Friday, July 30, 2010

The Stoning of Soraya M.: A Film That Depicts the Ultimate Example of Honour Killing

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In the movie, Soraya's hands are being tied on her back and she is
being made to stand in a waist-deep hole before her stoning death

Photo courtesy: http://movies.nytimes.com/

In a recent evening, a film title in the Rogers cable channel drew my attention. The title of the film was The Stoning of Soraya M. I immediately viewed it and was overwhelmed by the intensity of the portrayal of honour killing in the name of the religion of Islam.

This 2008 film, directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh Aghdashloo, an Iranian living in the USA, is based on the real-life story portrayed in the 1994 book, The Stoning of Soraya M., by French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam. The book had become an international bestseller at the time.

Jim Caviezel, who portrayed Jesus Christ in The Passion of the Christ film, acted as the French-Iranian journalist in this movie.

Summary of the Story

Soraya is a simple Iranian village wife. Her ambitious and cunning husband, in course of his job in a local prison, comes in contact with a condemned man's early teen daughter. He wants to marry her. As he wouldn't be able to bear two wives' expenses at the same time, he puts pressure on his present wife to agree to divorce him. She refuses to do so. This angers the husband so much so that he looks for ways to get rid of her.

The husband then goes to influence and manipulate the local mullah (religious priest) and village mayor (headman). He also spreads rumour that his wife committed adultery with a man whose wife died sometime earlier. The Islamic Shariah law requires two male witnesses to the adultery to make it a crime and eligible for the person involved in adultery (in most cases, the voiceless female) to be stoned to death. The husband, mullah and the village mayor wield unjust influence and cunning in getting innocent Soraya officially condemned to death by stoning.

The saddest thing is, Soraya's own elderly father believes her husband and his co-conspirators. He also condemns her and blames her for bringing in shame and dishonour to her husband and the village.

On a set date, a waist-deep hole is dug in the village public square where most of the villagers -- men, women and children -- are present. In the meantime, the influential perpetrators use some very young boys to collect egg to fist size stones from nearby hilly roadsides. Soraya is then brought to the square and made to enter the hole and stand upright. Two villagers then cover up the hole around her with the dugup earth. Now she is unable to move her legs on any angle.

The mullah then gives a short speech to the crowd and begins the stoning ceremony in God's name. Soraya's father is given a stone to be pelted at his daughter from a marked distance. He fails to strike her. Another stone is given and, again, he fails -- not because he is pitiful towards his daughter but because he does not have enough strength as an old guy to throw the stone straight at Soraya.

The husband of Soraya gets furious. He snaps a stone and throws it straight at her with all his might. It strikes her so hard that blood begins to shoot out from the wound. He pelts her another time with the same result.

The father gives stones to his two pre-teen sons to do the same. They hesitate, they quiver. On egging, they take the stones and hit her hard. Then there is public frenzy. As if it is a spectacle to be enjoyed like the ancient Romans viewing the gladiatorial fights in the coliseum. Men give their approval, some women express their satisfaction on their face. Male crowd also pick up stones and repeatedly strike at her. Soraya is covered in blood. At one time, the upper portion of her body falls on the ground like a rag-doll. The husband rushes to Soraya's devastated body to check if she actually died or not. He finds that one of her closed eyes half-opened for a time. He shouts out that she isn't dead yet! More stones fall on her. Finally, Soraya leaves this cruel and pitiless world.

Everyone leaves the square without touching Soraya's corpse. The adulteress is not to be buried. In the evening, Soraya's aunt gathers some women to take out her body from the closed hole and carry her dead body to a nearby river bank. They leave the body there covered in a chaddor (shawl). The body was later devoured by wild animals.

Sometime after Soraya's death by stoning in 1986, a French-Iranian journalist, on a trip through that remote, dusty and stony village in north-western Iran, gets stranded due to breakdown of his car. He leaves his car with a man for repair. When Soraya's aunt comes to know of this journalist, she surreptitiously contacts him and takes him to her house. She tells the complete story of the stoning death of Soraya to be recorded in his cassette-tape recorder. After evading prying eyes and physical confrontation with the perpetrators, the journalist is able to flee the village with the cassette-tape in his repaired car.

What do viewers learn from this film?

