The news this week from Iran reports that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43 year-old widow and mother of two boys, will not be stoned to death for the crime of adultery. But before anyone rejoices in the Iranian regime making a concession to a modern value system that doesn’t punish innocent, private behavior by women, Ashitani’s death sentence remains in force. Now she will likely be hanged for her crime instead.

American feminists have been eerily silent on the case of Ashtiani – which may seem strange given their mission to ensure gender rights and equality for all women.  While Ashtiani’s barbaric sentence and impending death for simply having an “illicit relationship” has received attention from the likes of John Kerry, Lindsay Lohan, Condoleeza Rice and Robert DeNiro, who have protested Ashtiani’s death sentence in the press, the American feminist interest groups and advocates have been missing in action.  For example, a quick perusal of the website for the National Organization for Women  (tagline: “taking action for women’s equality since 1966”) shows nothing on the Ashtiani case. There are headlines for NOW’s support of Elena Kagan’s confirmation, a plea to speak out against “anti-abortion terrorism,” and a call for the U.S. Senate to expel David Vitter of Louisiana. And there is a “Take Action” section that looks for help in eradicating female genital mutilation, which it rightly describes as “horrendous, excruciating, and life-threatening practice forced upon women and girls around the world, including countries such as Canada and the United States.”

Included on the genital mutilation list is the U.S. and Canada rather than, say, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, or other places where the practice is widespread. This is telling.  In fact, NOW’s backgrounder on the subject includes nothing on the plight of women in Iran, who are subjected not just to genital mutilation for “illicit sexual behavior” but to the kind of punishment that awaits Sakineh Ashtiani for actions that in any other culture would not only be perfectly legal but socially unremarkable.

And it isn’t just NOW.  At the list of news stories runs the gamut, from “Women’s response to the Chile earthquake is immediate and ongoing” to an article “Honoring Helen Thomas.” But the case of an Iranian woman being sentenced to death by stoning?  Nothing.  At the United Nations’ Women Watch site, dedicated to global “gender equality and empowerment for women,” there is nothing on the Ashtiani case on the home page or in any of the recent news stories.  And at the Nation, the long-standing liberal magazine which fancies itself as the progressive voice, a search of both “Ashtiani” and “stoning” brought up nothing, save for a couple of pieces on the Rolling Stone article that brought down General Stanley McChrystal’s career.

How, then, does one explain the failure of the feminist movement to rally to Ashtiani’s defense?  One theory is that the case of Ashtiani runs headlong into the left’s preoccupation with not drawing negative conclusions about Islam.  The punishment of stoning for adultery, while not specifically cited in the Koran, has a deep foundation in Islamic law.  In the Kuwaiti Encyclopedia of Islamic Jurisprudence, 13th century Islamic scholar Ibn Qudamah is quoted as saying, “Muslim jurists are unanimous on the fact stoning to death is a specified punishment for married adulterer and adulteress. The punishment is recorded in number of traditions and the practice of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) stands as an authentic source supporting it.”   And while a death sentence for adultery also appears in the Hebrew Bible (in Deuteronomy 22:22 and Leviticus 20:10), it is obvious that such punishment is not carried out today by Jews in (or out of) Israel.  But stoning for adultery – a punishment of the first millennium – is being carried out under the name of Islamic law in the year 2010.

The Left’s desire to ignore the most heinous transgressions of Islam has, of course, now found formal expression in the policies of the Obama administration, which have been consciously to disassociate any negative aspects of a radicalized Islam with Islam as a religion of “peace.” Thus we have a cleansing of administration verbiage around the war on terrorism.  This cleansing reflects more than just a desire to rehabilitate America’s image in the Muslim world.  It underpins a deeply held belief among progressives that the latent racism in America means that as a society we are unable to distinguish between good and bad Muslims: If one Muslim is a radical jihadist, then all Muslims must be terrorists.  As ridiculous as that sounds, the aggressive move away from clarity about the enemies we face is due to a fear among the Left that the American people are prone to a kind of simplistic, guilt-by-association type of though.

For feminists, this is simply progressive orthodoxy when it comes to issues of cultural sensitivity: see, hear and, most of all, speak no evil.  Sakineh Ashtiani may still go to her death in Iran for the “heinous” (alleged) crime of adultery.  But if she is spared, it will be no thanks to American feminists.

Kenneth Davenport runs a management consulting firm and has taught political science at Colorado State and Chapman University.