Marching for Women's Lives

Posted: Feb 27, 2006 1:19 PM

March 8 marks what the United Nations designates "International Women's Day." I'll be thinking about an 18-year-old Iranian girl named Nazanin that day. Instead of letting activists waste the day denouncing George W. Bush and other protectors of human rights and freedom, the United Nations ought to use its bullhorn to insist that Nazanin become a household name.

Nazanin and her 16-year-old niece were about to be raped last year when the older girl stabbed two of their three attackers, killing one.

Nazanin reportedly told a criminal court that "I wanted to defend myself and my niece. I did not want to kill that boy. At the heat of the moment I did not know what to do because no one came to our help." But she was sentenced to death earlier this year for her crime. Her (insane) sentence is subject to higher court review.

International Women's Day this year should be Save Nazanin Day. It's not only this one young woman's life who might be saved, but countless unknowns in similar situations.

It's a hard position for the United Nations. The United Nations is an institution whose secretary-general continues to pass the buck on investigations into its relationship with former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, and a group that has a "human rights" watchdog commission that laughably includes the likes of Sudan, Cuba, China and Saudi Arabia. And the United Nations isn't nudged in the right direction when Amnesty International seems to miss the point of outrage in Nazanin's sentence. An AI January press release on the matter proclaimed: "Amnesty International calls for end to death penalty for child offenders." Offender? The girl killed a man in self-defense while being assaulted. She was not the criminal here.

And the next question Amnesty International should have asked while condemning the sentence was: What if Nazanin had not killed the attacker? Would she have been punished for rape in their sharia court? (Rape often translates into "adultery" as far as their sharia court is concerned, often requiring multiple male Muslim witnesses to the crime for it to be considered a legitimate rape case. As you might expect, such witnesses do not often materialize.) Instead of asking tough questions -- politically incorrect, but vitally important questions -- Amnesty outrageously puts Nazanin in league with a teen who broke into a home allegedly for a burglary, but wound up a convicted murderer.

In 2003, a Nigerian woman named Amina Lawal's life was spared, most likely because Westerners were paying attention. Divorced, she was charged with adultery; she testified that she had been raped. A court ordered her stoned her to death, but she was ultimately allowed to live on appeal.

Still, as Asra Nomani, author of "Standing Alone in Mecca: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam" (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005) has written, "every day there are untold numbers of Muslim women who abort their pregnancies, dump their babies in rubbish piles or secretly abandon their children so they don't face the consequences of having a child out of wedlock." Nomani conceived a child out of wedlock while working as a reporter in Pakistan -- premarital sex is a crime of 100 lashes there; but as a West Virginian, she was spared the whip, coming home to have her boy.

At a time when the world is on fire -- literally when you look at, say, the Danish embassy in Syria burned down by protesters, for instance, over lame cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed published in a Danish newspaper and now around the world -- rallying to Nazanin's cause represents more than saving one woman's life. Shedding a much-needed light on inhumane sharia punishments and so-called honor killings would be an important step in calling Islamic regimes to account for their wrongdoing and encourage moderate Muslims the world over to reclaim their religion.

This should be a top priority for Western feminists. On International Women's Day, they should stand with moderate Muslim women and women like Amina Lawal and call for an end to the terrorizing of women like her and Nazanin. And all those women whose names we'll never know.

Instead of naive hysterics about wage gaps and Gitmo, someone ought to break out the smelling salts and get an army of feminists and human-rights groups occupying a room at the United Nations to use their public voices to fight for those who can't. I'll never see eye to eye with some of these folks on the whole of their agendas (so long as feminists insist protecting the right to destroy an unborn life is sacred, their bill of goods is fatally tainted), but where we can stand together -- basic human rights for even women -- we should. I'd like Nazanin to one day be thankful that we rallied to save her life.