The number of women sentenced to death across the Middle East has very little to do with justice

These young women should be listed on some roll of martyrdom – Published on The Independent.co.uk, by Robert Fisk, February 10, 2014.

The execution of women holds a special revulsion for Westerners, especially – let us be honest about this – when the women are decapitated, hanged or shot in the Muslim world. Our revulsion at the act of killing a woman is thus neatly dovetailed into our foundational conviction that Islam treats women not only as second-class citizens, as chattel, property, prizes of “honour” to be slaughtered if that “dignity” is even rumoured to be besmirched, or as sacrificial victims of their menfolk’s crimes. Often male sadism is involved. 

What do the masterful male executioners of Saudi Arabia think of when they hack off the head of a woman in a public marketplace? What of the Iranian state executioner who heard 23-year-old Delara Darabi screaming to her mother for help down her mobile phone: “Oh mother, I can see the hangman’s noose in front of me. They are going to execute me. Please save me.” And who, as the girl was strung up, sneered down the same phone to the mother that nothing could sa

ve her daughter now? … //

… In the Gulf states, immigrant women – usually Filipinas – have also been shot and beheaded for the murder of Saudi men and women who, according to testimony, had grossly mistreated them and in some cases tried to rape them. Almost all underwent unfair trials. Saudi Arabia executed 40 women between 1990 and 2010. In the Iranian town of Neka, Atefah Rajabi Sahaaleh, whose birth certificate showed she was only 16, was accused in 2004 of having sex with her married boyfriend. She told a family member that she had been repeatedly raped by the 51-year-old man. The judge was reportedly furious at her eloquent self-defence and is said to have personally put the noose around her neck before watching her death throes as she was hauled into the air by a lorry-mounted hydraulic crane.

There is a disturbing argument, of course. If we are outraged at this despicable treatment of women, does this mean that we are less outraged when men are tortured and executed? For, the moment we express our special disgust at the shameful plight of women facing the torturer and the executioner, we are suggesting, are we not, that the judicial murder of men is less wicked? Not true. If women are more vulnerable – as they certainly are in the Middle East – then their need for protection is all the greater. But this is about the one thing we Westerners never bring to the Middle East when we promise freedom and “democracy” for all: justice and mercy.

The walking wounded:

A “viewers are advised” story. Going through my Dad’s papers the other day for a radio interview on his minor role as a First World War soldier on the Somme in 1918, I found a pamphlet for the Preston Hall Colony near Maidstone. Bill Fisk used to raise money for this Kentish cottage settlement for ex-soldiers suffering from severe lung disease, tuberculosis and mustard gas inhaled in the trenches of the Western Front. Long into the 1950s these old soldiers lived, coughing and sleeping and dying in summer on wooden balconies outside their homes.

One day, I recall, I travelled with my dad on one of his visits to Preston Hall where doctors wanted to explain to him the after-effects of gas. On a table in the centre of the room were a series of what appeared to be deflated brown plastic bags. “You’re not squeamish?” one of the doctors asked. My father suddenly raised his hand and said, “We don’t want to see that”, and I was hurried from the room. He didn’t need to be shown the lungs of the latest victims of the Western Front. Today, he would be exactly 122 years old – happy, I dare say, to miss the centenary celebrations.
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