Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

Soraya and the West

Last night I went to see The Stoning of Soraya M. with a number of friends, and I have a lot that I want to share about it. First off, as a friend pointed out, the movie is not entitled The Almost-Stoning of Soraya M. That's important. So is the plot, though the plot has no amazing twists and turns. You know how it ends from the outset, especially if you've read the book upon which it is based. A man (Navid Negahban) accuses his wife, Soraya (Mozhan Marn), of adultery because he wants to be rid of her so he can marry another woman. Sharia law as interpreted under the Ayatollah apparently prohibits divorce without the wife's consent, which Soraya will not give because she hasn't any independent means of supporting their children. So her husband, Ali, accuses her of adultery and demands justice - stoning. The entire village, where they live and where she has spent her whole life, knows that she is innocent, but nonetheless go along with the charade for their various reasons. Only her aunt Zahra (Shohreh Aghdashloo, Exorcism of Emily Rose, House of Sand and Fog) comes to her defense. The town has a closed-door sham trial after which she is taken to the town square, buried to her waist, and pelted with stones until dead. The next day a French-Iranian journalist (Jim Caviezel, The Passion of the Christ, Frequency) is stranded in town by car trouble. Zahra meets him and tells him her story of Soraya with the hope that he will deliver her message to the outside world. The story is true, and the movie apparently hews close to the book and to reality.

I haven't wrecked anything by telling you the plot, dear reader, because the plot, while the point, isn't the principal power of the movie. The same plot might have been delivered lamely and wrecked everything. Instead, the cast and crew have delivered the viewer a masterpiece: gripping cinematography, powerful visuals, powerful score, and heart- and gut-wrenching acting that develops all characters involved immensely in a remarkably short period of time. The characters all feel real enough that if I met the actors on the street, I would have difficulty remembering that the man who played the Ali, Soraya's husband, isn't actually lustful and malicious, that the actor who played the mullah isn't actually a brazen hypocrite and opportunistic toady. Yet the movie laudably avoids generalizations or flattening characters out with self-righteous portrayals. The central characters, with the exception of Ali and Zahra, are complex creatures, and even these two can hardly be called superficial or false. Their roles and motivations are simple, and the actors' delivery makes them real and human.

The violence inflicted upon Soraya is gripping, but the violence imposed upon her is hardly the worst horror. And it would have come across as just another violent movie except for the humanity of the characters so manifest through the actors' artistry. Soraya's sham trial, at which she is not even permitted to be present or to face her accusers, will leave any Westerner open-mouthed with disbelief. The malice of her husband is astounding. The tension that builds in the one's heart and stomach is almost overwhelming as one watches the plot move inexorably forward toward the merciless murder of a perfectly decent and innocent woman.

I heartily recommend the movie to every adult with the stomach for it on two bases: (1) its artistry and craft, which are superb; (2) the lessons, both general and specific, that it contains and transmits without preaching. Still the caveat must be given that women in the theater were openly weeping; the movie is both extremely graphic and emotional, especially at the end.

Soraya's story has to teach us about a number of general lessons about which reviewers have commented. Mob mentality can block out reason and go to extremes. Check. Evil lurks in the human heart. Right. Fine. True.

I have seen one more specific lesson mentioned by reviewers, that Sharia law is hopelessly inadequate and that we in the West must be careful about embracing or tolerating it. There should be no talk of finding a niche for it in civil society, in the way that society allows corporations and churches to have their own internal by-laws. True there, too.

What I have not heard a lot about is the fact that the action depicted in the movie still persists in Middle Eastern countries today. Feminist groups like NOW should be up in arms but are oddly still. Intellectuals and the universities should be railing against draconian laws and irrational concepts of justice but haven't stirred. As pro-reform demonstrators were gunned down in Tehran a couple weeks ago, our President, just back from a trip to schmooze with the mullahs, was oddly silent. In fact, there is a deafening silence from our establishment. The movie is inconvenient for these groups in our civil society.

Most feminist groups in the US have gradually become flattened in their composition and purpose, from a diverse group of radicals for a range of legitimate rights, to a lobby of largely upper-middle and middle-class white women rationalizing abortion. This President is committed to helping them, so they leave him alone. He's better than George W., after all, they say. Barack Hussein Obama, for his part, is committed to detente with the Muslim world (appeasement?) as a path to peace and probably to keep oil affordable for a few more years. So he says nothing, not so much as "boo" to sheiks and mullahs considering their treatment of human rights. And the Islamist world continues merrily plotting the destruction of the West. The media and intellectual establishments say nothing because they are enamored of the President, too busy reminding us that Islam is a religion of peace, and have their hands full rationalizing abortion to an increasingly pro-life populace.

And poor Soraya will fall out of our minds almost soundlessly, like, well, a stone in soft sand. That is, if we ever bother in the first place to think about her and those others toiling under Sharia law with her. We forget her at our own peril though, because she was immolated by the same enemy that wants to grind us up as well. While I agree with Islam that adultery is immoral, I don't agree that folks (let alone only women) should be stoned for it. That makes me lax in Sharia's mind. The fact that the West tolerates things like women's hair makes us lewd, in their mind. While there is a great deal of lewdness here in the West, women's hair is hardly the issue. They seriously believe that justice is serve when an accused has no opportunity for a defense. There is an irreconcilable clash of worldview here, and those who oppose our view hate us for holding it. We'd best remember that when getting chummy with them.


sasha said...

wow ryan. what a passionate post. i am absolutely behind you on this

Marisa said...

Ryan, you are amazing! Your post is absolutely true and a very powerful and needed response. Thanks for sharing.