Politics & Policy

One Girl, One Big Battle

Nazanin and beyond.

The new year has felt like a non-stop exercise in meaningless women-empowerment mush. Since the elections made clear that Nancy Pelosi would be Speaker of the House, news-watching Americans have overdosed on Rosie the Riveter. Instead of all this silliness, though, Pelosi should use her bully pulpit for a good cause: saving women’s lives.

What most Democrats mean when they talk about saving women’s lives is opposing the supposedly oppressive anti-abortion Bush administration. What I mean is focusing on women like young Nazanin Fatehi.

Nazanin is an Iranian girl who, in March 2005, when she was 17, was walking in a park with her 15-year-old niece. Two men assaulted them, trying to rape them. In fending off the attackers, the older girl stabbed one of the men. He later died. For nearly two years she has been sitting in an Iranian jail facing execution. Last week — at last — she was exonerated of the murder charge. Thank heavens for outside pressure, which gave Nazanin a second chance.

Human-rights activist Nazanin Afshin-Jam, in a compelling new documentary online at Bodog.com, points out that Nazanin Fatehi would have been in trouble even if she hadn’t resisted the rapists: “Had [she] allowed the rape to take place, she could have still been charged with acts incompatible with chastity and given 100 lashes. . . . If she [had been] married she could have been sentenced to death by stoning.” In this gripping documentary we hear the poor girl crying out over a telephone from Iran’s notorious Evin Prison, “I want to go home to be with my mother.” And we hear her mother say, “I want people to help me get my daughter’s freedom.”

Enter Nancy Pelosi. In one of her first post-election sit-down interviews, with FOX News, she explained that the war in Iraq is not a war, but a “situation.” But the case of Nazanin Fatehi shines a light on the tyranny that is sharia, or Islamic law. In Iraq, we are at war with Islamic extremists who seek to establish sharia as that country’s controlling legal authority.

Thank God Nazanin will evidently be spared. The benefits of saving Nazanin’s life are — well, the obvious one: that a girl’s life is saved. But with a little more focus on her case perhaps we can all get a better understanding of what we’re up against in this war against Islamic extremism.

And perhaps we can all realize for a moment that we actually aren’t anything like Iran, contrary to what Amnesty International may say. In The Tale of Two Nazanins, an online documentary, an official from Amnesty International condemns Iran’s death sentence for Nazanin in the same terms they use to condemn the United States for having a death penalty. But anyone who spends one minute thinking about this case knows there is little comparison. We don’t execute children for defending themselves. Amnesty International is also currently considering elevating abortion to one of their fundamental human rights. To put it mildly, I don’t have much hope for them.

I might not have that much hope for Nancy Pelosi either, who has talked — with no sense of irony — about “no matter how little my babies were, if I was wheeling them in a carriage or carrying them in my stomach,” even as this Italian Catholic grandma has defended a “right” to end lives in mother’s stomachs.

But I want to believe. Folks from all over the political spectrum can understand the outrage of Nazanin’s case. I’ve written about it and the liberal Nation has. As one blogger at Powerline.com recently suggested, Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress, should have joined the coalition too — a move that would be a boost for all Muslim moderates in the United States who abhor Islamic extremism and the injustices done to women under sharia law. It’s not too late for him and others to get involved — as Nazanin still has to come up with a financial offering to her attacker’s family (“blood money”) before she’s entirely in the clear. If I were Pelosi or Ellison, I’d invite Nazanin Fatehi to Congress for a day to tell her story. She’d be far from the only Iranian girl who will appreciate the invitation.

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