A Passion Ploy 

Soraya M: True story of Islamic injustice, or propaganda?

BEFORE NEDA, the young woman who died before the world's eyes during post-election protests in Iran, there was Soraya, a 35-year-old mother who was stoned to death on trumped-up adultery charges in Ayatollah Khomeini's 1986 Iran. Soraya's supposedly true story was told in French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam's novel The Stoning of Soraya M.

The book has been adapted into an unrelievedly grim movie by Cyrus Nowrasteh, who wrote the screenplay with his wife. James Caviezel plays Sahebjam, whose car breaks down (conveniently) in a remote Iranian village, where desperate, chador-draped Zahra (Shohreh Aghdashloo), tells him about the killing of her niece, Soraya (Mozhan Marnò), whose story unfolds in flashback.

Soraya is married to the abusive Ali (Navid Negahban), who wants a divorce so he can marry a 14-year-old. Although polygamy is allowed under sharia law, Ali hopes to avoid supporting Soraya financially. When Soraya takes a job housekeeping for a local widower, Ali seizes the opportunity to accuse her of adultery, punishable by death. Complicit in the scheme are the village's corrupt mullah and mayor, who subvert sharia jurisprudence to justify murder.

The timing of this release, as neoconservative hawks push for military intervention in Iran, raises suspicion that it's actually a skillful piece of anti-Muslim propaganda. Its producers are the folks who brought you similar religioso-sadistic thrills in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (Caviezel was Passion's bloody Jesus). That Stoning has been embraced as proof of Islam's inhumanity by Watergate crook-turned-evangelical Christian Chuck Colson and denounced as sensationalism by Amnesty International also suggests the movie has a hidden political purpose and should be approached with skepticism.


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