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Those of us whose trade is words do well to remember the relative value of a picture and a thousand words. The front page of the Guardian yesterday (17 April 2014) presented an unforgettable instance of the power this adage can carry.
In the first photograph, a young Iranian man stands on the gallows, his mouth wide upon a cry of anguish, his fingers plucking at the noose around his neck. The image of a human being seconds away from death is truly shattering. In the accompanying image, two middle aged women cling to each other and weep.
The young man, named only as Balal, had been condemned to death in northern Iran for killing another youth in a brawl seven years previously. Under the provisions of Sharia law, the family of the victim were to participate in the execution by pulling away the chair on which the condemned man stood. But all did not go as expected. Instead, the mother of the victim stepped forward, slapped Balal's face and then forgave her son's killer. Her husband removed the noose and Balal stepped back from the edge of death. The mothers of victim and killer wept in each other's arms, each in their different ways, transformed and liberated by the act of forgiveness.
This story has been graven into my mind by its associated images. I have always been opposed to the death penalty and have, since childhood, been haunted by the concept of a person knowing the exact moment and place of their death. Judicial killing is a brutal and ultimately futile punishment which rarely satisfies the vengeful impulse for more than a very short space of time, while doubling the devastation of loss and grief.
The grace of the woman who forgave Balal cut through the terror and unavailing rage to give a man back his life. On the eve of the day in which western Christians remember the execution of Jesus, the Poor Man of Nazareth, this immense act of mercy speaks to me of the Divine in the humanity of the wounded and the wounding. The slap is so touchingly human; the refusal to follow through the logic of vengeance is humanity exalted.
May Balal live a good life.
* More Easter reflections from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/Easter
© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpenTweet