The Stoning Of Soraya M.—a review of a modern classical movie

Don’t act like the hypocrite
Who thinks he can conceal his wiles
While loudly quoting the Qur’an
                       ————-Hafez, a 14th century Iranian poet.

A Scene from the Movie

Once a decade, there comes a film that truly redefines the cinematic experience of any non-connoisseur movie-lover. A film that symbolizes art, pain and truth. A film that is able to draw wonders from absolute nothingness.

Persian film-makers are masters at creating such ground-breaking movies. With Separation, Children of Heaven and many other glistening jewels in the world’s film industry, Iran has always been a focal point for extraordinary culture, art and literature. The depth involved in the movies from the land of Omar Khayyam, Maulana Rumi and Hafez really are different from all the other successful movie-industries.

And the Stoning of Soraya M., based on a true incident and a book of the same name, is another work of masterful art and extraordinary depth. Although having an Iranian-American lead actress, an Iranian-American director and a cast ensemble of local Iranians, the film is shot completely in Farsi as per the author and director’s wish. It was filmed within six weeks in a mountainous village of Jordan far from the cities. Based on the true story of Soraya Manutchehri of the Kuhpayeh village in Iran, the film revolves around one scene only—-the final scene of the act of stoning wrongfully—towards which the events in the film go on to designate and portray.

The film starts with an old woman chasing away a dog picking up at bones beside a stream at the break of dawn while simultaneously a car breaks down in her village. The car belongs to a French-Iranian journalist who was passing by the area to get into the borders of a neighboring country. The old woman successfully grabs the attention of the journalist and tells him a story that terrifies each and every one who continues to follow her narration.

Although it is absolutely irrefutable that the film is another modern classic, there are major goofs and errors in the movie. The demonization of Muslims is a characteristic that every form of Western media outlet thrives on, and this film does in fact stereotype Islam negatively to various extents. For example, adultery is an extremely tough crime to punish in accordance with Islamic jurisprudence and Sha’ria Law unless and until the adulterer and adulteress self-proclaims their offence. A minimum of four direct witnesses are required to confirm the act making it an almost near to impossible task to provide full-proof evidence. After all, I am sure no one will commit adultery with open doors in a house full of acquaintances.

It is also mandated that the adulterer,along with the adulteress herself has to be stoned accordingly. The film only shows the female sex stereotyped—-maybe in the real incident only the woman was stoned in accordance with the local, corrupt mullah’s wishes— while the accused adulterer was granted immunity by confessing to the crime and claiming that he was lured into it. It was similar to the case of Aisho Ibrahim Dhuhulow, a 13 year old Somali girl who was stoned to death by Al-Shabab for confessing that she was gang-raped by three Al-Shabab (a notorious Somali terrorist group) militants.

But the theme of the story is that it all happens under the veil of falsehood. Under the patriarchal society that the mullahs are so keen on building up. Under a tyrannous, delinquent husband who is keen to remarry a younger bride but not willing to pay back his wife’s dowry or provide for her and their daughters. Under the veiled society where justice is the most easiest to manipulate and humanity takes a back fold. Under an impression that everything can be justified by saying ‘God is Great’ while in fact God is surely weeping after seeing what his creations are doing in His name. The façade of thought enters the viewer’s mind as soon as he or she starts following the movie and after the violently graphic and extraordinarily filmed stoning scene ends, only the hardest of the hearts could fail to be moved to tears.

It is impossible to deny the claims that stoning in the Islamic world is misused and considered a loophole of the very theocratic justice system that was planned by an Upper Body of Existence. But apparently, the issue of stoning, despite the Western media’s continued portrayal as a barbaric act of a ‘terrorist religion’, is not a part of Islamic heritage only. According to the Torah, Judaism also asks for stoning to death for various offenses such as adultery, cursing God, engaging in idolatry, practicing sorcery and rebellion against parents although it is not practiced by the Jews anymore.
Overall, The Stoning of Soraya M. is one of the best movies from the last decade. Although it is questionable how true the incident upon which the film is based is—since no one actually knows whether the 35 year old Soraya Manutchehri was actually guilty or not and Western reporters who name unnamed sources and continue to demonize Muslims all over the world can hardly be trusted—-the film itself is a pleasure to watch. Although yours truly only managed to have glistening sparks in his eyes, most of the viewers of the movie actually ended up crying after watching it. It really is a powerhouse of a cinema, and even with fully covered woman, little or no background score (no, a serious film like this does not deserve Bollywood-style singing and dancing shots) and an extraordinarily simple story to tell, it gives one more reason to claim that cinema can still be one of the most wonderful forms of art even without the glitz or body-building action figures and sultry heroines.
For those of you who want to check out the movie, here is a torrent link.

Beheading?It still exists?

