This past week, Virginia USA executed Teresa Lewis – the first woman to be put to death in the USA in a century. Teresa had admitted to hiring two men to kill her husband Julian and stepson Lewis in 2002 to bag £158,000 insurance money. The execution provoked an outcry amid claims that with an IQ of just 72 she lacked the intelligence to plan the crime and that she had been manipulated by one of the two killers (they both got life imprisonment).

Across the Atlantic and Mediterranean, another woman has been facing similar circumstances. Sakineh Ashtiani has faced two trials related to the death of her husband and to adultery charges. She received a sentence of 99 lashes in 2006 for having “illicit relationships” after the death of her husband. Later that year she was charged with being complicit in the murder of her husband. She was convicted and sentenced to death, by stoning. After widespread outcry, her sentence has been changed to death – with no indication of how this might happen (hanging is the most likely).

Many Americans, fuelled by a biased media, have used this case as an opportunity to rile against Iran. They’re probably right to do so, and it is good that Sakineh will not be stoned to death. But you either agree with the death penalty or you don’t. Lethal injection may be “more humane” than stoning, but only if you’re comparing degrees of inhumanity. It’s like saying that cutting off your leg with a chainsaw is better than cutting it off with a steak knife. That might be true, but in the end you still have a leg cut off and blood everywhere! It’s tough to see how you can support the sentencing of Teresa Lewis but feel revulsion at the sentencing of Sakineh Ashtiani.

I’m not saying you have to be opposed to the death penalty. I happen to be opposed (for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it does not work as a deterrent). But that’s not my point. My point is that you need to be consistent – this is a key skill required to live in a globalised world and be successful in a multicultural environment.

It seems that many Americans were happy with their own “civilised” country killing one woman but unhappy with some foreign “barbaric” country killing another. Both women committed the same crime, went through due judicial process including appeals, had media campaigns supporting them, and received the same sentence of death. If you happen to think that Iran was “barbaric” in their treatment of one of these women, then can you understand that there is a significant percentage of the world’s population that thinks America has been equally barbaric in its treatment of the other woman?

I’m suggesting then that it might be worth using this tragic intersect of stories in 2010 to help you in the process of “unlearning” some cultural prejudices about Iran (and Islam). I realise it isn’t the easiest issue to wrestle with, but, precisely because it isn’t easy, it’s a good one. Enjoy the mental exercise! (And if you choose to respond to this post, please make sure you do so in a rational and helpful way).

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