Saturday 11 September 2010

Stoning is not people's culture; it's the regime's!

On the psychologist and the executioner

On the 5 September BBC Sunday Morning Live debate on ‘whether it is right to condemn Iran for stoning, studio guest psychologist Aric Sigmund made some interesting (to say the least) contributions during the debate ‘is it right to condemn Iran for stoning.’ He said:

‘I have been to Iran by the way, and like many places it’s a shame - one of the kindest cultures who are terribly kind to children; we never see that on the news, we only see the extreme things. But aside from that this is a really a question about moral imperialism. I think we should obviously protest but that is very different from expecting them to conform to the way we do things...’ He went on to say: ‘we expect every other culture because we have computers and nuclear power and so on that they will evolve their legal system as quickly as we have changed ours.’ (Italics are mine)

I know. I know…

I am not sure what this is called in clinical terms, but in political ones, it is a classic case of cultural relativism, which is the basic need to explain - and in truth condone - vile regimes and legal systems by saying it is part of people’s culture.

After all whose culture are we talking about?

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s culture (educated until 5th grade) who ‘wants to live’ or that of the Islamic regime of Iran that wants to kill her?


Sakineh’s 22 year old transport worker son, Sajjad, who writes open letters to the people of the world despite threats and intimidations asking for help in saving his mother’s life or the regime that has already flogged his mother twice – once in front of his very eyes when he was only 17?

Whose culture?

Mina Ahadi’s who is spearheading the international campaign in her defence or the regime that executed Mina’s first husband in the very same prison Sakineh languishes in?


Neda’s and the millions who poured out onto the streets in 2009 or the regime that shot at protestors and killed her in broad daylight?

The people who are kind to children that Aric Sigmund probably met when he travelled to Iran are not one and the same with a regime that has the highest rate of child executions in the world.

I don’t think this is so hard to understand. You can’t sweep the death penalty in the US under the carpet by saying Americans are kind, now can you? But somehow this is acceptable when it comes to a place like Iran.

And by the way, are Sakineh and Sajjad ‘moral imperialists’ for opposing stoning in Iran? And am I one for opposing executions in the US and elsewhere? How absurd. The whole point of political and social protest movements like the international campaign to save Sakineh’s life is that people everywhere have a right and duty to intervene on humanity’s behalf. To say otherwise, when it comes to a place like Iran – is the racism of lower expectations and double standards.

And of course Aric Sigmund does not come on BBC programmes to say that people’s legal systems need time to evolve when the likes of the Islamic regime of Iran takes power and - within one month - imposes compulsory veiling on women and girls via brute force. The cultural defence only ever supports reaction and medievalism, and never the progressive demands and values of people resisting it day in and day out.

Clearly, first and foremost, it comes down to a matter of choice. One either chooses the culture of the regime and the executioner – as Aric Sigmund has - or that of Sakineh, Sajjad and the protesting people of Iran – as millions of others have.


The above is part of a series of responses to a 5 September BBC Sunday Morning Live programme.
Here are my previous entries:

Ayatollah BBC, 10 September

A woman’s life is at stake, a reply to BBC Sunday Morning Live Executive Producer’s email, 9 September

An open letter to the BBC Sunday Morning Live programme on its bias against Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, 8 September. You can see the programme in this entry.

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