For the past week, President Obama has been my neighbor on Martha’s Vineyard. He’s not what you call a cheek-by-jowl neighbor. Although we are both living in the same area of the Vineyard — Chilmark — we are separated by the Atlantic Ocean, Chilmark Pond, Tisbury Great Pont, South Road and legions of Secret Service.
Last year when President Obama and his family visited for the first time, I had already left the Island, so I’m really excited to have him close by this year. I must admit the chances aren’t great that I’ll actually see him strolling down the beautiful, wide beach that borders this part of the Island, or find him at the nearby agricultural fair, which is pulling in the crowds.
I’m not going to rule out such a meeting, because some years ago, my youngest daughter ran right into Bill and Hillary Clinton on another Vineyard beach when they were vacationing here. (They stopped and smiled for her camera; we have the pictures to prove it.) But I doubt that summer lightning will strike twice for this family.
So I decided to be creative in getting a message to the president. Some people have written letters to him in the local newspapers. While strolling the beach, I fantasized that I would write him a note about an international topic that’s troubling me, put it in a bottle, and cast it out to sea. With some help from the wind and tides, the bottle might wash up on the sands of Tisbury Great Pond, near where the president is staying. With some luck, it might be retrieved by Bo, the family dog.
Now I know this message in a bottle is a fantasy, but the subject on my mind is anything but whimsical.
The administration has not commented on the recent death by stoning of a young Afghan couple that had eloped to a safe shelter and wanted nothing more than to marry. (The story appeared on the front page of The New York Times.)
The Taliban had the “first public execution since their fall from power nine years ago, killing a young couple who had eloped,” according to the Times. The couple — Khayyam, 25, and Siddiqa, 19 — had fallen in love despite her upcoming arranged marriage to Khayyam’s relative, which she refused to do. They fled from their village in the remote corner of Kunduz Province in northeastern Afghanistan.
Family members tricked the couple into returning, and they were seized by the local Taliban. A religious court condemned them to death. Their punishment for “an illegal sexual relationship” was death by stoning.
Hundreds of men of the community, including Siddiqa’s brother and the couple’s neighbors — no women were allowed — surrounded the couple, who had sworn publicly “to love each other no matter what happened.” Amid much festive cheering and shouting, they were stoned to death.
Siddiqa — dressed in a head-to-toe burqa that showed nothing but her eyes — died first. The source who reported the grizzly details said that the crowd was happy, because under strict Shariah law, “death by stoning in this situation is an appropriate punishment.”
President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan said he was “deeply grieved” by the killings. Amnesty International also condemned them, as did the local Kunduz governor’s office. Their remarks are reassuring, but I’ve heard nothing from American leaders.
President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have spoken eloquently about freedom of religion in the U.S. in connection with the mosque location controversy in lower Manhattan. But neither has spoken out about these barbaric killings in Afghanistan, where Americans are dying to supposedly encourage more democratic principles and a new constitution that would support women’s rights. Surely, this tragedy would offer a moment for American leaders to speak up about ending violence against women.
I’m not naïve. I know there is evil in the world. And what is the death of one young couple, compared to the deaths of many military members and civilians from roadside bombs. I would tell the President that the stoning death of this young couple diminishes all women’s rights, an issue he cares about.
For me, Khayyam and Siddiqa are a modern Romeo and Juliet: star-crossed lovers whose lives were destroyed by hateful adults. In Shakespeare’s play, Juliet speaks these beautiful words when she discovers that her lover has killed himself after he thinks she is dead:
“Take him and cut him up in little stars, and he will make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will fall in love with night and pay no worship to the garish sun.”
I shall remember these words when I think about Khayyam and Siddiqa, about whom no one in high places in our country seems to care.
I would end my note to the President by telling him that I’ve always admired how he speaks up for his young daughters and wants their rights and opportunities only to expand. Speaking out against Siddiqa’s and Khayyam’s deaths would be speaking out for all young women and young men who seek the right to love and marry.
Maybe it’s just as well that there’s no way under the sun for a message in a bottle to get by the Secret Service. After all, I really want the President to have a restful vacation and not have to listen to the likes of neighbors like me.
Susie Wilson writes a column, Sex Matters, for an online newsroom in New Jersey. This is an edited version of a piece that appeared in her online publication earlier this week. She has been vacationing with her family on the Vineyard for over 35 years.