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Would Mr. Erdogan kindly care for this Muslim woman?

HDN | 7/8/2010 12:00:00 AM | BURAK BEKDİL

Erdoğan has a great chance to show everyone how much he cares about the plight of Muslims all around the world by demanding a pardon for an Iranian 'adulteress' on death row.

There is this woman. She is waiting to die. Not quite a normal death. She is waiting for her execution. Not quite a “normal execution.”

She will be buried up to her chest. Her willing executioners will say “Allah is great,” and then will hurl stones at her. Not quite normal stones. They will be picked carefully. They won’t be too small to give her too little pain, or too large to kill her immediately.

Unsurprisingly, Sakineh Mohammedie Ashtiani is Iranian. But she is of Azeri descent and speaks only Turkish – the principal barrier that prevented her from fully comprehending Iran’s Islamic court proceedings.

In 2006, Ms. Ashtiani was convicted of adultery, the same “impropriety” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had tried hard to outlaw in Turkey a few years earlier. Since his legislative attempt failed after too many “shocked” Western faces popped up one after another, we do not know what proper penalty Mr. Erdoğan had considered accurate for adultery – but it cannot be stoning.

Ms. Ashtiani was forced to confess after being subjected to 99 lashes although she later retracted the confession. The legal proceedings were complex and straightforward. They were complex because two out of five judges were not convinced that Ms. Ashtiani was guilty. But they were straightforward “numerically.”

Article 74 of the Iranian penal code requires at least four witnesses for an adulterer to be stoned to death. Witnesses make the principal evidence. But four witnesses do not mean four “persons.” Four witnesses, in Iranian law, mean four men or three men and two women (or two men and four women… Muslims choosing to betray their spouses should take care to have a maximum of seven women witness their act).

By the time this article goes to print Ms. Ashtiani may have been stoned to death. Unless of course the mullahs decide to give her a pardon not because they would think such a punishment would be too barbaric for the year 2010, but probably because they would think a pardon could spark an international feeling of gratefulness and well suit their political agenda.

But someone else may come into the picture for a happy ending. We know by evidence that Mr. Erdoğan has a soft spot for Muslims being subjected to cruelty in all corners of the world, and Ms. Ashtiani is a Muslim lady. Besides, Ms. Ashtiani speaks Turkish, not Farsi; and perhaps Mr. Erdopan would view her as kin? Above all, Mr. Erdoğan has brotherly relations with Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who can pardon her.

That’s a great opportunity for Mr. Erdoğan to show everyone how much he cares about the plight of Muslims (and Turks) all around the world, that he can love Muslims other than Hamas-loving Palestinians too.

It could also be a great opportunity for everyone willing to understand Mr. Erdoğan’s understanding of Islam and secularism. We learned before what he thinks about adultery (that it’s a crime), and how the state should behave adulterers (that it should punish them).

But we don’t know what kind of punishment he deems appropriate for adultery. We don’t know either what he thinks about 99 lashes, or about the two women=one man equation at the witness booth.

These are taboo subjects for Islamist politicians who have a desire to look nice to non-Muslim Westerners – that’s the pragmatic Muslim in them. I can understand their trouble. If they stood against lashes and stoning and two women equal one man rules they would be speaking against explicit Quranic commandments.

(For the interested reader, allow me to remind you that Quranic commandments come in one flavor only. About do’s and don’t’s, the Quran is not discriminatory. “Don’t drink alcohol” is no different than “Give him/her 99 lashes;” or “Don’t eat pork” is the same as “Two women equal one man as witness.”)

So, it would be interesting to learn what the devout mind with perpetual citings from the Quran would say about lashes and stoning and witnesses and what others must do if someone is to be stoned (in fact the Quran also commands that everyone who is aware of adultery in the neighborhood must go and witness the punishment).

Going back to the dilemma of the pragmatic Islamists… If they stood against not-so-nice-looking practices like the fate awaiting Ms. Ashtiani, they would be challenging the Quran (their Islamism). On the other hand if they affirmed such practices they would fear distancing some of their Western allies (their pragmatism).

Muteness is the best solution. Not for unimportant, sinning Muslims like Ms. Ashtiani, but definitely for the very important Muslims like Mr. Ahmadinejad’s best friend in Turkey.

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