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The Stories That Stick and the Stories That Slip

It's always curious to me what stories hit a nerve in the media. What does it take exactly? The exact recipe of horror, devastation, drama, intrigue and injustice eludes me, I confess.

Once in a while, circumstances collide to garner good coverage for a good story, like that of the brave Malala Yousufzai of Pakistan. Long avoided conversations get started, like, hey, those Taliban are actually really kind of mean and they kill little girls and stuff. But then, another story that seems to exhibit just as much injustice, and with an even grizzlier ending, like that of the slain secondary student, Anisa of Kapisa, Afghanistan, get barely a token mention in passing, with the Government of Afghanistan doing its level best to see the story die promptly, and mostly succeeding.

Like assassination attempts against schoolgirls, stonings are another fussy theme. Mostly we don't meddle, but sometimes we let ourselves get real worked up. Back in 2002, when 30-year-old Amina Lawal was sentenced to be stoned to death by a sharia court in Nigeria for having a child out of wedlock, she made frontpage news the world over. Miss World contestants boycotted Nigeria, Oprah got more than a million viewers to send emails to the Nigerian Ambassador to the US, and high profile American feminist organizations like the Feminist Majority Foundation got involved. The world watched in anxious horror as various appeals were quashed, until the ruling was finally overturned and everyone breathed a joint sigh of relief. Amina was then allowed to sink back into oblivion, or rather, back into a life likely mired in other, lesser injustices. For starters, Amina won her case in the end not because the sentence was cruel and ridiculous in the first place, and it's unthinkable that a young mother should be pelted to death with sharp stones, but because her lawyers fell back on a bizarre argument based on some murky science (but then again, sharia law doesn't concern itself too much with the laws of reason), that of the "extended pregnancy," or the claim that there can be up to a five-year delay between conception and birth. A woman's life hung by a shoestring, relying on the gullibility of semi-literate fanatics believing that at her baby's conception, Amina was still married to her husband, which was two years before her baby was born.

Last month, an Iranian opposition party's website reported the stoning to death of four women in Iran, sentenced for "engaging in immoral (sexual) relationship(s)’ and drug abuse":

Security agents from the Iranian Judiciary reportedly transferred the bodies of the four women to the Tehran forensic medicine department. Reliable sources in contact with the Melli-Mazhabi website said the women had additional wounds on their bodies other than the one’s caused by stoning. The sources that Iran Human Rights (IHR) has been in contact with say: "There is no doubt that the women have died as a result of stoning...and that the stoning has been carried out by the Iranian judiciary."

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran is calling for an investigation into the reported stonings. But so far no one seems to be in a listening mood. The only forums carrying the story are NGO websites and alternative media sites. But it's nothing new: the Iranian regime carried out at least seven stonings between 2006 and 2010. And only one case (and none of those seven that were actually carried out), that of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, received international media attention. In an effort to save Sakineh's life, there were protests held in cities around the world, a petition, and campaigns undertaken by organizations like Amnesty International.

But the outcry was brief. While the sentence of execution by stoning was stayed, Sakineh is still in jail, her lawyer is in jail, and she is sentenced to death by hanging. Yet her story is a story no more.

And the story of the four women reported to have been stoned to death in Iran this year never even made it to a backpage headline. Their gruesome, barbaric end was not even enough to attract the attention of The Daily Mail, or other tabloids that sometimes pick up on these things, if only for their macabre quality. Those nameless women get not even a brief rise out of oblivion. It is mournfully confounding.

But it is Christmas after all, and who wants to think about other people's nightmares, especially those far away. I suppose stories like icicles on the Port Mann Bridge during mildly bad weather in Vancouver are a little easier to digest as a media frenzy than any real coverage of the nine dead polio immunization workers in Pakistan, and what those attacks mean for a 20-year-old multi-billion dollar campaign to eradicate polio. It's a campaign eking out its final battles in the slums of Karachi under the courageous command of young women who volunteer to immunize children, and as a result, make themselves targets of Taliban depravity. It's a big, important story with big, important consequences, but only if we think about it too hard. So for now, weather stories and updates on retail sales being slightly higher this month will be the stories that trigger our regard.


Lauryn Oates is an Assistant Editor for The Propagandist.


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