Photographs appearing to show a blindfolded man having his fingers severed by the mechanical amputation device have been published by an official Iranian press agency.
According to the INSA news service, the prisoner used to demonstrate the brutal contraption had been convicted of theft and adultery by a court in Shiraz last Wednesday.
A series of pictures show three masked officials, clad entirely in black, holding the man’s right hand in a vice while one turns a wheel operating the guillotine in the manner of a rotary saw.
In none of the four closely cropped images does the bearded prisoner’s expression register pain, suggesting that he may have been drugged.
Following the public amputation, Ali Alghasi, the Shiraz district’s public prosecutor, announced sentences against criminals are to become increasingly severe.
This warning, issued without explanation, may be an attempt by authorities to deter public protest ahead of June’s general elections.
The Iranian government’s deplorable human rights record has been well documented.
Public execution, including death by stoning, and torture, including flogging and amputation, are routine.
Amnesty International led international outcry over the execution of 21 year-old Ali Naderi earlier this month for the alleged murder of an elderly woman killed during the course of a burglary – a crime he committed when he was 17.
It is illegal under international law to execute anyone for a crime committed as a minor.
Ironically, they still have plenty of crime, demonstrating the ineffectiveness of severe punishment in deterring crime.
It’s been just over a year since the American public observed — many of us with morbid fascination and increasing alarm — the Republican primary debates of the last election. Bachmann, Cain, Gingrich, Perry and Santorum all pandered to their Teavangelical supporters and brought their religious and culture war agenda to the center of the national stage. With those debates fading from memory, it’s tempting to conclude that this flexing of muscle by the religious right was an aberration, swept aside by President Obama’s second victory.
But is that right? Have those passions faded? A YouGov Omnibus poll conducted this spring provides the answer: not at all. When asked whether they would favor or oppose establishing Christianity as the official state religion in their state, 34% of respondents were in favor (with 20% “strongly” in favor). You read that correctly: 34% in favor of establishing Christianity as the state religion, as in creating a theocracy. There’s more: when asked whether they would favor an amendment to the U.S. Constitution making Christianity the official religion of the United States, 32% said yes. This was a national poll; imagine what the numbers must have been in Alabama, Kansas, and Oklahoma.
Also this spring, a group of representatives in the North Carolina House introduced actual legislation — to my knowledge, the first of its kind since the founding of the republic — to permit that State, or any of its subdivisions, to declare Christianity its official religion. The North Carolina bill had a great deal of regional support, but was withdrawn by House leadership after a barrage of national criticism.
Americans living in cities and states where the evangelical influence is minimal consistently underestimate both the ambitions and power of the religious right. But these numbers are no surprise to me. In the course of researching my novel, Christian Nation (in which McCain/Palin win in the 2008 presidential election and Sarah Palin becomes President when McCain dies in office), I learned that the religious right’s base of support remains remarkably steady, virtually uninfluenced by the ups and down of national politics.
For over a decade, polls have consistently reported that 30-40% of our fellow citizens self-describe themselves as “born again” or “evangelical” and believe that Biblical prophecies accurately predict a detailed sequence of end-times events. Their leaders control both the vast Christian broadcasting movement and great swaths of the Republican Party at the precinct and state level. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life estimates that groups representing these citizens spend about $390 million each year to lobby the Federal government to impose their religion-based agenda on the rest of us. This demographic also has the highest voting record around — 85% of their eligible voters turn out for elections. They are not disappearing and, despite the recent successes of the marriage equality movement, they continue to win victories in the culture war they have fought for 30 years.
At the heart of their political agenda is a deep antipathy to the idea of the separation of church and state. An energetic industry of pseudo-historians, legal “scholars” and home schooling educators relentlessly promotes the message that church-state separation is a myth concocted by liberal elites to keep America from realizing its true destiny as a “Godly Kingdom,” a pious “shining city upon a hill.” For many of our fellow citizens, the establishment (or, as they would say, restoration) of America as a “Christian Nation” is a condition to the second coming of Christ, the most important thing that can ever happen.
So I ask you: how does this compare with the things that motivate your politics? A fanatical fundamentalist minority is a dangerous thing in any culture, and even the strongest democracy can become vulnerable when buffeted by economic distress and external shocks, such as major terrorist attacks. Everyone — mainstream Christians, and Republicans and Democrats both — need to keep a wary eye on our home-grown fundamentalists. The consequences of failing to take them seriously could be fatal.
