By Alexander Baron
The recent hysteria in the British media over Sharia courts operating in Britain raised the spectre of amputations and even beheadings. Leaving aside the well attested fact that the majority of the British population – from all backgrounds and age groups – is generally in favour of capital punishment, and that a surgical beheading is certainly no more inhumane than hanging, what appears to have been conveniently ignored by the mass media is that all manner of private courts operate in Britain, and have done since before any of us were born.
To take just one prosaic example from a pastime which is a religion for many people, the Football Association disciplines soccer players and those associated with the sport. It can and does at times hand out fines and other penalties. Although such sanctions are not legally binding, they can lead to a loss of livelihood if not complied with. And if a penalty is considered too Draconian or ultra vires, it can be appealled to the High Court. Other organisations have rules and regulations which are legally binding, and here we may mention the British Medical Association, the General Dental Council and the Law Society.
That being said, Sharia when applied in places such as Iran often comes in for severe criticism; one case, from a few years ago was presented as another example of Islamic savagery when a seventeen year old girl was sentenced to death for stabbing and killing a man who had attempted to rape her. At least that is how it was served up to a credulous public by the Western media.
There are two problems with any human rights abuse story coming out of Iran; the first is that most such reports emanate from anti-government sources, or at the very least from sources which are not favourable to the government. While that does not of course mean they cannot be true, no Labour supporter would take at face value any allegation made against the British Government by a Conservative publication, and likewise, most Conservatives would not swallow Labour Party propaganda piecemeal. In other words, one should exercise a little critical faculty.
The second problem with reports from Iran is that they are liable to be distorted through another prism, that of Western media bias, hostility or just plain perfidy, as I realised when I returned from the Tehran Holocaust Conference in December 2006.
Now, to the case of seventeen year old Nazanin Fatehi. She was sentenced to hang for stabbing a man to death in a park in March 2005. The story, as related by the mass media, is that the victim was trying to rape her. She and her niece – who was only a year younger than herself – were attacked in the park by three men. Her boyfriend ran away or was chased off, and she stabbed and killed one of her attackers to defend her honour, and more importantly, her life and the life of her niece.
Most people, certainly in Britain, would have little sympathy for a rapist or would-be rapist who was killed by his victim. There are though limits. Although it is not expressed by statute in Britain, in Iran or probably anywhere in the world, the law of all civilised countries accepts that an individual may perform any act, even an otherwise illegal act, if considering all the circumstances it is reasonable. Obviously what is reasonable varies from case to case, and can only be judged by the proverbial man on the Clapham omnibus when the full circumstances are known. It would certainly be considered reasonable to drive at a hundred miles per hour along the motorway if one were transporting a gravely injured man to hospital. Or for a police officer or anyone else to break into a property if that person believed someone’s life was in danger. I had a personal experience of this many years ago when strange noises emanated from the downstairs flat. The sole resident was an elderly woman; at this distance I can’t remember the exact circumstances, if her husband was in the nearby St Christopher’s Hospice or if he had already died. At any rate, like the good neighbour I like to think I am, I phoned the police, and after he arrived, the officer and I ended up kicking in her front door; we found a kitten which she had left in the bath while she had gone to visit relatives over the holiday.
Under the circumstances, not even the most lunatic fringe civil libertarian would claim the police should have first sought a warrant, or that our actions amounted to criminal damage.
Obviously, stabbing a man to death is a different proposition from kicking in a door, but there are times and circumstances under which it would be acceptable for a woman to use lethal force against a rapist or a would-be rapist, and others when it would not be.
A man who breaks into a woman’s home, even if he is not armed, might reasonably be subjected to lethal force. While rape is not capital in Britain, and while most rapes don’t involve extreme violence, some do result in severe physical and/or psychological injury to the victim, and a few rape victims do end up being murdered, so a woman who is attacked by a more powerful man in such circumstances, even if he is apparently unarmed, might be excused if she errs on the side of caution.
Similarly, a woman who is attacked in a park by a masked assailant who holds a knife to her throat might not be expected to abide by Marquis of Queensbury Rules, but what were the circumstances of the Nazanin Fatehi case? Certainly there is no suggestion that the victim was masked or that he held a knife to her throat, indeed, it was she who was in possession of a knife.
According to a report from a website set up to campaign specifically for her, Save Nazanin, “...three men started harassing them. The girls boyfriends fled from the scene, leaving them helpless behind. The men pushed Nazanin and her niece down on the ground and tried to rape them, and to protect herself, she took out a knife from her pocket and stabbed one of the men in the hand. The girls tried to escape, but the men overtook them, and at this point, Nazanin stabbed one of the other men in the chest, which eventually killed him.”
When I read this I couldn’t help thinking of the case of Satpal Ram, who was convicted of murdering a stranger in a Birmingham restaurant. There was a massive and well organised campaign by Ram’s supporters and family which claimed that he had been defending himself against a racially motivated attack. After I investigated these claims at some length, I was so disgusted at the way the media had allowed itself to be misled, and had misled others, including Members of Parliament, that I set up a website about the case. Ram was eventually paroled from prison still protesting his innocence. He was shortly recalled for breaching his life licence, and assaulted two police officers during the course of his arrest.
