Ameneh Bahrami, the Iranian woman whom a spurned suitor blinded and hideously disfigured with acid, had her long-awaited opportunity for both revenge and culturally-sanctioned justice today. She watched a doctor prepare to put several drops of acid in one of Majid Movahedi’s eyes as his court-ordered punishment for maiming her. Then, at the last moment, she waived her right to have him blinded, as Movahedi, who had repeatedly asked her to marry him before responding to her rejections by throwing acid the young woman’s face, wept in gratitude.
The story of Banrani’s insistence on the full retribution available to her under Islamic law had spurred human rights protests around the globe. In the end, with all of Iran watching on live television, she decided on mercy instead of revenge.
It is easy, in the abstract, for us to insist that hate is never justified, that violence and vengeance are always wrong, that an unethical act does not become ethical because of the acts of another, no matter how terrible they may have been. Any of us, however, who looks at the photographs of Ameneh Bahrami before the attack on her, and the photographs of her now, must wonder what we would be feeling behind that ruined mask of a face.
She is blind. Her beauty is only a painful memory, her life is permanently diminished. The rationalizations she could embrace to validate a decision to allow the doctor to proceed to blind her assailant were many and persuasive. The pain and lasting injury Majid would suffer was nothing compared to what he had done to her: the Iranian court ruled that he had to pay with only the sight of one eye for robbing her of her vision entirely. In her country, religion and culture there is no crime in allowing such a barbaric punishment to go forward. Who would say, even among her critics, that he didn’t deserve every drop of that acid, and more?
In November 2008, after she received the ruling entitling her to have Movahedi’s eye drenched in acid, Bahrami told a radio station that she was satisfied with the sentence. Later, she said she was less interested in revenge than in discouraging similar attacks. At some point since that time, perhaps at the very last second, she decided to send a very different message, one of mercy, forgiveness, and kindness.
It is even possible that she never intended to allow the doctor to go through with the sentence, that she wanted only to let her assailant live with the dread of the punishment for the last three years. This is a form of torture, surely, but it does not make her decision to suppress her hatred and forgo her right to retribution any less admirable. If this woman can forgive what was done to her, we should be able to forgive just about anything and anyone. Some might have said, before her act of mercy, that this blind, disfigured woman had nothing left to live for. Yet with this single act, Ameneh Bahrami has made herself as powerful a role model for ethical conduct as anyone in the world.