Once it is illegal to criticize or mock a religion, all a man has to do is associate themselves with that establishment to receive the same protection. Throughout history religion and power have gone hand in hand. It’s one thing to assert authority through a family name or abilities, but quite another to claim an authority that comes from god, an indisputable divine supremacy. Many men have claimed to be doing the will of god and therefore any opposition they have declared to be blasphemous.
No god or adult in a position of government authority should ever be exempt from ridicule. That doesn’t mean everyone should mock every religion and politician, it simply means such action cannot be made illegal in a free society. No one should be able to claim power by silencing all opposition under threat of imprisonment or death. There is a reason why the Founding Fathers of the United States wrote the First Amendment guaranteeing Free Speech. There is a reason why the Constitution begins with “We the People.” If the Founding Fathers wanted a dictatorship, they would have created one. They desired something different, something morally superior. A society based on individual rights and liberty; a society where neither politicians nor clergymen are above the law or deserving of protection that would violate any individual’s right to voice opposition.
There are people pushing for a U.N. resolution that would make blasphemy an international crime. These people stink of ignorance and hypocrisy. How many Muslims demanding a blasphemy law have no issue with constant mockery of the Jews or desecration of a Bible? Do they really seek protection for all religions, or only Islam? The naïve apologists out to appease the violent acts of extremists are also in support of these laws. Rewarding violent behavior will never bring peace; it will only spawn further violence.
The most ignorant statement regarding free speech was from Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. “Freedom of thought and belief ends where the freedom of thought and belief of others start. You can say anything about your thoughts and beliefs, but you will have to stop when you are at the border of others’ freedoms.” This statement stands in opposition to all of human progress. Under this mentally debilitating ideology our societies would be forever stagnant. Every advancement in science and social progress has come from the challenging of other people’s ideas, not ending thought at other people’s beliefs. A belief is worth nothing if it cannot withstand scrutiny. A belief that has substance rests on knowledge, not fear and condemnation of criticism.
Some things to consider in regards to an international blasphemy law:
• Would religions that contained scripture blasphemous to other religions be banned under the blasphemy law?
• Who would decide what was criticism, what was satire, and what was blasphemy?
• Could the teaching of evolution be considered blasphemy?
• Would mockery of Scientology be considered blasphemy?
• Would this law apply to any absurdity as long as someone believed in it?
• Would atheist beliefs be considered blasphemy?
Without historical context, freedom is largely unappreciated. It’s easy to lose something if you don’t understand the value of it. Today it’s hard to imagine facing torture for declaring that the earth revolves around the sun. Galileo was brought before the Inquisition in 1616 for making such a “blasphemous” statement, and was given the choice of either recanting his opinion or face medieval torture. Not surprisingly, Galileo recanted and then spent many years under house arrest.
In other countries people have been arrested for stating there is no god on their Facebook page. Women in a punk band were arrested for protesting a Russian politician. The Kuwaiti Parliament passed a blasphemy law that would kill or imprison anyone perceived to insult Islam. Anyone identified as a critic of the Dear Leader is imprisoned. Thousands upon thousands of Syrians have been killed for protesting government. This is what happens when men are held in higher human value than other men. This can happen without religion, but typically claims of divine justification are used to suppress others.
This world does not need international laws of speech that resemble the censorship rhetoric of the Nazi Party. We need international laws that mirror the spirit of the original Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. Everyone should talk about religion and politics openly without fear. It’s OK to have something more than a superficial relationship with family and friends. Sometimes debates can get heated. Sometimes people can be disrespectful and crude. The way to deal with this is not to be a coward like the people promoting blasphemy laws. Deal with criticism and mockery through skilled argumentation, integrity and resolve. Overcome your opponents with your mind and strength of character. And if you find yourself in a position where you cannot reasonably defend a belief, have the humility necessary to abandon it. Do not resort to silencing others in fear that they may have a better argument. Do not resort to silencing mockery in fear that inside the ridicule may be a grain of truth.
“Respond intelligently even to unintelligent treatment.” – Lao Tzu (6th century B.C.)