is more than a movie about a wronged Iranian woman. The film’s timing, writes Steven Emerson, can help a nation rally against its iron-fisted Islamic rulers.
Director Cyrus Nowrasteh’s new release, The Stoning of Soraya M. written by Cyrus and his wife Elizabeth, is one of the most compelling, stirring, and riveting films I have ever seen. Inspired by French journalist Freidoune Sahebjam’s international bestseller of the same name, this compelling story sheds light on Islamist mob rule and the horrific honor killings associated with countries that follow Sharia law.
This film should be required viewing for every Obama administration official and member of Congress if they want to understand what is truly going on Iran and the need to firmly, unequivocally, and unambiguously confront Islamist thugs.
Most importantly, the timing of the film’s release—amid the largest popular Iranian uprising against the Islamo-fascist mullahs since they took over in 1979—makes it one of the most relevant and important of our time. It, quite simply, serves as a brilliant exposition on the fanatics who control Iran and their willingness to kill their own people to maintain religious political power.
This film should be required viewing not only for every American—nay, every citizen of the world—but for every Obama administration official and member of Congress, if they want to understand what is truly going on Iran and the need to firmly, unequivocally, and unambiguously confront the Islamist thugs, whether they be in Tehran, Gaza, or Lebanon.
Indeed, the unwillingness of the president to aggressively confront, let alone condemn, the existence of “radical Islam” or specifically condemn the anti-human-rights fascism of the Sharia (the system of laws based on the Koran)—and which underlies the evil dramatically exposed in this extraordinary film—may yet earn him recognition as the man who has most endangered the security of West.
The Stoning of Soraya M. is one of those rare films in American cinema history that truly has the potential of eliciting popular demands for changes in our foreign policy by the American public, even by the world public; its power is undeniable.
The film is a story of a courageous Islamic woman fighting a losing battle against a radical religious system rigged against women. The simple premise of the film will anger, enrage, and yet ultimately inspire and mobilize anyone who sees it.
Set in a small Iranian village in the mid-1980s, an innocent woman, Soraya, is caught in a scheme by her cruel husband who conspires against her with trumped-up charges of infidelity. He enlists the local mullah and fellow villagers to conduct an all-male tribunal that declares her guilty. Her sentence is death by public stoning, still employed in Iran and other radical Islamic countries.
This is not a singing-dancing-happy-ending stuff of a Hollywood blockbuster, yet it deserves every Academy Award possible. The tale is told with crisp cinematography and includes mesmerizing performances by Academy Award nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo ( House of Sand and Fog) and Jim Caviezel ( The Passion of the Christ).
“At its heart, this movie is a human drama filled with tension, peril, and hope,” Nowrasteh says, “but it is also a true story that I felt strongly had to be told, a story the whole world needs to know.” It’s astonishing true story of Zahra, the fearless aunt of Soraya who happens to spot a war correspondent passing through town to get his car fixed as he heads to the border. Soraya had been executed the day before, and her aunt's raw outrage gives her the courage to demand that the reporter tape-record her story.
The film is so suspenseful, to the point that the viewer might—for just a moment—hope that Soraya might be able to escape before her sentence can be carried out. There is no escape, however, and at the end, tragically, it comes as no surprise.
It also comes as no surprise that women around the world continue to be targeted for this type of shocking injustice. Gathering reliable statistics for such punishment is challenging, but reports suggest there have been at least 1,000 women stoned to death over the past 15 years in countries such as Iran, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, Iraq, United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
In 2008, a 13-year-old Somali girl was stoned by 50 men in a football stadium in front of a crowd of 1,000 spectators. According to BBC reports, the mob buried her up to her shoulders while she begged for her life, pleading “don’t kill me, don’t kill me.” Eleven people in Iran, nine of them women, were waiting to be stoned to death for adultery last year, according to Amnesty International. The United Nations estimates that 5,000 women each year become victims of "honor crimes" in which family members kill a woman who has allegedly brought dishonor on them.
Within the last year, two suspected cases have made headlines in the U.S. In Jonesboro, Georgia, last July, Chaudhry Rashid was accused of killing his daughter, Sandeela Kanwal, because she wanted out of an arranged marriage. In February, Aasiyah Hassan was stabbed multiple times and decapitated at an upstate New York television station. Her husband, Muzzammil Hassan, is believed to have become enraged because she filed for divorce days earlier. His trial is expected to begin in January.
The Stoning of Soraya M. is the first film drama to expose the torture of public stoning in the Muslim world. It is a credit to the Nowrastehs the execution scene itself avoids the graphic gore better suited for torture fetish films. Make no mistake, it’s a tough scene to watch but not just because of the implied violence. There’s an devastating emotional punch in the way the twisted judgment is delivered. Soraya must face her rock-wielding, divorce-seeking husband (who wants to be rid of her in order to marry a 14-year-old girl), other family members and neighbors she has known and cared for all her life.
“No one has ever shown a stoning on film before, so I felt a real responsibility to make it something the audience will never forget,” says Nowrasteh. He followed Sahebjam’s description in the book and willed himself to look at covert footage of a real stoning. “All I can tell you is that compared to what I saw and read, the scene in the movie is far less graphic than it could have been. Most of all, I wanted to capture the whole ritual design of it and how it affects the crowd.”
It is also remarkable that parallel stories of brave individuals speaking out against the tyrannical government in Iran are making headlines at the exact time this film hits theaters. Millions of voters believe the election was a fraud, but Iranian authorities have ordered international journalists to remain in their offices and refused to allow them to report on the events on the streets. Still, even state media reports nearly 20 protesters—and in fact perhaps up to 100—have been killed in the crackdown.
“Yes, the film is gripping drama,” Nowrasteh says, “but more than that it is a form of bearing witness, much like Zahra does in the movie. It becomes a liberating story about the power of breaking a silence and hopefully will encourage others to add their voices.”
After living in Iran as a young boy, the director’s family was exiled. “I’m not in a position to change any governments or laws in other countries, but one thing I can do is to really make people aware that this is happening wherever women are still treated as second-class citizens. It is hard to conceive of this still going on, but my obligation was to getting the truth out there—again, so the world will know. My biggest hope is that people will fall in love with these women and their courage.”
With the release of this film, the world will know. This story will haunt you. When I first saw the screening of the film, I sat, along with other members of the audience, in silence and in shock for at least 10 minutes after the film was over. I cried for the first time in years. I have now seen the film more than a dozen times and each viewing has given me a different experience.
At the same time, each has inspired me to keep fighting the Islamist mobsters and Islamic radicals that govern hundreds of millions of people in the Muslim world and have established deceptive and totalitarian strangleholds over Muslim populations in the west.
If there is only one film that you watch this year, or just one that you watch for the rest of your life, this should be the one. It will profoundly change your life.
Steve Emerson is executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism and author of five books on terrorism. His most recent book isJihad Incorporated: A Guide to Militant Islam in the U.S.