Sunday, March 01, 2009

An Eye for an Eye

Well, I had wanted to write something for One Single Impression today. It's an anniversary for them and I always like participating but my muse is apparently not out of the cave or if she is, she is keeping her mouth shut.

So I was sitting here tormenting myself with the Sunday morning talking heads. I don't know why I insist on doing that every Sunday morning. It just makes me cranky. A lot of pointless pontificating and people trying to do "gotchas" with other people and even the people I agree with being pretty inane and stupid. But do I stop listening? No. I thought about writing something about the budget arguments. Being as liberal as I am, I'm delighted with much of Obama's proposed ideas... and I do think that sometimes in life you have to spend money up front in order to save it in the long run or come out even. But that's a big subject and I'm not really qualified to speak coherently about it.

Then I was thinking about one of the most interesting blog posts I've read in a while. Mary the Teach posted an ethical dilemma over at Work of the Poet and had some interesting discussion on the topic. Then this morning I was listening to Fareed Zacharia (hope I spelled that right)'s GPS program where they were discussing radical Islam and the differences between the Taliban and Bin Laden and whether it's our job to fight only bad guys who are waging global jihad or to also fight people who are abusive to women and their own citizens. A whopper of a moral dilemma, but not the one I want to raise.

What I want to talk about is a story I heard a week or so ago and would have written about except for the whole withdrawal-from-the-world-being-in-a-cave thing I was going through. But anyway. There was a story - I think on CNN - about a young woman in Iran who has sought and won the right to extract vengeance literally in terms of an eye for an eye. In 2004, an unwelcome suitor threw acid in her face, blinding and disfiguring her. As a rule, these kinds of cases have been settled by the attacker's family pay a large sum of money to the victim. Ms. Bahrami chose instead to demand an eye for an eye. She says it isn't about revenge but about putting a stop to such attacks in the future.

My first response to this was horror. I'm not an eye for an eye kind of person. I abhor violence. I don't think revenge is useful. But then I thought maybe - if this is truly not about revenge - she knows her society better than I do. Historically, in societies like India, Pakistan, Iran and many Muslim countries there has been no meaningful consequences (other than monetary) for men who burn their wives or disfigure and abuse women. By insisting on a consequence - even a barbaric one - perhaps she is setting a precedent. Perhaps she truly is making a safer future for women like herself.

It's a horrific decision. But is it more or less horrific than there being no consequences for her attacker other than paying blood money. Is this less about revenge than making her society respect her pain and suffering and that of women like her and insist on true atonement. Perhaps her eye for an eye will make men stop and think before they commit such an act in the future. Perhaps the society will come up with a better consequence than an eye for an eye. And perhaps it is a profound shift in their societal dynamics which will alter the future for Islamic women. Or maybe it's just ugly revenge.

On the face of things it is anathema to me and my personal moral code. But is it wrong?

Here's the original story which prompted this post:

I'm curious to know what others think.


maryt/theteach said...

This is very hard. They would remove his eye for hers... Would they replace his eye in her eye socket? So she could see? OMG I'm not a violent person... I think I'd have him locked up for the rest of his life - I don't have a problem with that - And no TV, books and education so he could study to become a lawyer... No parole. I don't care if he's sorry - his being sorry doesn't help her.

maryt/theteach said...

I watched the video, Raven, and I see she is comepletely blind and the court has decided he will be blinded. I don't think she's wrong... I just don't think I could have it done to him.

Raven said...

I don't think I could either and yet given the nature of the society in which she lives - where they wouldn't imprison him, but would let him buy his way out of punishment - I'm not sure she isn't right. But I don't know that I could do it. It doesn't sound from the video like it's about being vindictive, though who knows... but more about sending a message to the society. It certainly challenges my beliefs about what's right and wrong.

peppylady (Dora) said...

Radical is radical it doesn't matter on what side of the fence it from.
I'm sure hoping for some more enlightenment on fear base move us forward in life.
Which Dubya did which I find it full of BS.
I see and hear with Obmama tune it will be more joyful.

Coffee is on

gabrielle said...

Fortunately or unfortunately, there are no moral absolutes. Every dilemma has its own nuance, calls out to be examined in its peculiar context. That’s what makes it so excruciating. Acknowledging that we can only see out of a flawed prism and knowing that whatever we decide may not soothe or resolve.

Will blinding the perpetrator perpetuate the cycle of violence or send a signal that willful brutality will no longer be tolerated?

How can Ms. Bahrami play by the rules when the deck is stacked against her.? Even though it is not my way to exact this sentence of blinding in kind, I am not the one who has had acid thrown in my face by a man whose pride was hurt. I must be honest with myself that I cannot even imagine walking in this woman’s shoes, though my heart cries for her and all women who have been injured, mutilated, destroyed. In a million unending tears.

Ultimately, the choice is not mine. I support this woman in her unprecedented display of courage and defiance, trapped as she is in a world that condemns her if she does or she doesn’t.

Thom - - Dr. John said...

This is the proverbial ten foot pole.

Ignore her situation by slapping him on the wrist with a monetary penalty and the cycle of violence continues. Grant her justice by blinding him as she has also been blinded and a different cycle of violence may rear its ugly head.

