for my work on human rights and women’s rights.

As I said, I think we’re dealing with a political movement in Iran, or so-called Islamic countries that is trying to work against women and against people. That brings a lot of fear in society. A very important characteristic of political Islam is misogyny. And a very broad movement exists in Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, against these misogynistic laws and traditions. I wanted to show this photo here and I wanted to explain that I’m happy about it. Richard Dawkins said of my award: “I have long felt that the key to solving the worldwide menace of Islamic terrorism and oppression would eventually be the awakening of women, and Mina Ahadi is a charismatic leader working to that end.” That was very good and I am very pleased because I think it’s the truth. Women will stand up and haven risen up already. When the Islamists gained power in 1980, we were on the road. Khomeini had said: “Wear headscarves or you’ll be beaten” and we said we didn’t want the veil or nor Islamic laws. This is a photo of that time, my generation that struggled against these misogynistic laws.

We also fought in Europe. And I was named Secularist of the Year because I tried to do something against the influence of Islamic organisations in Europe. This is a photo from when we organised a press conference in Berlin where we said that we are no longer Muslims. That was a campaign against the influence of Islamic organisations.

This is a poster that we used in Germany. I’ve always said that, before, we were foreigners in Europe. Suddenly we all got a label: Muslim. For example I saw a television interview with a man who represents an Islamic organisation and after this Danish cartoon issue, according to him “millions of Muslims are offended.” And I called my mother and I said “Are you offended?” And she said “No”. Then I called the TV and I said we are not offended. So we started this campaign and I want to emphasise here that this movement that is in Iran is also now in the Middle East and elsewhere. This is a movement of people. The people took to the street and now they are trying to declare: We are human beings. We are against dictatorship in the name of the USA or Islamism. We can all unite and work together. I wish for a better world. Really, I am here today and would like to explain: I wish for a better world in which all people live freely, all people have freedom of speech, all people live free from poverty and I wish that the Islamic regime is overthrown, so that I as a person can see my sister, my brother and my mother again after 30 years. I wish for a world in which I won’t get any more calls from a child telling me: “Mina, help me, my mother will be stoned to death.” I don’t want to ever hear that again. Thank you.

Here’s Mina’s speech in German:

If you want to, you can contact Mina Ahadi here:
International Committee against Execution
International Committee against Stoning
Email: minaahadi@aol.com
Tel: 0049 (0) 1775692413

http://notonemoreexecution.org

http://stopstonningnow.com/wpress/

Comments

  1. says

    What a powerful and moving story. It brings home the importance of opposing stoning. I want to do whatever I can to help.

    We need to hear more stories about people from and in Iran, because it humanises them. We need to be reminded that Iranians are mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, brothers and sisters… otherwise we have more and more fools telling us to drop bombs on the whole country because they are all terrorists.

    I keep hearing about this awful Tabriz prison. On a more pleasant note, is this the same city Shams Tabrezi was from?

    The children of Adam are limbs to each other
    Having been created of one essence.
    When the calamity of time afflicts one limb
    The other limbs cannot remain at rest.
    If you have no sympathy for the troubles of others
    You are not worth to be called by the name of “man.”

    – Saadi

  2. Eris says

    Ai, it hurts, not only that Islamist regimes are doing this to women, but that “civilized” people can’t bring themselves to fight and condemn it.

    Ahhh, it hurts, although nowhere near as much as a stone to your body hurts.

  3. says

    I have heard from some women that they’re scared to denounce stoning due to what happened some time ago (1970s I think, I could be wrong) when a bunch of western activists stood against FGM in Egypt. As a form of rebellion against what they perceived to be a ‘westernisation’ of their culture, FGM increased in the areas the activists were targetting.

    I’m not sure how much of this is accurate and I’ve been quizzing FGM activists about it but hardly get anywhere. This story has been used to scare people into accepting cultural relativism dressed up as something else (since no one is trying to impose a western culture, only absolute BASIC human rights).