  • In the Islamic societies, the Shariah law is supposed to be implemented for actual cases of adultery. In this real case in Iran, the law was used as a tool of the influential and powerful people to take revenge on an innocent woman to serve their own purpose. Fictitious accusations were brought against Soraya to get rid of her.
  • It shows, in a male-dominated society, how a group of sly, vindictive and conniving men can use the Shariah law to reach their evil goals.
  • In a mostly illiterate or half-literate society, tribalism and patriarchal culture prevails to the detriment of the rights and status of women. In such a society, honour killing in the name of religion will never be eradicated.
  • Many males easily fall victim to the false propaganda and accusations of the influential men. When they see the revered mullah and village headman participate in these machinations, they easily believe them and act accordingly.
  • The sacrifice of Soraya is the ultimate example of an honour killing in an Islamic society.


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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Wikileaks Exposure of Secret US Military Documents: A Prime Example of Data Journalism



The www.wikileaks.org homepage where confidential US military
documents under the name of "Afghan War Diary 2004-2010"
have been published


In the past, we heard of investigative journalism (reporting with in-depth research and follow-ups), yellow journalism (heavy emphasis on sensationalism and use of unscrupulous methods for attracting and influencing readership), new journalism (reporting using literary or fictional writing styles), muckrake journalism (exposing corruptions and scandals of important persons), citizen journalism (journalism performed by ordinary citizens who gather, analyze and disseminate news and photographs), and now we are encountering data journalism (supplying raw information or data -- both open and secret -- to the public so that they can make sense of them and form their own opinions on an event or issue) in its heyday.

The most recent mind-blowing leaks that this website published on July 25, 2010 contains around 92,000 classified (secret) US military documents on the Afghanistan war covering the period of January 2004 to December 2009. These documents give a clear picture of the situation of the Afghan war at the ground-level.

Following the WikiLeaks leaks, as a result of a pre-arrangement, the New York Times, the Guardian of Britain and Der Spiegel, a German magazine, on July 26, published summaries and articles based of the secret documents.

Some of the important information that become clearer and confirmed from these secret reports are:

  • The Taliban are using portable heat-seeking missiles to attack US and allied aircrafts and helicopters.
  • Secret US commando units killed insurgents as well as ordinary citizens while in their missions.
  • The ISI, the Pakistani spy agency, is cooperating both with the USA and the Taliban factions.
  • Under the veiled unity, there is bitter division among the US and the allies regarding the Afghan war.
The governments of US, Britain and Canada criticized the leaks and said that these will result in more casualties of allied forces. Pakistan flatly denied that it still cooperates with and assists the Taliban factions.

The WikiLeaks, a whistle-blowing website, founded by Julian Assange, a one-time Australian computer hacker, has been practising data journalism since July, 2007. It is "a multi-jurisdictional public service designed to protect whistleblowers, journalists and activists who have sensitive materials to communicate to to the public. It says: "We think better transparency is at the heart of less corruption and better democracies." The WikiLeaks also agrees with the ruling of the US Supreme Court on the Pentagon Papers that "only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government." In a recent interview to Britain's Channel 4 TV, Julian Assange said that the WikiLeaks is "the vanguard of a particular ideal -- that justice comes about because of the disclosure of abuse."
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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Doodle: WOMAN


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A doodle on a woman
Doodle (Dhaka: September 29, 1994) © Jerome D'Costa





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Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Quotation of the Week (July 25 - 31, 2010)

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A determined basketball player
Photo (Toronto: 2009) © Ujjal Peter D'Costa

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Friday, July 23, 2010

The Photo Meditation of the Month (July, 2010): UNRECOGNIZED TALENTS


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An unknown artist's beautiful chalk drawings on two walls
of the College Park, Toronto

Photo (May 31, 2010) © Jerome D'Costa

Unrecognized Talents

The above chalk drawings, although done anonymously, are so beautiful, so attractive. They show the talent of the artist. They show the artist's care and love placed in doing the art works. These simple artworks create a sense of joy in the hearts of their viewers.

Human beings are the best creations of God, who gave different quality to different person. In the Bible, these qualities and talents -- both spiritual and worldly -- are called 'charism.' They are also called 'gifts.' These are to be used for the benefit of mankind. They work as complement to each other.

Some people have the gifts of writing, speaking, singing, dancing, doing artistic works, producing good crops, showing extraordinary kindness to others, helping others, and so and so forth. Many a time, all these gifts do not get recognition and acceptance. Yet, the person with the gift go on doing what he likes to do best in the best way possible. Frequently we see how unjustifiable criticism and rejection nip many talents in the bud.