Ram’s supporters claimed variously that he had been attacked by six drunken white men, but the bottom line was that he had got into an altercation with one man, a fellow diner, taken out a flick knife – an illegal weapon – and stabbed him to death in a drunken frenzy over a triviality. The pathologist’s report – which I managed to obtain – demonstrated that the fatal blow had been delivered while his victim’s back was turned.
Even so, Ram’s supporters continued to protest that he had been backed into a corner by his victim, who was considerably taller and heavier, and had somehow managed to take out and open a pen knife (ie with a folding blade) and totally accidentally deliver a fatal blow.
Now, compare this with the scenario in the Tehran park. Two girls are attacked by three men (who are unarmed). They push them to the ground, our heroine struggles magnificently in defence of her honour, manages to take out a knife – what type of knife we are not told – and stabs one of them in the hand. These men appear to have been so formidable that the girls’ boyfriends had scarpered, but Nazanin is made of sterner stuff. She was on the ground and presumably on the verge of being raped when she stabbed her attacker, then she and her niece managed to run off – two terrified girls against three brutes - but they are overtaken by the men, who are not the least bit deterred thinking they might have bitten off more than they could chew, or perhaps they wanted revenge? Alas, they are no match for the fearless Nazanin, because with the same knife she inflicts a mortal wound on another of the attackers. In defence of her honour, of course.
Can anyone with a nanogramme of common sense believe the scenario as related here actually happened? How did the girls know the men intended to rape them? Did they tell them so? Did they remove their trousers? Obviously not, unless they chased them through the park trouserless, which does not appear to have been the case. Clearly, the court took the view that this damsel in distress scenario was not quite accurate, to put it mildly, and that at the very least the degree of force used had not been proportional to the assault, or perhaps that should be alleged assault. Although as usual in this sort of tear jerking case, the Internet is awash with grossly distorted reports, it is possible to find some versions which are a little more objective. What is undoubtedly a more objective account, from the Iranian newspaper Etemaad, translated into English by Lily Mazahery gives the following eyewitness testimony:
“We were standing in the corner of the park when, suddenly, three young men approach us in a threatening manner and said: What are you doing here? Then they said some really horrible things to Nazanin and humiliated her. One of the men pulled off Nazanin’s headdress and Monteau (Islamic dress), and that’s when Nazanin stabbed the boy once with a knife and injured him, which ultimately led to his death.”
Unpleasant, loutish behaviour, but if this is correct – and it is certainly more accurate than some of the partisan rubbish spouted by Nazanin’s supporters – then she most certainly did not respond with reasonable force.
One has to bear in mind too that in Iran, rape is a capital offence, so that makes it even more unlikely that these three men attempted to rape the two girls. Undoubtedly the Sharia court got it right first time. Islamic justice is harsh, but as demonstrated by subequent events, it is also fair, and can be tempered with mercy, perhaps a little too much mercy in this case. On appeal – yes, they do have an appeal process, these wicked I-ranians – the death sentence was quashed and a retrial was ordered - undoubtedly in view of her age and immaturity rather than the mock international outrage that greeted this case. Criminal tribunals worldwide almost invariably ignore this sort of thing. In the retrial, which ended on January 10, 2007, she was cleared of murder but ordered to pay blood money. Even then, she wasn’t satisfied, and appealed again. Not a few grieving mothers – victims of Britain’s knife culture – would consider the time she spent in custody to be pitifully short. I would like to make two points here; in Britain this girl would likewise have almost certainly been convicted of murder, the mere fact that she was carrying a knife would have weighed heavily against her, and this was clearly no mere pen knife as Satpal Ram would have had the world believe in his case. To inflict a deadly blow with a knife takes some considerable force and determination, especially for a girl of her age against an aggressive and powerful predator. In Britain it is a criminal offence to carry any sort of knife in public without an extremely good reason, in practice this means usually for any reason at all. I’m not saying I approve of this law, I am simply observing that is how it is.
The second point I would like to make is that in this instance, Iranian justice certainly does not appear to be inferior to American justice – unless one considers it too liberal - and is most definitely superior to the type of Wild West justice which is still meted out in Texas.
In November 2007, a sixty-one year old Texas householder shot dead two unarmed men who appeared to be burglarising the house next door. The double murder was actually recorded because the man telephoned the police, and while he was on the phone, armed himself with his shotgun, went out, and calmly blasted them to death. The following year, the Grand Jury refused to indict him. The victims were illegal immigrants, both were unemployed. Although this was an exceptional case, this sort of obscenity is by no means unheard of. Admittedly, Texas does have a so-called “castle doctine” law which permits a man to use lethal force in defence of his property in certain circumstances, although this appears to be the first time it has been used in defence of a neighbour’s property, but can anyone defend such extreme vigilantism in this day and age? Do we really want to see this sort of insanity in the supposedly so civilised West or anywhere, and whatever its perceived faults, is Sharia such a terrible system compared with what we have?
[The above was published originally by Mathaba, April 24, 2010].
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