    But if the story is accurate then it would go someway to explain why otherwise liberal people might stay quiet in the face of atrocities committed outside their culture.

    • says

      This just sounds like the proponents of cultural relativism blaming opponents for FGM! I’ve heard this argument a lot against myself and other campaigners like Mina Ahadi! As if we are at fault for the executions of the Islamic regime of Iran because we campaign against executions! It’s usually people who are apologists of the regime who say things like this. Or at the very least are more concerned about respecting ‘people’s culture’ (really their own) over and above real human beings…

      • says

        Yep! It was something I heard when I was blogging about Sakineh and activists like yourself. I was criticising a few particular UK feminist groups for being scared to denounce stoning and someone directed me to this excuse.

        It’s absolutely ridiculous, cowardly and small-minded. How can someone be so desperate to appear as if they’re not adding to the problem (or not offending a culture) when their apathy is the thing that’s allowing human rights abuses to continue? Infuriating, especially when Sakineh’s children are asking the world for their support! It’s racism and cowardice dressed up as political correctness in my opinion.

    • says

      Sorry I also need to add that this assumes that it is only westerners who are opposed to stoning. There is great opposition to stoning in Iran too. The regime can no longer stone people to death in public. In 1997 the villagers tried to drag out Zolykhah Kadkhoda who was being stoned. Now it all happens either in prison or at the graveyard with the regime’s own guards doing it. But again this is the narrative of cultural relativism. It is one culture and everyone supports it when it fact it is the culture of the ruling elite and Islamism and many are opposed to it…

  4. smrnda says

    I’ve never understood the whole ‘well, it’s a different culture’ argument. Western culture was based in religious tyranny and oppression for quite a long time. The push towards greater human rights was critiqued as going against the history of “Christian” Europe.

    I imagine respecting values of other cultures the same way that one sometimes respects the rights of people to do things that you disagree with, but beyond a certain point an action is so wrong that it cannot be justified in any case.

    In a sense it’s patronizing towards non-Western people; unlike Westerners who are capable of stepping outside of their own culture and wondering if what it sanctions is right or wrong, the ‘others’ can’t be expected to do the same kind of analysis.

    Cultural loyalty is often used as a way to sanction oppression. Things which upset the status quo are denounced as bad ‘foreign’ influence. It’s kind of how the US is one of the few nations which won’t sign onto the UN Declarations of the Rights of the Child, mostly since it might undermine the ability of parents to abuse their children in the name of religion – it’s framed as American ‘freedom’ and ‘family values’ against an international bureaucracy that wants to undermine parental authority. The entire issue of what the law is supposed to do – to sometimes protect children from their parents – is just ignored.

    My hope is that people can learn that everybody needs to call out barbarism when they see it.