As fellow human beings, let us try to accept and recognize each other's talents and gifts. Let us support each other as much as possible. This way people will feel greatly encouraged and enthused to do further good for the society and country.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Toronto: A Dog Receives Holy Communion from a Woman Anglican Priest

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Historic St. Peter's Anglican Church on Carlton Street, Toronto.
It was in this church that a dog received holy communion
from a woman Anglican priest

Photo courtesy: http://www.torontohistory.org/

It was the last Sunday of June, 2010. St. Peter's Anglican Church on Carlton Street is in downtown Toronto. Rev. Marguerite Rea, a woman Anglican priest, was officiating the Sunday morning service.

According to the Toronto Star, there was a first-timer church attendant who brought his dog to the church. While distributing holy communion, the stranger joined others in the line to receive the communion. Rev. Rea, as part of her welcoming gesture, spontaneously gave communion to the man as well as his accompanying dog.

One of the Anglican attendants took exception to this gesture and made a complaint to Rev. Rea and to the Anglican Diocesan headquarters in Toronto. He took it as an affront to the sacredness of the communion distribution ritual. As a protest, he also left his church.

Bishop Patrick Yu of York-Scarborough said: "I think the reverend was overcome by what I consider a misguided gesture of welcoming." He also mentioned, Rev. Rea expressed her apology for the incident and "she is quite embarrassed by it."

In the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches, the holy communion is considered to be the most holy item which is handled and taken with utmost reverence and care. When someone behaves differently regarding the communion, it creates a sense of shock and indignation among the faithful. Bookmark and Share

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Quotation of the Week (July 18 - 24, 2010)

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Bananas in a grocery store
Photo (Toronto: April 1, 2010) © Jerome D'Costa


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Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Poem of the Month (July, 2010): IT'S ALL IN THE MIND


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"The Mind"
Graphics (Toronto: July 15, 2010) © Jerome D'Costa

It's All in the Mind

It's all in the mind,
Whatever we do.
Loving others, being compassionate to others,
Hating others, or killing others.

The mind is the incubator,
The turbine that the mind is.
It makes us do
Whatever we do.

The 'Seven Capital Sins' --
Wrath (anger), greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony --
Happen first in the mind,
Later to be materialized by one's actions.

Racism, apartheid, caste system, domestic violence,
War, genocide, Nazism, fascism, and the like,
Find their germination
In the mind of men and women.
Then they wreak havoc on others.

All goodness, all that is holy and pure
Also happen in the mind.
Then it is nurtured and strengthened
Through practice and action.

Mens sana in corpore sano,
The Latin proverb says it aptly: "Healthy mind in healthy body."
Balanced and disciplined mind
Can produce a balanced personality,
Which, in turn, can help
Produce a balanced society,
A disciplined country and, finally, a peaceful world.

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Bangla (Bengali) Calligraphy: MOTHER, FATHER, SON, DAUGHTER

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My attempt at Bangla (Bengali) calligraphy. The words in the middle
are: ma (mother), baba (father), putro (son) and konnya (daughter).
Clockwise, the border on top is made of the first letter of mother,
followed by the first letter of father, daughter and son respectively.

Calligraphy (Dhaka: November 22, 1994) © Jerome D'Costa


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Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Quotation of the Week (July 11 - 17, 2010)

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A car-window view of the sunset in New York State, USA
Photo (June 27, 2009) © Jerome D'Costa



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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Catholic News Agencies and Services

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Zenit, based in Rome, is one of many Catholic news agencies in the world

Christianity has many different Churches (community of believers), among which, the Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian Church having more than one billion members all over the world. The Pope, now Pope Benedict XVI, acts as the representative of Jesus Christ, the founder of this Church. All Roman Catholics pay their allegiance to the Pope as their religious leader.

The Roman Catholic Church has thousands of missions and missionaries all over the world. It also runs numerous educational institutions (schools, colleges, universities, seminaries and others), administers hospitals, clinics and dispensaries and performs different types of charities through other institutions and organizations.

The presence and influence of the Roman Catholic Church and its members are felt in all parts of the world.

I present below names of important Catholic news agencies and news services that disseminate news of the Catholic Church and its members.

Catholic News Agencies and News Services:

  • aciprensa (Catholic news service in Portuguese and Spanish focusing on Latin America) (Lima, Peru)
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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Bangladesh Canada and Beyond Blog Is Now Available in the Facebook and Twitter

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The Facebook page of Bangladesh Canada and Beyond blog

The Twitter page of the Bangladesh Canada and Beyond blog

We started the Bangladesh Canada and Beyond blog on December 15, 2009. Now this blog is also available in the Facebook and Twitter. If you have a Facebook and/or Twitter account, you may visit those pages regularly.

We will be happy to receive your mature and constructive comments and suggestions to our blog posts (write-ups).

