owning up for Soraya M.

I watched The Stoning of Soraya M. during a recent 4-and-a-half-hours-or-so-long train ride. It was immensely captivating – not only to me, but also to the lady sitting next to me! Granted there were English subtitles (for I cannot understand Farsi [even though I was quite surprised at how many words I did end up understanding]), I think she was able to watch a large part of it with me despite the lack of sound. Yet, at some point she tapped on my shoulder and asked me what the film was called, and told me that she thought it looked like a really good film, and that she wanted to watch it. So, after I was done watching it, I decided to give my copy of the movie to her – it was a great movie, and I suppose giving feels good.

However, I noticed that I was actually hesitant about giving the movie to her, not because I didn’t want to lose my own copy (I copied it to my desktop then and there – ah, technology), but because I felt like I was betraying someone or something. I don’t even know what exactly.

I’ve come to realize over time and a number of films that, when I watch movies depicting Turkey, the Middle East, any Muslim or maybe even just a so-called 3rd world country, particularly when it is a depiction of a wrongdoing, or a human rights violation, like in this case, I feel oddly protective towards the culture depicted, with the gut feeling of wanting to defend that culture against “others”. In this case, even though I was touched by the film’s description of the stoning of Soraya, and this as a symbol for all other inhuman acts that might take place in the name of religion and honor, and believed that this film should be shown widely and everyone should see it, I also felt weary about giving the film to an American whom I knew nothing about (e.g. education level, outlook, stereotypes, etc. I guess). I had a bias that this woman would already have negative feelings and attitudes about Iran and perhaps the Middle East, and by letting her watch this movie, I was reinforcing them. It’s as if, because I’m from that region, and from a Muslim country, I have the right to criticize and scorn, whereas Americans, or Europeans do not understand, and do not know the cultures as wholesome as I do (or any other member of this larger community does), so they should think twice before attempting to criticize.

I’m not claiming that this is all correct, I’m just saying that this is the feeling I get. I do think that part of this may be true, where if you are not from a particular culture that is being criticized, you resort to or reinforce your stereotypes more easily when making judgments about inhuman acts carried out by others, perceiving it simply as acts carried out by “them”, rather than assuming responsibility for such acts. As if these are problems only of them, those men, and those women, those countries, and those religions. I believe movies/books showing human right violations, cruelty, inequality, and injustice are very important, but they only serve a purpose if the viewer personally takes responsibility for what he or she is witnessing. The fact that an Iranian woman named Soraya was stoned to death as a result of cruel slander and under the so-called rules of Allah, is as much of a problem of mine as it was Soraya’s in 1986.

This reminds me of Niemöller’s saying:

They came first for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

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