Thoughts on Yom Kippur and Iran

A guest post by AKUS

Every Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, like many others in synagogue I have read the paragraph in the service that describes how the members of mankind will be inscribed either in the Book of Life or, via a lengthy list of rather horrific fates, in the Book of Death – the judgment to be sealed on Yom Kippur.

One of the fates listed, which had never seemed relevant till this year, is “who shall die by stoning”. I had assumed that we left that particular punishment behind in the Middle Ages, or even long before.

Apparently that is not the case in Iran, where Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was accused of adultery and sentenced to death by stoning by a majority of 3-2 in an Iranian court (see that linked article for a link to Amnesty’s translation of the sentence). Possibly her sentence has been commuted as a result of a global outcry – but it is not clear if to death by other means or to another punishment.  In the meantime, reports state that Iran has sentenced her to 99 lashes in prison for “spreading corruption and indecency” after allowing an unveiled picture of herself to be published in a British newspaper – even though the picture was not of her, but of Susan Hejrat, an Iranian political activist living in Sweden!

Reuters has reported that “Adultery is the only crime which carries the penalty of death by stoning under the sharia law which Iran adopted after the 1979 Islamic revolution.” Needless to say, there have been no reports of any punishment at all being ordered for the two men she was accused of having a relationship with. Meanwhile, Mohammadi Ashtiani has stated that she admitted to the “crime” under duress so it is no longer at all clear what she is charged with.

In an interview aired on Sept. 19, 2010 with ABC’s This Week host Christiane Amanpour, despite published copies of the Iranian court’s 3-2 ruling, President Ahmadinejad denied that there ever was such a death sentence handed down in the Mohammadi Ashtiani case, and claimed that “This was news that was produced and incorrect, and regrettably, U.S. media affected — was infected by U.S. politicians to make a piece of news out of it.” Later, Ahmadinejad also showed his enlightened side for Western consumption when he said:  “Now this is ancient method, an ancient method that needs to change”

We now have the gruesome spectacle of this representative of the mullahs who are unlikely to change their “ancient method” parading round New York delivering his latest diatribe at the UN and conducting interviews in the US media. In a remarkable display of cognitive dissonance, after claiming that the reports of a sentence of death by stoning are Western propaganda, he also claimed that the death sentence about to be carried out on a Virginia woman for the murder of her husband and step-son is as bad as the proposed stoning of Mohammadi Ashtiani for adultery.

How naive I was during all the years I had thought that removing “death by stoning” from that ancient prayer would be an appropriate acknowledgement that we are now in a more enlightened age …

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