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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of June 18 - 24, 2003

Opinion Columns

Madonna and child distorted

Commentary by JoEllen Collins

My workspace is filled with pictures of my daughters, my doggies, a calendar featuring gorgeous Italian gondoliers, the drawings and small gifts from the children whom I encounter every day. Surrounded by mementos of love, I often feel blessed. Lest I get too smug, I have also taped up a newspaper photo I saved last February of a stunningly beautiful African woman and her child. When I first saw it, I was struck by the serenity of her demeanor. Each day I look at her almond-shaped, soulful eyes, the perfection of her features, and the eternal evidence of maternal love she expresses toward her equally beautiful baby girl. The image reminds me of the Greek icon I purchased on the small island of Skiathos in 1966, the lines of the pose a soft curve of harmony. If Da Vinci were alive, he could do her justice. No Vogue photographer could find a more exquisite model for any cover: her youth and beauty seem to portend a rich life. So, every day I connect with her, half way around the world.

The photo is, as you may already have guessed, not of some high-fashion model, celebrity, or socialite. It is a picture of one of the most unfortunate young women in the world. Facing death by stoning for the adulterous encounter that produced the child in the photo, Amina Lewal, as of this writing, still hasn’t heard the final verdict. The judge who stated, at the end of January, that her case was still pending and he was unsure of the ultimate outcome, nonetheless stressed that "The best deterrent is the death sentence, for people to see what happens to a fornicator."

I waited until now to write about it for a couple of reasons. First, her plight was too painful to contemplate, and I kept hoping I could record a happy ending. Secondly, I needed time to grapple with the implications of my roiling emotions concerning this particular incident in a long history of abuse toward women everywhere.

Fortunately, I grew up in a loving home, and have avoided being raped or brutally treated by any man. So, I don’t approach this from the viewpoint of one with the baggage of violent encounters with men. The reality is, however, that for centuries women have endured abuse at their hands. Just because I have been blessed doesn’t mean that I can ignore the still-prevalent plight of my sisters.

The first bothersome aspect of the trials of Amina Lawal is the application of a double standard. The proven father of the child testified that he had nothing to do with the alleged crime and was released. For her supposed sin, the Islamic courts in Amina’s country, Nigeria, have chosen to prosecute only her and promise a brutal execution. While I don’t condone public stonings for anyone, it wars with my sense of justice and fairness that she be stoned while he receives no punishment at all. If the couple’s actions are so horrible in that society, surely, then, the stronger perpetrator of the sinful behavior should receive equal punishment. Why shouldn’t men also be made examples?

The second disturbing aspect of this case is that the face I have looked at for six months is not one that is so removed from my world, after all. Check in with the Advocates to find out why we need this organization’s aid in our "enlightened" society. Amina Lawal affects me because she is truly Everywoman. Her visage and that of Laci Peterson are not as disparate as one might want to think. The plight of one African woman should move us as much as do the terrors faced by a young American woman. I’m glad Amina came to the world’s attention. Perhaps the focus on her and the pressure of negative world opinion will help her judges be more lenient. I am afraid, though, that there are countless other women, some not as physically attractive, who are ignored as they face brutality, condemnation and unutterable punishments for behavior thought unseemly by the arbiters of their societies. We couldn’t see behind the veils of the Afghani women executed in the soccer stadium taken over by the now-deposed Taliban regime. Their sins ranged from improper attire to improper behavior. Perhaps if the world could have seen their faces or observed them holding their children, a roar of collective anger might have spared them. I doubt it.

I’m not quite sure where one draws the line between trying to understand and tolerate cultural differences and yet believing in universal standards of decency. Perhaps we shouldn’t judge any other government and its laws. Maybe that isn’t our business. But then again, shouldn’t we be mutually supportive of the best instincts of peoples wherever they are? A girl baby in China discarded because she’s not male, a Congolese child living in fear of murder by the rebels indiscriminately wiping our the villages they pass, a toddler growing up in the violence and filth of projects in an American urban ghetto--all of these victims call out to each of us for caring love and for compassion, wherever they may be. Amina Lawal, who wishes her daughter to become a lawyer, symbolizes the need for a world-wide, cross-cultural sense of justice

and love.


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