Is seeking revenge ever ahimsa?

After a vicious attack left her blind and scarred for life, an Iranian woman must choose between forgiveness and retribution.

Ameneh Bahrami had turned down several of Majid Movahedi’s marriage proposals.  Angry at her refusals he stalked her, threatened her life, and eventually threw a bucket of sulfuric acid in her face leaving the 24 year old woman severely scarred and blinded.

Although, Majid Movahedi was “convicted” of his crime against Ameneh Bahrami, Sharia law has a very literal eye for an eye policy that leaves Ameneh to play the roles of both victim and judge. Due to the extremes of the law, she has only two legal choices: forgiveness or qesas, retribution.

Amenah says she is in favor of more humane punishments, but she fears choosing forgiveness and simply letting him go will allow him to perpetrate violence against other women. With the Iranian legal system allowing her only two extremes, she found herself forced to choose retribution.

Just before she was scheduled to administer acid into the unconscious eyes of her attacker, Amenah received word that the punishment must be postponed due to human rights issues. Ameneh Bahrami’s story had caught the attention of several human rights groups including Amnesty International, that forced Iran to reconsider the current law.

Amenah Bahrami before the attack

This story reminds me of Mahatma Gandhi’s infamous quote.

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

In yoga many of us make an effort to practice ahimsa, or non-violence. As non-violent persons, we hope that in a situation like this we would choose forgiveness, but I think it’s important to not take the privilege of our own legal system for granted. As Westerners we have the luxury of a judge and a group of (supposedly) impartial jurors. It’s no means is a perfect system, but it is one that seeks to protect not only the victim of the crime, but also those who may be placed in danger if the perpetrator were to be released.

Seeking revenge is a natural reaction, but the “eye for an eye” attitude only encourages a cycle of violent behavior. Iran and it’s people are currently evaluating their policies, but Amenah’s story is cause for us here in the US to re-evaluate our own ideas of forgiveness, non-violence, and justice. What do you think?

Given only two legal options of forgiveness or retribution, is it more violent to let a criminal go free with the possibility they may hurt others or choose retribution?

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- who has written 21 posts on Yoga Modern.

Patience Steltzer is the Assistant Editor for the World Affairs Current at Yoga Modern. She spends her time drawing, painting, sewing, writing, and practicing/teaching yoga in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. After a lifetime of having no idea what to do with her creativity and energy, she discovered yoga allowed her to find the beauty and excitement in stillness. Since then, she has dedicated herself to sharing her love of yoga with others to help them find the joy she has.

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