In the Western world, institutional corporal punishment has been largely ruled out. In America, the statute against ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ prevents physical abuse of criminals in the line of official punishment. But in certain more extremist nations and cultures, physical retribution can be inflicted for behaviours that wouldn’t even be considered punishable by law in Europe or the United States.
Offenses to religion, for example, include blasphemy and ‘public immorality’ – neither of which are generally considered crimes in North America. Indeed, how these acts are punished is up to the lawyers of a country, many of whom were educated and trained in the West. However, some traditional religious doctrines do lay out guidelines. For instance, stealing may be punishable by anywhere from 10 lashes to the loss of the right hand. Whether or not someone is punished for stealing (and how) depends partly on the motivation for stealing and where the theft occurs. Someone who is starving and who steals from a public place may not be punished. If they take more than they need, however, to store up for another day, or if they steal from within the confines of another’s property or home, they may be punished. How much one steals, and how often, might determine the loss of a hand.
Blasphemy includes conversion to another religion, or the rejection of a nation or culture’s official religion in some way. Some practices are punishable by flogging, because taking up a banned practice translates to a rejection of a religion’s teachings. Public immorality includes very specific acts, but is also left wide open to interpretation in many countries, accounting for the unfairness of groups like the Taliban who enforce practices that Mohammed did not specifically decree.
When we in the West think of all these issues, perhaps we think of countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. But, while cases of extremism in these countries are often publicised, it’s certainly not just in these places where such laws are enforced and where punishment by flogging (or the loss of a body part, or stoning) is carried out. Such practices are just as – if not more – common in other Muslim-majority countries in Africa, and, more recently, in Southern Asia. What are some everyday behaviors, typical in the West, forbidden and punishable by flogging in these countries? Don’t try the following out while traveling in certain parts of the world…
5. Attending a co-ed party while unmarried: 10 or more lashes
Mixing with the other sex during adulthood while unmarried is an offense under certain laws, considered to be a breach in public morality. Faranak Amidi with the BBC (Persian Service) was sentenced to 10 lashes after a police raid at a party. She chose to pay a fine instead – but she was lucky such an option existed in this case. Traditionally the punishment would take place in a public square, so that the offender is humiliated. Now it is often done in a police station.
Young people who go out to mix with the opposite sex are punished for it, Amidi says. One of her cousins had to be taken to hospital after receiving 100 lashes for a similar offense. In parts of the world where this law does not apply, young people are not only allowed but are encouraged to mix, a behavior considered desirable and necessary to finding a mate. Not so in certain extremist cultures, where finding a mate is still often left to a woman’s parents, and “flaunting” oneself by dancing (read “gyrating” according to the U.S. South in the 1950s) is not only disapproved of, but is considered a sin.
4. Kissing a man in public: 10-50 lashes
When you read this sub-header, you probably picture two people kissing in what is known as the French style, full on with tongues. However this type of kissing is not what is needed to receive the lash. Actress Leila Hatami accepted a kiss on the cheek from Gilles Jacob, president of the Cannes Film Festival. Hatami came under attack from religious sticklers for not avoiding the man’s greeting, despite the fact that it is customary in many parts of the world. Radicals condemned her “sinful act of kissing a strange man in public” and are insisting she be flogged under article 638 (dealing with public morality) of the Iranian criminal code. Kissing in public is one of many acts in Iran which are grounds for flogging. Offenders may be sentenced to between 10 and 100 lashes across the back. The whip is one meter (or three feet) long, and pain is reported as being so severe people often faint after seven or eight strokes.
3. Drinking alcohol: 40-80 lashes
According to Islam, drinking (or selling) alcohol is an “abomination of Satan’s handiwork.” Because this belief is so strongly rooted in the religion, it is written that no one who drinks wine (or commits any other act against their faith) is a believer while drinking it. Disobeying such a law is enough for a flogging. This is a strange idea to many of us. In most of Europe, having wine with dinner is the norm – not just a glass, but often several. This is considered as civilized in some cultures as it is considered uncivilized in certain extremist nations.
2. Sex before marriage: up to 100 lashes
In the West today, saving your virginity for your wedding night has become a thing of the past. This is not to say it does not happen, but when it does, it’s rare. Perhaps still practiced among strict Christians and other committed religious groups, most young people in North and South America, the Caribbean, Europe and even many Asian countries are not shy when it comes to their bodies. Hollywood and Bollywood show miles of skin. Brazil and Trinidad are no strangers to public nudity either, especially during Carnival season. New Orleans has Mardi Gras and New York has clubbing, where people put on the bare minimum and dance in public. Sex before marriage is, in fact, often considered an expected precursor to marriage. Yet, in extremist countries, allowing for this act before locking down the partnership under law and God is, horrifically, punishable by 100 lashes.
1. Adultery: 100 lashes
In some extremist cultures, sexual offenders are subject to corporal punishment. Sexual offenses can include acts which are perfectly legal in the majority of Western countries, including consensual sex between homosexuals and adultery. Unfortunately, due to a skewed version of sexual equality in many extremist countries, those responsible for truly heinous sexual offenses like rape are not caught or are left unpunished. In fact, in some cultures there have been cases of a girl being sexually assaulted by male members of her own family, and killed for shaming the family by losing her virginity.
Adultery, though usually frowned upon, is quite common in the West. It is unkind and hurtful – but still, the fact that it could be punishable by up to 100 lashes is at best shocking and at worst terrifying for many of us from moderate nations. This law is seen as barbaric by most who are not part of extremist cultures, and by many who are.