Being miles away and totally disconnected to either of these people tends to make me want to find a peaceful solution. Now, had this happened to my wife or children and I'm afraid the ugly side of my human nature would want to see the guy pay.

You pose a very interesting question, and one in which I'm looking forward to reading the discussion on.

BTW- the video is not visible as I type this.

Anonymous said...

The violence against women has been going on for so long, that it may take that same violence turned against men to break the cycle and prove to them that it is, indeed, barbaric. Then again, it may not. She won the verdict. Not too very long ago she wouldn't have even gotten a hearing.

We can speculate, but we don't live there (thank you, God) and don't have to endure the life style.

On an interesting note, the "eye for an eye" Bible passage isn't about destroying. It is about replacing. If the Biblical precept was carried out, he would be responsible for seeing for her, for as long as they both lived, or his sight allowed.

Anonymous said...

Well, we have the death penalty in some places the west, and it hasn't done a thing to stop murders and other capital offenses here.

Dr.John said...

The Old Testament of the Bible would agree with her: Indeed in Exodus 21:22-26 we are clearly told that we should take an eye for an eye.
But in the New Testament Jesus tells his followers (Matthew 5:38-40) that this was not to be their way.
The problem is the struggle between law and gospel.
Will taking the person's eyes change anybody in such a society? It is doubtful. But then being kind is unlikely to change them as well.

Raven said...

Thank you all for engaging in the discussion.

gabrielle - well said...

jeff - sorry you couldn't see the video - it seems to be there and playing so I don't know how to fix it. I am always struck by situations like this because I have such a solid sense of what my values are and what I think SHOULD be right and wrong and then something comes up where I can see an alternative way of looking at things.

quilly - I too am very glad I don't live in such a society. I did some research on an eye for an eye and although I love your take on it, couldn't find anything that confirmed it.

deborah - good point. I hate the death penalty.

dr. john - the reason there is any question for me about whether her request isn't just evil is twofold... First, it seems that the decision in this case DOES have a possiblity of changing what has been a given in the society. Men mutilate women and then atone with cash but no prison time or consequence of any meaning. The second part of why I was struck by it is because - granted, I don't speak the language - but I did not have a sense from her that this was about vengeance. If it were vengeance I would think it was unquestionably wrong. Her intent truly seems to be to change her society's way of dealing with such crimes. I'm not sure it couldn't change the society - it is unprecedented in and of itself... First, it recognizes her sovereignty as a human and second, it allows a woman to defend herself with teeth and not just by being paid off.

It is a moral dilemma alien to my personal universe and culture but putting myself in her shoes (as near as I can), my own moral certainty becomes more wobbly.

Felisol said...

Dear Raven,
I think the laws have to be changed, also in the western world.
In Norway women are equipped with alarms in case they are being attacked by their exhusbands.
Should the innocent have to live in hide and fear whilst the men go free?
Unless the perpetrators are aware of that they will be severely punished, things will not change.
In our little town women's shelter are filled to the brim, both by ethnic Norwegians or by women born elsewhere.
It's an outrage.
Like I am not pro death penalty, I would not be able to blind a man either,--probably.
I surely don't know how I would react if anyone near and dear was involved.
Let's pray I never have to find out.
From Felisol

Dianne said...

I like the notion of this husband having to serve this woman for the rest of his life. He would have to make sure all her needs were taken care of and then spend all the other time in prison.

Felisol brings up an interesting point about the treatment of women in other parts of the world. I had an order of protection against my ex and it wasn't worth the paper it was printed on. The process to get it is long and humiliating and then it is basically scoffed at by the police. And they usually blame the victim.

Then of course you have cases like Rhianna and Chris Brown - while I don't condone investigating and judging the lives of celebs the news of her going back to him just adds to the notion that abused women won't take the help even when it is there. Pics of this woman beater joy riding on a jet ski while Rhianna hides in seclusion just foster the barbaric cycle.

Carletta said...

“Thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot" - exact retribution.
I'll be very honest that given her part of the world I'm surprised the punishment was handed down.
Like Gabrielle, I too, applaud the woman for her display of courage and defiance. I would just much rather see her use those qualities to change the system. I can't get past the fact that she wants to levy the same cruelty on another human being. I don't think I could live with myself if I were her.

I'm not a Bible scholar but since it has been mentioned I'll say this - The individual has not been given the right for revenge. That is in the hands of God or so I was always taught.
Like Dr. John said - law or gospel?
I have to disagree with Quilly (sorry Quilly) but I think the eye for eye was indeed that in the Old Testament.
So much to think and discuss Raven - thanks for making us think.

Freya said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Freya said...

The principle of non-violence is for people who can be made to feel guilty. This man who dumped acid on her is not gonna be guilty because such things are usual. I live in India and I can read about at least one acid attack per month. People who do such things don't feel that they attacked a human being who can feel pain. I believe that harsh punishments should be enforced for such heinous crimes, so nobody would dare to do it again.

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Jennifer Ann Fox said...

This is terrible. But unfortunately, violence is not limited to the Middle east. I don't know if there is enough justice for this kind of thing. Like one of the other bloggers said in here, even with restraint orders in the US, its only a piece of paper that doesn't stop the perpetrator. I don't know the answer to stop violence but I wish we could.