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Signs of the Times


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Graffiti on a wall in downtown Toronto
Photo (Toronto: March 14, 2010) © Jerome D'Costa




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Sunday, July 4, 2010

Dr. Benedict Gomes Is No More

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Dr. Benedict Gomes (1933-2010)
Photo courtesy: The Pratibeshi (Dhaka: May 30, 2010)

I received the belated news that Dr. Benedict Gomes, a retired professor of the University of Dhaka, research fellow, social worker and mentor of the youth died in Dhaka on May 15, 2010 at the age of 77. After the funeral service at St. Mary's Cathedral, he has been buried at the Christian cemetery at Wari. He left his wife, two sons and two daughters.

After retiring from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Dr. Gomes was spending his time with his family in his Eastern Housing apartment on the Circuit House Road, Dhaka.

Birth and Education

Dr. Benedict Gomes was born on May 22, 1933 at the Bhoora bari (house) of Deotola Village under Golla parish of Dhaka District. His parents were Domingo and Sabina Gomes. The economic situation of the family became more acute at the death of his father when he was six years old.

In spite of financial difficulties, he continued his studies and successfully passed the Matriculation Examinations (Grade 10) in 1953 from nearby Holy Cross High School at Bandura. After two years, he passed the I.Sc. (Intermediate Science) from Notre Dame College, Dhaka, in the first division.

In 1959, he passed M.Sc. in Biochemistry from the University of Dhaka and acquired first class second place. He then joined the Department of Chemistry as a lecturer. After his research in enzymology, in 1968, he received his Ph.D. degree in Biochemistry from the University of Hawaii, USA.

Dr. Benedict Gomes was the second person in the entire Christian community -- both Catholic and Protestant -- of Bangladesh to receive a doctoral degree. The first Ph.D. holder was Father Theotonius Amal Ganguly, CSC, (later Archbishop of Dhaka), who had received it in 1951 in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, USA.

More Researches

Dr. Benedict Gomes taught and did more research at the University of Hawaii and Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, in 1975-1977. He also did some research at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B) in Dhaka.

In 1981, he rejoined the University of Dhaka as a professor. In 1985, he did more research on nutrition at the Dunn Nutritional Laboratory of the University of Cambridge, England.

After serving as the Head of the Department of Biochemistry in 1983-1986, he retired from teaching. Yet, he was involved with some teaching at the same Department as the 'Professor Emeritus.'

Social Worker and Mentor

Dr. Benedict Gomes in his spare time was involved in social development in different villages. He also encouraged youth by patronizing various youth organizations both in Dhaka and rural areas near his place of birth. He also served in advisory committees of Caritas Bangladesh, CORR -- The Jute Works, and other NGOs and welfare organizations.

Other Achievements

In 1987, the Nobel Committee, among others, invited Dr. Benedict Gomes to name a candidate for the that year's Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

He was also a member of different Chemistry, Medical and Nutrition Societies at home and abroad. Once he served as the co-editor of the Bangladesh Journal of Nutrition of the Institute of Nutrition and Food Science, University of Dhaka.

Besides, he as a writer of many research papers, amateur singer and drama artist, and an accomplished card player.

Named in Author Shankar's Epar Bangla Opar Bangla Book

Renowned Calcutta writer Shankar devoted a number of pages in his enormously popular travelogue Epar Bangla Opar Bangla on Dr. Benedict Gomes and his wife Martha Niru Gomes. The writer was exceptionally impressed at the sincere hospitality and friendly behaviour of this couple during his visit of Hawaii.

A Tribute from A Student-cum-Colleague

Dr. Ashrafuddin Ahmed, who now resides in Maryland, USA, was first a student of Professor Benedict Gomes. Later he taught at the same department with him as a professor. At the death of Dr. Benedict Gomes, he published a tribute to him -- Gomes Sirer Shoroney Srodhyanjali (A Tribute in Memory of Gomes Sir) -- in Bangla (Bengali).

Dr. Benedict Gomes, a gregarious, humble and ever-smiling professor, is no more. Many will cherish his memory for time to come.


Sources: l. The Pratibeshi (weekly) (Dhaka: May 30, 2010).
2. Bangladeshey Catholic Mondoli (The Catholic Church in Bangladesh) by Jerome D'Costa,
(Dhaka: Pratibeshi Prakashani, 1988), p.284.





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The Quotation of the Week (July 04 - July 10, 2010)

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Waves splash on the shore of Lake Ontario near Woodbine
Avenue, Toronto

Photo (Toronto: April 4, 2010) © Jerome D'Costa




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