  5. says

    Wow! A powerful testimony! Mina Ahadi and Maryam Namazie are more powerful than 100 Western women in what they have had to survive and I acknowledge that!
    Now, as a rightist, I will debate SMRNDA above all day long! How can we Americans not allowing our own judicial functions over our citizens to be superceded by a UN Authority that might have Sharia Islamics who stone people all day long back home on it be in any way comparable to what Mina Ahadi is talking about which is the Sharia Monster and its brutal nature? I believe the case of Islamic dissidents like Mina Ahadi is discussing here is the pivotal, human rights issue of our time! We Americans don’t stone people to death for spiritually related issues nor not at all!
    Fact is shame on the Left for refusing to call the Islamic Sharia for what it is! We rightists should bring all pressure to bear on our immigration authorities to assist Islamic dissidents in every way possible and not send them back to Sharia influenced places because their rules are not just unjust but threaten our security and happiness if allowed to be enforced by us on their dissidents!
    Besides deluded folk like SMRNDA on this board who can’t see the forest for the trees as we Americans say, we have the case of Irshad Maji! According to lesbian, still Islamic believer, Irshad Maji’s latest rant, Islamic Sharia ideology isn’t the problem but individual Muslims are the problem! While I definitely feel that individuals should be held accountable for their own actions against others, the ideology that motivates and justifies them with explicit instructions to fulfill these despicable actions should be recognized and condemned! We condemn Nazism and rightfully so, so why not Sharia Islam?
    I believe that the Sharia ideology is the problem and not Muslims themselves! Examples of those who follow the Islamic prayer ritual but are civilized are the Bahai and also the mainstream Kurds mentioned by Mina Ahadi!
    Sad reality is the US intervention in Iraq could have been justified on all levels if the USA had followed its interest and given the Kurds their right of self-determination so long denied them as a people with their own secular, nation-state! Unfortunately, we allowed our fear of the Turks and their allies in the Islamic World to influence us which is all too often the problem in US foreign policy! The Kurds would have gladly recognized Israel and been an ally for a change looking toward the West and away from the Islamic Sharia had we honored their just claims to northern Iraq for Kurdistan. Iraq is an artificial country any way with borders drawn up for the convenience of western colonialists and not really based on a national culture like Persia or Iran as it is now known!
    While I may have ideological differences with Maryam Namazie or Mina Ahadi, I respect them as human beings who risk their lives and have given up so much in opposition to the last, great, powerful, ideological barbarism, the Sharia Islamic ideology!
    Therefore, we rightists should demand that the infectious spread of this ideology be isolated and stopped in the West! Those who believe in the Sharia ideology should stay where they are at and not come to the West to propogate its power! No entering our countries to stay, no using our national services, no utilizing our educational institutions by Sharia believers would be what I call for!
    My message to Maryam Namazie and Mina Ahadi: Instead of propagating a view on womens’ rights that causes traditional spiritual believers of all kinds to unite with the Islamics, you might consider concentrating on exposing the Sharia Islamic beast as Mina Ahadi does so well here! Also, promoting nude body acceptance will do more to weaken those masogynist practices you oppose than screaming against traditional believers of all stripes! Such actions will gain you the support of all ideological spectrums and not allow the Sharia ideology to get the support of other faith groups!

    • says

      I just can’t stomach reading the crap you churn out every day so don’t bother reading your posts. Is there no where else you need to be? no don’t answer that because I won’t read it.

  6. says

    Wow! What is it about the quote “crap that I churn out everyday that bothers you” so much that you can’t even read what I say? You can always kick me off your blog!
    I actually respect you and agree with you in your intentions about 80% of the time! What is so terrible about agreeing with you from a rightist perspective or is it the fact that there is reason in the rightist perspective that you just can’t stand?
    You leftists are funny! You can’t even handle the right-wing point of view when it is in agreement with you albeit not from an anti-western perspective? Why do you hate the West so much that supports you?
    Since you can’t stand to even read what I say, at least publish my last post that had a humorous but accurate view of what the cartoonists wrote and I will leave your blog so you can be happy and not have to be exposed to my point of view ever again, ok? Thanks again for the calendar! You had the juice to do something across ideological spectrums but wish to stay small, insignificant, anti-western and leftist!
    Ok! It is a small world for you and a losing one! I was never so bothered by what you write that I couldn’t stand reading what you say! What does that say?

    • Martyn N Hughes says

      To be honest ‘A_Free_American’ you do churn out a lot of crap, and it is stomach wrenching to read it.

      For example, there’s this. ‘We Americans don’t stone people to death for spiritually related issues nor not at all!’

      Um, what the hell does that have to do with anything?

      Okay, maybe you don’t stone people to death, but you do have the death penalty. A death penalty that effectively murders black people, teenagers and the mentally ill.

      Also, you Americans may not stone people to death, but there has been a lot of GLBT people tied to the back of pick-up trucks and dragged down some roads.

      All your gloating about what you Americans do (or do not do) is not only innacurate but it doesn’t add anything to the topics wrote of here.

