Yes we can (save Sakineh), by Bernard-Henri Lévy. The Huffington Post, 2010/09/14


It’s not every day that a writer calls for a demonstration. But in this case, I was far from being alone. Sihem Habchi and the members of the French association, Ni Putes ni Soumises [Neither Whores nor Submissive] were there. There were some of the hundreds of thousands of invisible signers of the petition published in my review, La Règle du Jeu. And as the event was in preparation, my friend Jean-Baptiste Descroix-Vernier’s « Ninjas », those aces of the web, engineers of the soul of the Net, who ensured that the site remained on line so the appeal to demonstrate could continue to circulate, were also there. The result was a singularly moving moment. And when the thousands of Parisians present at the Place de la République on this beautiful September Sunday heard the voice of Sajjad, Sakineh’s son, on the cell phone, telling us, all the way from Tabriz, of his gratitude, of the risks he was taking by communicating with us this way, and the importance, in Iran, of a gathering of this kind, a few of us thought, with the sob of the Psalmist catching in our throats, « we have not worked for nothing, our plea was not in vain. »

Why Sakineh, the disgruntled ask? Aren’t there many other Sakinehs, in Iran and elsewhere, facing the same fate? Because Sakineh is a symbol, we replied in unison. She could well have done without being a symbol. She has become this symbol, oh how unwillingly. But that’s how it is, it happened as though dictated by destiny. It is an insane story whose consequences rained down upon the head of this simple, practically illiterate woman who is innocent in every sense of the word. Clearly, today, by defending Sakineh, we in fact defend the other Sakinehs waiting on Iran’s death rows, and perhaps we take vengeance, as well, for those who, alas, were granted no waiting time and who are dead. This is the face of all the women who have been stoned to death, burned alive, eviscerated–but those without faces and who disappeared, for that, in silence and indifference, just an abstract number.

Why stoning, ask the same spirits who would put a damper on all this? Aren’t there other methods of capital punishment in Iran? Because that is the most abominable of all. Because this attack upon the face, this pounding of stones upon an innocent and naked face, this refinement in cruelty that goes so far as to specify the size of the stones, so that the victim’s suffering will be long and drawn out, represents a rare concentration of inhumanity and barbarity. And because this way of destroying a face, of making the flesh explode and reducing it to a bloody magma, this gesture of bombarding a face until it has been rendered a pulp, constitutes something more than an execution. Stoning is not a death sentence. Stoning is more than a death sentence. Stoning is the liquidation of the flesh one has put on trial, in a sense retroactively, for having been this flesh, just this flesh–the flesh of a young and beautiful woman, perhaps one who loved and was loved, who perhaps once reveled in the joy of loving and being loved.

Aren’t there other crimes, then, in Iran? Other attacks on human rights of both men and women? Yes, of course. But this one is characterized by something all the others lack. Freud once said that all societies are founded upon a crime committed in common. Well, I hold that, in this affair of stoning, in this manner of killing together, in common, in this scene where each one rushes to the fore to be sure to cast the first stone and, if not the first, then the last, in this collectivization of crime, this democratization of torture, this permit to kill that tells each one, « come, come closer, you will all be assassins, you have, not only the right, but the duty to have your share of this blood on your hands », there is something that grows from the very foundation of Iranian social ties today. And this it true to such an extent that, by denouncing stoning, by stopping the arm of the lynch mob in its Communion, by shielding the face of Sakineh, we are aiming, as well, at the heart of the regime.

Will we succeed? And what can the silent prayers of a crowd of demonstrators do, in the face of stones? Contrary to general assumptions, totalitarian regimes are not irresistible. It is erroneous to think they are autistic and never back off. On the contrary, they do back off. They have always backed off, everywhere. All they need, to do so, is to encounter the appropriate resistance. Hitler backed off, when Dimitrov was to be tried. Stalin backed off in the face of a campaign of public opinion, led by Romain Rolland, forcing him to pardon Victor Serge. And, forced by international pressure, how many dissidents were the Soviets compelled to release in the 1970s? In the same manner, the Iranian regime may let go. And it will if the campaign does not lose its force, if others magnify it, and if, notably in the Islamic community, spiritual and intellectual authorities or simple citizens finally raise their voices to take up the cause. This is the task to which La Règle du Jeu, under the authority of publication director Gilles Hertzog, is now committed. This is the campaign we are going to launch, now, in a few countries–Bosnia, Algeria, Turkey, Morocco–where there is a huge majority of Muslims who feel that stoning is also an affront to Islam and to the Koran. Iran will give in if it understands that, by persisting, it will be banished, once and for all and everywhere, from humanity.

Bernard-Henri Lévy

Translation Janet Lizop

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