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Monday, December 9, 2013

A Death in Borazjan: Remembering Shabnam

Fire ablaze within my eyes.
A smile concealing all my lies,
Screaming, begging, calling out,
A final, frantic, desperate shout...

They'll say I died of suicide
But no one knows how much they've lied,
It wasn't a rope, a blade or pills, that broke my soul and gave me chills,
I died inside so long before,
To live each day, an endless chore,
Pill could not kill what was already dead,
A twisted soul, an empty head....
        (Scarlet Tears...Coran Darling)

"Mouchette" is a 1967 French film directed by Robert Bresson and starring Nadine Nortier and Jean-Clauder Guilbert. 
Nadine stars as a a young troubled teenage girl named Mouchette, the daughter of a bullying alcoholic father and an ailing mother, living in an isolated french village.
Mouchette's life is filled with both tragedy and cruelty spending her entire day caring for her infant brother and bedridden mother. At school she is continuously mocked by her classmates and humiliated by her teacher when she sings off key.
One eventful day while walking home from school, her life is changed forever. She gets lost in the woods during a violent storm and seeks shelter at a nearby home.
The owner of the home, Arsene, is an epileptic alcoholic that takes Mouchette in from the storm and then schemes to use her in covering up the murder of a man he had a fight with.
After Mouchette agrees to help Arsene by repeating a cover story that absolves him of the blame, he then rapes her. Later on she reluctantly tells the cover story and explains that on the night of the murder she was with her lover Arsesne, giving him the perfect alibi.
Mouchette eventually returns home, filled with shame and humiliation, only to find her mother's condition worsening. Sadly, a few days later, her mother dies and Mouchette is devastated. Unable to cope with her grief and humiliation, Mouchette goes to a nearby lake and drowns herself.
Suicide. An all too common, sad ending to the lives of teenagers all over the world whose lives are broken from shame, guilt and misery. In Iran, suicide is the second leading cause of death. The major contributing factor to the suicide epidemic in Iran among the youth is the strict government supervision that leads to fear and oppression and an overall sense of hopelessness.
 The main victims of suicide in Iran are young women. In the Islamic society of Iran, women are viewed as subservient to men. The Quran, Islam's Holy book, proclaims that, "Men have authority over women, because God has made the one superior to the other...(Surah 4:34) Therefore the woman is treated as a possession of the man, relegated to the role of little more than a housewife and a mother who no expectations of becoming anything more.
The "superior male" worldview in an Islamic society is very oppressive to the woman. The Quran teaches a man can inherit twice as much as a female, (Surah 4:11), he can beat his wife is he suspects her of adultery (Surah 4:35) and can marry up to four women, (Surah 4:3).
 In contrast,  the woman must ask permission from her husband to leave her home and is forbidden from traveling alone. She is little more than a slave or a possession. In public she is required to wear a hijab and if the "morality police" discover she is showing too much skin or wearing makeup, she will be arrested and retained at the police station until a significant bail is posted for her release.
Shabnam Basiri, a 14 year-old teenager, full of life, full of great future expectations and dreams, 
was born into this kind of society, in Borazjan, located in the south of Iran.
Shabnam was like any other ordinary teenage girl, vibrant, full of life, excited to realize all of her dreams and yet underneath her smile, was an inner pain, a troubled soul, a deep despair. She witnessed the religious hypocrisy all around her and considered what her life would eventually become because of living in a male-dominated society. Reflecting on the destiny and fate of her life, Shabnam felt hopeless and trapped and decided to commit suicide rather than be another victim of female oppression. Like many other women in Iran had done before her, she set herself on fire, protesting against the dictatorship of the Islamic regime. 
Saddened and broken by her death, Shabnam's classmates laid flowers on her desk at school for several weeks, as a tribute to her life. Despite all of the sorrow and pain surrounding her, Shabnam found solace and comfort in the poems of Ahmad Shamloo, an Iranian poet of liberty, who was a humanist with a hope and passion for justice.
One of his most well known poems, "Aida in the mirror," is beautifully inscribed on her gravestone, a lovely tribute to a young teenage girl whose life was tragically cut short because of an oppressive society's archaic and medieval treatment of women.
In the midst of this painful tragedy, Nasim, Shabnam's beautiful sister, now carries the torch for women's rights through writing articles and speaking out. She has become a voice for impoverished and suppressed women in India and all over the world, working tirelessly to improve their societal situation.
There are many "Shabnams" in the world crying out for help, desperate for someone to hear their voices. This is the reason why I wrote my book, "The Rose of Nowruz: dreams of hope and freedom." My book is based on the stories and experiences of my friends  in Iran, struggling for hope and freedom in a society just like the one that Shabnam grew up in. 
The suicide rate among women in Iran is frightening! There is a brokenness, a hopelessness and despair that is tormenting the soul of every young woman. Their only desire is to grow up normally and realize their dreams through hard work and education.
Who hears the cries of the "Shabnams" of the world? Who is willing to listen?
I know one person who does hear and who does listen. He is near to the brokenhearted and he saves the crushed in spirit.
His name is Jesus. He says, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28)
Why not come to him today?