      Get it?

  7. smrnda says

    Um, I think you must have totally misread my post. I am extremely opposed to sharia law and consider its tolerance by alleged ‘leftists’ to be one of the biggest problems with bringing an end to it. However, I find that there exist vocal – if perhaps not numerous – conservatives in the US who both denounce Sharia law while promoting some sort of Old Testament based legal system complete with executions by stonings. While I don’t suspect that such people might even represent a majority of American religious conservatives, I haven’t seen many conservatives condemn or distance themselves from such statements. A Real American – you can’t be unaware of movements like Christian Reconstructionism, can you?

    Given what you said about me, it’s clear you’re making some pretty sweeping generalizations about me without having much information at all. I wrote a fraction of what you did and I can’t believe I comment enough on this blog for you to have much of a clear idea of what my views are on most political issues. And by saying the idiom ‘forest for the trees’ as we Americans say, was that to me? What makes you think I’m NOT an American? I am a US citizen. But on the rights of the child…

    My discussion of the United States refusal to sign onto the UN Rights of the Child declaration is that most of the opposition to it has nothing to do with a belief in national sovereignty but because it might undermine religious fundamentalists rights to abuse, neglect and brainwash their children. If the US is against religious oppression and wishes to not sign onto the UN Rights of the Child Declaration, then it should guarantee children freedom from that within our own legal framework. I think the lack of opposition to Sharia law and the shameless pandering to repressive regimes is mostly since the US isn’t really concerned with people’s rights but with geopolitical and economic influence.

    Last I checked, the other holdout on the Rights of the Child deal was Somalia, a nation where people have been intent on putting Sharia law into practice. Even without anything properly legally binding in the whole declaration, it kind of bothers me that we’re in company with Somalia on that one, and it kind of makes me think that the last people who would be supporting the ‘rights’ of anyone would be someone who would stone people.

    My point of comparison is that when people say ‘well, it’s another culture’ they are betraying their commitment to human rights. When people opposed the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child, if the real issue was UN authority superseding national sovereignty we should have put something better in place under our own legal system. Instead, our own legal system has granted people the right to abuse and neglect kids provided its done in the name of religion. Though it’s not perhaps as extreme as what goes on under Sharia law, faith based residential facilities for young people subject them to degrading abuse but have been largely exempt from government oversight all in the name of religious liberty. To me, in both cases while a person purports to be ‘respecting other cultures’ or ‘respecting people’s religious beliefs’ it’s really just deciding that some forms of oppression are OK since they’re done for reasons based in religion or culture. Leftists who can be ‘okay’ with Sharia I regard as worthless phonies.

    As for the US in Iraq, the United States supported Saddam Hussein for quite some time. If I recall correctly the weapons he used against the Kurds he got from us. Our influence in Iraq during the 1980s was pure realpolitik without any concern for human welfare or rights of any kind.

    I’m assuming you recall that after ‘liberating’ Afghanistan under Bush the laws of Afghanistan legally recognized Islam as being a basis for law, as there was a case of a man who had converted to Christianity who was sentenced to death who ended up leaving for some European country. It seems neo-conservatives only really go against Sharia when politically expedient.

  8. says

    A Free American –

    “Sad reality is the US intervention in Iraq could have been justified on all levels if the USA had followed its interest and given the Kurds their right of self-determination so long denied them as a people with their own secular, nation-state!”

    Funny how Americans suddenly seem to give a shit about us Kurds when you’re in the mood for war, huh? ;)

    Although I was a child at the time of Halabja and Anfal, I’m pretty sure judging from what people have informed me and from reading about it, the U.S. didn’t bat an eyelid.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2003/01/17/opinion/17iht-edjoost_ed3_.html

    I’m not a regular reader of Free Thoughts Blogs, but I get the impression that it’s comments like that I quoted above that get people’s back up. Think about it.

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