Heroes in the face of misog­yny

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY NICHOLAS KRISTOF New York Times

This is a dispir­it­ing epoch of strong­men and bul­lies, yet side by side with the worst you find the best. So to­day let’s find in­spi­ra­tion in two heroes.

They are women who bravely chal­lenged misog­yny and dic­ta­tor­ship, one in Iran, the other in Saudi Ara­bia. Those two na­tions may be en­e­mies, but they find com­mon cause in their bar­baric treat­ment of women – and since they are try­ing to squelch and smother these two women, we should shout their names from the moun­tain­tops.

Nas­rin So­toudeh, 55, is a writer and hu­man rights lawyer who for decades has been fight­ing for women and chil­dren in Iran. Her fam­ily re­ports that this week she was sen­tenced to an­other 33 years in prison, on top of a five-year sen­tence she is now serv­ing, plus 148 lashes.

Lou­jain al-Hathloul, 29, a leader of the Saudi women’s rights move­ment, went on trial Wed­nes­day af­ter months of im­pris­on­ment and tor­ture, in­clud­ing flog­gings, sex­ual ha­rass­ment, wa­ter­board­ing and elec­tric shocks.

Her sis­ter Alia al-Hathloul told me that Lou­jain was fi­nally pre­sented with the charges against her, which in­cluded com­mu­ni­cat­ing with hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions and crit­i­ciz­ing the Saudi “guardian­ship” sys­tem for women.

I pre­vi­ously sug­gested that Hathloul should get the No­bel Peace Prize, and she has now been nom­i­nated for it. So let me re­vise my pro­posal: Hathloul and So­toudeh should win the No­bel to­gether for their coura­geous ad­vo­cacy of women’s rights be­fore ri­val dic­ta­tors who share one thing: a cruel misog­yny.

I know I’ll get notes from peo­ple who har­rumph that the prob­lem is sim­ply Is­lam. That’s too glib, but it is fair to say that Saudi Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man and Ira­nian Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei to­gether tar­nish the global im­age of Is­lam more than any army of blas­phe­mers could.

“This sen­tence is be­yond bar­baric,” the U.S. State De­part­ment said of So­toudeh’s re­ported sen­tence. Quite true. But the State De­part­ment re­fuses to be equally blunt in de­nounc­ing Hathloul’s tor­ture and im­pris­on­ment; that’s be­cause it sees the Saudis as al­lies and the Ira­ni­ans as en­e­mies.

What the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion doesn’t seem to un­der­stand is this: If you care about hu­man rights only in coun­tries that you de­spise, you don’t ac­tu­ally care about hu­man rights.

Alia al-Hathloul said that her sis­ter was or­dered to sign a let­ter re­quest­ing a royal par­don, and did so, and that the tor­ture ap­pears to have ended. I’m hop­ing that the crown prince is look­ing for a way to climb down from his bru­tal mis­treat­ment of the women’s rights ac­tivists and will even­tu­ally grant the par­don she “re­quested.”

Mean­while, Iran seems to be crack­ing down harder. Amnesty In­ter­na­tional re­ports that Iran ar­rested more than 7,000 dis­si­dents last year and that the 38-year com­bined sen­tence for So­toudeh, if true, is the harsh­est im­posed against a hu­man rights de­fender in Iran in re­cent years.

So­toudeh’s hus­band, Reza Khan­dan, was sep­a­rately sen­tenced in Jan­uary to six years in prison, for post­ing up­dates about his wife’s case on Face­book. The cou­ple has two chil­dren, a 12-year-old son named Nima and a 19year-old daugh­ter named Mehraveh. Hadi Ghaemi of the Cen­ter for Hu­man Rights in Iran said that rel­a­tives may now have to raise them.

Here’s my mes­sage to Nima and Mehraveh: Your mom is a hero! She will be re­mem­bered in his­tory, like Lou­jain al-Hathloul, as a moral leader who con­fronted tyrants and changed the world for the bet­ter.

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