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Shirin Ebadi speaks in Los Angeles
May 20, 2004
On May 14, Shirin Ebadi, 2003 Nobel Laureate, delivered
a speech at the UCLA International Institute; her topic was “Islam,
Democracy, and Human Rights.” Her speech was in Persian,
and a young woman translated for her. The event was held at Royce
Hall which has a capacity of 1,800; almost all seats were filled,
mainly by Iranians.
Much has been written about her work, and her speech will be
available online at UCLA’s website in few weeks. My intention
is to summarize the main points of her speech and to offer a few
relative to future benefits of the Persian community.
She drew a correlation between poverty and the lack of human
rights. She noted that in 2002 more than fifty countries were at
most of the damage was done to civilians. The resulting injustice
is the root of terrorism, which she strongly condemned.
After 9/11 many countries implemented practices of discrimination
against non-citizens, especially from third world countries. She
emphasized that terrorism and torture should have no place in this
world. She added that the name of Islam has been misused to associate
the wrong doing of Muslims with Islam in the minds of people. She
questioned why no one drew similar parallels to Christianity when
Christians were killing Muslims in Bosnia. She emphasized the importance
of separating a people’s religion from their actions and
Ebadi urged people to put aside their differences
and to concentrate on their common interests. No one benefits from
wars except companies
which are manufacturing military equipment. The arts, education,
and democracy will flourish in an atmosphere of peace.
According to Ebadi, democracy does not happen accidentally
or quickly. Democracy is a process. If a country believes in democratic
society, it must commit to behaving as a democracy. A country cannot
bring democracy to another country by force.
She emphasized that peace begins from schools and family units.
From there peace spreads to work places and ultimately beyond a
country’s boundaries. Exchange of students, faculty members,
and information will help spread peace all over the world. She
encouraged countries that have good universities to be generous
in sharing their academic resources. After 9/11, many students
from less developed countries have had a difficult time pursuing
higher education in developed countries.
Her conclusion: Do not forget the people who live in less developed
countries. Extend the hand of friendship. Fight against terrorism
and war. Strive to be a moral human being and to seek peace.
The Lian Ensemble, based in Los Angeles, consisted of five Iranian
and four American musicians performed two songs which were selected
by Ebadi for this event. The poems for these songs were written
by Saadi and Akhevan Saales. The performers created a music composed
of traditional and folk melodies and delighted the audience with
Ebadi’s responses to Question & Answer
Q. What is your opinion about democracy in Iran?
A. Democracy, like a plant (flower), requires constant attention
and monitoring. Democracy must be earned; safeguarding human rights
promotes democracy. The most important thing in a democratic process
is to have free elections.
Q. What have you done in defending women’s rights?
A. The majority (63%) of Iranian university students are women.
Educated women know their rights and will help the democratic process.
In the early days of the revolution, few women were writing or
fighting about women’s rights. Today, the majority of Iranian
women, even traditional women want democracy.
Q. What is your view of the proper role of foreign powers in
the Middle East?
A. The United Nations was created to stop invasion
by foreign powers. The United Nations must act when governments
go against their own
people. When Iraq attacked Kuwait, the United Nations did the right
thing by acting against the aggressor. But attacking Iraq was not
the right thing. Although we disliked Saddam Hussain, she wished
that he had been over thrown by the Iraqi people.
Q. Religion was created over 1,400 years ago. If we cannot modify
it to fit our time, can we keep it in our hearts and not mix it
with other things?
A. Yes, the relationship between a government and its religion
should reflect the opinion of a majority of its citizens. The democratic
process will make this possible. If a society wants to separate
state from religion, then this should happen. Muslim people must
not believe that they must choose between Islam and democracy;
they can have both.
Q. What is your view of radical Islam and moderate Islam
A. Let us ask what is censored. Censorship is something that
governments impose. But there are a few strong mass media in the
which control the news and therefore affect people’s opinion.
Especially after 9/11, to divert people’s minds from the
real issues, something was created such as fear of Anthrax, before
tacking drastic measure or attacking another country. The western
media talks about Islamic terrorist. Let us separate religion from
terrorists. Do not start war between religions or civilizations.
The focus should be on evil people who have bad intentions, wherever
they might live.
Q. You wear Hejaab in Iran but not here.
A. Hejaab in Iran is mandatory for all women regardless of their
religion. As a lawyer, I understand the laws and abide by those
laws when I am in Iran. Iranian laws do not apply in the other
countries, and I follow the laws of those countries when I am there.
There were a few shouting individuals in the audience of 1,800
people who tried to stop Ebadi’s speech a few times.
The security guards were lenient in controlling trouble makers.
It seems that there are people among us who do not want to tolerate
From listening to Ebadi views, one can say:
-- She is process oriented and is a supporter of law and order.
-- She comes across as a global activist who is trying to make
an impact on an international scale, especially in Moslem countries.
-- She tries to separate religion itself from the actions of
people who believe in that religion.
-- People are equal, regardless of race, faith, or gender.
-- She is a courageous person. For example, she argues that
all political prisoners should be freed.
-- She is a human-right activist, not a politician.
-- Parliaments in totalitarian regimes are not reflective or
representative of their citizens.
-- Islam is being used to control and to silence dissidents.
I enjoyed listening to her in person, and I am proud of her as
an Iranian human-rights activist. She is dealing with various
issues in her own way and trying to reach people globally,
a goal which
must be respected. In some cases, the leadership of a country
might not be in a position yet to assume the responsibilities
of a democracy.
There are individuals who have ambitions or motives who will
influence societies in their own way. I hope Ebadi continues
her commitment to peace. By supporting her, we will help to
stop acts against humanity, particularly against children.
Dr. Mohammad Ala, is Professor of Production and Operations
Management both in Iran and the U.S. He is an Executive Board member
and founder of iran-heritage.org, persiangulfonline.org and iranalliance.org.
See features in iranian.com.
May is Mamnoon
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