Wednesday, July 14, 2010

One Person Matters

Last week, I wrote about Sakineh Ashtiani, a woman who has been imprisoned, beaten, and sentenced to death by stoning in Iran for the crime of “adultery.” Recently, Iranian authorities announced they probably won’t stone Ms. Ashtiani after all. That’s tepid progress, inasmuch as she may yet be hanged and at least 15 other people await stoning deaths in that nation.

Mine is one of many voices calling for Ashtiani’s release, and I am encouraged that her supporters include folks from various countries, cultures and backgrounds, spanning the political spectrum from right to left. I am fascinated, however, by those who insist on staying in the middle.

For example, I participated in a BBC radio program about Ashtiani and the brutality of the Iranian regime. Bafflegab was thick on the ground, and at one point the host mused that Iran’s death penalty for homosexuals is a moral judgment akin to the United States banning gay marriage.

Equating two obviously unequal situations is not clever or nuanced. It is idiotic and irresponsible. Similarly, asking the insipid modern question, “Who are we to decide?” only serves to evince moral vacuity but, if you must pose the query, let me help you with the answer.

You are a human being, born with the capacity to determine right from wrong. Further, if you are reading this column, chances are you have the magnificent good fortune to live in a part of the world that allows freedom of thought and expression. If you grew up in Western society during the last generation or so, you have likely been browbeaten into believing there is no absolute right and wrong and even if there were, you have no business deciding which is which, since your ancestors probably owned slaves or didn’t recycle.

There is evil in the world, uncomfortable as that is for people who yearn to reduce any situation to a contest of two extremes, placing themselves in the serene center.

Certainly, there are issues where the line between right and wrong seems blurry, but bashing people’s brains out with rocks should not be one of them. If it is, though, on what other topics would you demur to pass judgment? Child slavery?

The logical extension of this approach is that folks become open-minded imbeciles, incapable of making a decision.

Or, people want to make a case like Ashtiani’s about something else. Let’s suppose, for example, you strongly disagree with the State of Israel and consider their treatment of Palestinians to be criminal. That does not mean everything happening in the world, or even the Middle East, pertains to that issue. Ashtiani’s predicament has nothing to do with Jerusalem settlements, and even if a peaceful two-state solution were achieved in Gaza and the West Bank today, she could still be killed tomorrow.

One person matters. It is easier to love mankind than to love your neighbor, as author Eric Hoffer opined, but if you remember that each person is the most important in the world to someone, it becomes less difficult.

As you read this, Ms. Ashtiani is sitting in a cell, not knowing if she is about to die. You have the privilege to be as philosophical as you like, but if you care about what’s right, this woman’s fate really ought to be enough.

Theo Caldwell is the author of Finn the half-Great.