Beheading? Really?

Although one of the wealthiest  economically-independent countries of the world, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is still medieval in terms of its court proceedings. The recent beheading (yes you read beheading!) of eight migrant Bangladeshis in Riyadh caused quite a stir in the international media. The execution of eight poor Bangladeshis who had gone to Saudi Arabia to change their destinies and now lay dead with their heads ripped off from their bodies has caused ripples in the heart of every individual who heard the news. And being one of them I could not help but protest.

I am quite acquainted with the Islamic laws and as far as I know Islamic law directly decrees that any murder should be answered by executing the murderer. And Saudi Arabia being the only country with the Al-Quran as its constitution has firmly held true to this law. But my point is before carrying out what the law says we must at first be fully aware of the offender’s position and perhaps also refer to the time that the Laws of the Quran were laid down in. The Quranic Laws were made at a time when modern courts rarely existed and when people were still extremely barbaric. Murderers back then could commit murders and still be at large, going about their day-to-day activities. To stop this injustice against the deceased the stern laws against murder, robbery etc were decreed and these laws were and are still extremely effective, making KSA one of the few countries with extremely low crime rates even in today’s world.

But when considering the legal proceedings we must at first understand that the murderers were not politically motivated, neither attracted by greed (or may be they were but that is impossible to know now). They were poor Bangladeshis who had gone to KSA to change their destinies and work towards a better future. But once they had gone there they had to confront themselves with the fact that they had been deceived. Yes, the entire visa procedure that KSA employs to take migrant workers from Bangladesh is extremely flawed. Time and again specialists in both these countries have made the two governments aware of this fact. When the impoverished Bangladeshis buy this expensive visa they are promised great jobs by the visa-sellers who thrive on guile and deceit. And thus when the illiterate, lower class Bengalis reach KSA they have to face the realization that the jobs assured would never be there, and the ones that were available for the Bangladeshis had extremely difficult working conditions coupled with low salaries. Forced to take up these poor jobs they see their dreams of a better tomorrow perish and most of them fail to reconcile themselves with the fact that their lives will never change for the better. In addition most of these people tend to be young, energetic and most importantly poor; so poor that they buy these faulty visas through loans and mortgages or sale of valuable personal assets and belongings. And plus they have really big families in their home nation to feed and clothe. Keeping these factors in mind when we judge their crimes in a court of law we must be liberal and sometimes listen to our hearts.

Although such a mass-execution of foreign nationals is one of the few of its kinds, the KSA government in the past one year has beheaded 20 foreigners other than these helpless Bangladeshis. The total number beheaded in the past one year amounts to 58. Of the aforementioned 20 foreign-workers, one includes an Indonesian house-maid who had killed her Saudi-Arabian master after suffering from severe ill-treatment and poor living conditions at his disposal. The Indonesian government was onerous in its efforts to save its active citizen—something which the poverty-stricken, corrupt and donation-dependant government of Bangladesh failed to do—–but the helpless girl could not be saved from the guillotine. The Indonesian government then boldly refused to give anymore labor visas for KSA to its female citizens. The stance was seen quite courageous, considering the power of the Saudi Arabian government in the current world, but nevertheless it was appreciated worldwide. Inspired by this move many of the developing countries have also stopped sending their female citizens on labor visas to KSA—fearing another incident like the Indonesian maid. But for Bangladesh this has meant more trouble. The Saudi Arabians are now looking for Bangladeshi female house-keepers!

My reader must not think that I am trying to talk in favor of the murderers—-they deserved to be punished for committing robbery and then killing the Egyptian guard but decapitating them in public is something I will never support. And why kill all the eight for killing one person only? In addition to this, the migrants were so poor that they could not even afford a defense lawyer or even talk for themselves—the reason for which Human Rights Watch and Amnesty condemned the trial. They did not even have much proficiency over the Arabic language either and as far as I know the Bangladesh government did not even attempt to drag the case to international court, fearing the exorbitant expenses of an international lawyer and a translator to boot.

So you might ask what the Bangladesh government is doing to ensure the welfare and security of its citizen abroad who are earning foreign income and sending them back as remittance to their home country. I will have to disappoint you here. The government is hardly doing a thing. The only thing it seems to be interested in is to send its extremely high working-class population to countries in the Middle-East, Malaysia, South Africa etc so that they can earn foreign currency for the rapidly-industrializing Bangladesh economy. Most of the ministers and members of the Parliament are even dominated by the idea that raising a voice against the barbarism in Riyadh will entail them to a loss of their highly-popular international market for workers.

Yours truly is just a blogger who is tired of all the pretense happening around him. He can’t do much really. But together if we can fight against such heinous acts I believe we can do some good to this world. May be then the Saudi government will be able to judge between criminals in a much better way than simply by beheading them.