Not a Wave, a Tsunami!—Part 1

The Stoning of an Adulteress, illustration to a manuscript of 1001 Nights by Abu’l Hasan Ghaffari or his atelier. Tehran, 1853–1857

As readers know, my friend Barbara Joans died on March 6. After that I was in a funk for a while, unable to write anything except a eulogy to her. But then, on March 25, the Taliban announced it will start stoning women for adultery.

My blood boiled. How do they define adultery? If a married woman gets raped, how does she prove the act wasn’t consensual? And what happens to the man? The Taliban’s supreme leader declared that they will flog and stone women, but said nothing about what would happen to the men involved. IMO, probably nothing.

Barbara was 89; I’m 80. We were part of what we called the second wave of feminism. Succeeding generations have referred to themselves as the third and fourth waves. But seeing how little progress we’ve made in the last 60 years, I say we don’t need more waves—we need a world-wide tsunami! Why world-wide?

In this series, we’ll look at what’s been happening for women around the globe today, and also to gays and gender-nonconforming persons, though my initial focus is on reproductive rights and, alas, femicide. I’ll start by considering the matter that drove me to write this series:

Stoning

This punishment is part of our ancient and glorious religious heritage—the Taliban didn’t devise it out of the blue. It was prescribed for adultery and other crimes, including sodomy—is part of our ancient and glorious religious heritage. It is prescribed in the Old Testament, in the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, and (in modern times) by Christian Reconstructionists.

Jewish Law

Some excerpts from Deuteronomy 20:13-29:

“If a man marries a woman, then takes a dislike to her and later claims that she turned out to not be a virgin, but the young woman’s parents bring proof of her virginity (i.e., the bloody cloth), the elders shall fine the man “a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the young woman’s father, because this man has given an Israelite virgin a bad name. She shall continue to be his wife; he must not divorce her as long as he lives…[but] if no proof of the young woman’s virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death.”

“If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife.”

“But if out in the country a man happens to meet a young woman pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die. Do nothing to the woman… though [she] screamed, there was no one to rescue her. If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her…he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.”

Imagine being married for life to your rapist, or to a man who hates you so much he was willing to have you stoned to death in order to get rid of you. Imagine the mentality of the men who wrote these rules, thinking they were protecting the women.

The Jews apparently ceased to stone people in the early days of the Christian era. According to the Talmud, when there was no longer a priest in the Jerusalem Temple, capital cases could not be judged and therefore no one could be executed. The Temple was destroyed in 70 CE.

Christian Tradition

The overwhelming majority of Christians, following the words of Jesus—“let he who is without sin among you cast the first stone”—abandoned the practice. However, the leaders of both Catholic and (later) Protestant churches seem to have decided that Jesus never prohibited other forms of capital punishment, like burning people at the stake.

In recent times, a sect calling itself Christian Reconstructionist has argued for bringing back stoning, saying that God prescribed this form of punishment and that it benefits the community in various ways, not least of which is lower cost. (Rocks are cheap and easy to obtain, and can be reused.)  The Reconstructionists advocate the death penalty for various crimes, including murder, adultery, homosexuality, witchcraft, and blasphemy.

Islamic Law

A few of the Prophet’s sayings:

“On the authority of Abu Hurayrah, a Bedouin man came to the Prophet complaining to him about his son who committed zina [illicit sex] with his employer’s wife… The Prophet told him that his “son deserves 100 lashes and one year deportation. And about the woman, if she confesses, then stone her to death.” (Muslim, 10:1034).

“On the authority of ”Ubadah ibn al-Samit, the Prophet said: ‘Take from me, take from me as Allah has revealed to me the penalty for the adulteresses; for the unmarried is 100 lashes and for the married is al-rajm [stoning].’” (Muslim, 10:1025).

Nonetheless, there appear to have been very few deaths by stoning in Islamic nations. Max Rodenbeck, former Middle East bureau chief for the Economist, writes that “this hideously cruel punishment has rarely been recorded throughout Muslim history and never in most Muslim countries for at least the past several generations. In almost all cases where it has been applied in recent years, stoning has taken place in tribal or rebel areas beyond the control of central governments—the Taliban in Afghanistan, ISIS in Iraq, and Boko Haram in Nigeria being cases in point. Out of the world’s forty-nine Muslim-majority states, six retain the punishment… Of these countries only Iran…has actually carried it out.”

Rodenbeck wrote the above in 2015. Just recently, a Houthi court in Yemen sentenced nine men to death by stoning and crucifixion for sodomy. Another 23 were sent to prison for up to ten years, and three of those men were also to be flogged.

More on Afghanistan, and Elsewhere

I wrote the following five years ago, but it bears repetition:

“The position of women [in Afghanistan] had been improving for decades under various regimes and improved even more under the Soviet occupation, to the point where women made up half the paid labor force. In order to defeat the Soviets, the U.S. armed a counterforce—a group of Islamist fanatics called mujahedin, which became the Taliban. When they took over, women were forcibly veiled. They couldn’t leave home without a male chaperone and couldn’t even go to a hospital for treatment. Girls’ schools were closed. Those who violated the Taliban’s rules were beaten and even executed. Our government expressed no regret for having spawned this misogynist monstrosity…[then in 2001] we decided to invade Afghanistan.

“At that time some feminists thought [the invasion] would be good for women. I disagreed, contending that killing and maiming their husbands and children and destroying their farmlands would be less than helpful. However women’s opportunities did improve, at least in the U.S.-occupied cities. To the best of my knowledge, their situation remains bleak in rural areas where most of the fighting takes place. Even in an egalitarian society it’s hard to go to school or even find enough to eat when you’re living in a war zone.”

So our government helped create the Taliban to oppose the Soviets, just as the Netanyahu government supported Hamas as a foil to the Palestinian Authority. (I believe we also bear some responsibility for the Houthi situation, since we armed Saudi Arabia and helped guide their planes in a genocidal war against Yemen.)

Why is it a surprise to some of us that you can’t bomb people into democracy? That cruelty begets cruelty?

In Part 2, we’ll look at women’s situation in the United States and a few European countries.

To be continued…

2 Responses to Not a Wave, a Tsunami!—Part 1

  1. Connie O Byrne April 14, 2024 at 11:46 pm #

    oh Martha, you’ve ripped the dirty bandages off of new, old and ongoing deep wound s and attacks on women’s rights, safety and our very existence. We get complacent and think the horror of previous ages is gone ias it rarely directly affects us in the comfort of our daily lives. But it’s been there, lurking and waiting to show it’s even uglier face thanks to political, geographically and religious upheavals in Europe, the Middle East, in Haitian and other zones of violence in South America and Africa. And on our Southern border as people desperately trying to survive seek asylum and a hope for a better life.. where they hope to escape drug gangs and the crushing poverty they lived with. No one leaves home without a reason born out of desperation. No woman invites violence into their lives, attacks on their bodies and souls. Will it ever end? Not as long as people remain silent and act like it’s not happening. We oldsters know what it was like and cringe as we see what was once again becoming what is.
    Keep tank of the rough strips of dirty cloth off of the open and bleeding wounds…and the scabs off of new attacks on our humanity

  2. Debra April 15, 2024 at 10:17 am #

    Thanks for your masterful presentation of difficult but important information.

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