The toughest woman in Tehran
Iranian of the year
February 11, 2005
Thank you to all of you who wrote in
to me earlier this year with your suggestions for Iranian of the year. To those
of you who feared that the majority may chose someone from the Iranian football
team, let me assure you that the majority of you had no interest in the Iranian
Before turning my attention to the winner I would like
to address the authors of the dozens of emails I received who,
and quite comically, voted for National Geographic on
the grounds that by calling the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Gulf,
are in fact leading to unity amongst Iranians who can not stand
to be told that their beloved Gulf in fact belongs to Arabia
-- the history of this confusion may be the subject of another
essay -- but I should point out that the National Geographic
is not a person and is not Iranian, and therefore can not
really be considered for the title of "Iranian of the year"!
So now I want to turn my attention to Shirin Ebadi, the person
that almost ninety percent of you voted for. What was interesting
about your letters was that most of you knew you wanted Shirin
Ebadi as "Iranian of the year" because she had become the Noble
Peace Prize winner but some of you were not sure why she had
been awarded the prize and almost nobody mentioned that she had
already been honored by the Human Rights Watch, "for her courageous
dedication to the preservation of fundamental freedoms through
her service as a human rights monitor."
I hope, in the short essay that follows, I am able to shed
some light on the toughest lady in Tehran.
Shirin Ebadi: The Toughest woman in Tehran
She is a 56-year-old lawyer and human rights activist, 1996
Human Rights Watch honoree, and is also Iran's first Nobel Peace
Prize winner (2003) who represents a reformist attitude to Islam
and argues that Islamic law should be practiced within the framework
of international human rights standards.
Born in the city of Hamedan in 1947 Shirin Ebadi moved to Tehran
when she was a year old. She began her education at Firuzkuhi
primary school and went on to Anoshiravn Dadgar and Reza Shah
Kabir secondary schools for her higher education, and then sat
the Tehran University entrance exams to gain her place at the
Faculty of Law in 1965.
In 1968 she received her law degree and immediately sat the
entrance exams for the Department of Justice and after a six-month
apprenticeship in adjudication she began to serve officially
as a judge in March of 1969, while, at the same time, studying
for and obtaining a doctorate with honors in private law from
Tehran University in 1971.
In 1975, she became the President of Bench 24 of the City Court
in Tehran, and thus became the first woman in the history of
Iranian justice to have served as a judge. Unfortunately, the
1979 Islamic Revolution led to the Islamic belief that women
cannot serve as judges because of their irrational and emotional
state, and subsequently Shirin Ebadi was dismissed from her post.
Eventually, after much protest she was promoted to the position
of "expert" in the Justice Department. It was not until
1992 that the Bar association granted her a lawyer's license
and allowed her to set up her own practice.
Today, officially, she both practices law and teaches law at
Tehran University, and takes on cases other lawyers in Iran would
not such as representing the family of Dariush Farouhar, the
dissident intellectual who was found stabbed to death at his
home late last year. It turned out to be the work of "rogue
elements" in the Intelligence Ministry. She is also a campaigner
for women's rights, children's rights (successfully created Society
for the Protection of the Rights of the Child), refugees, and
victims of government repression (she is co-founder of the Center
for the Defense of Human Rights).
Ebadi's influence on the women of Iran, gave her a key role
in the landslide election of the reformist Mohammad Khatami in
May 1997. Further, the government has blamed her as the voice
behind the five day demonstrations of Tehran University students,
to which she responds by saying, "We still don't know who
the rioters really were. They are trying to say the whole thing
was the responsibility of a few people.
What we do know is the
police broke into the dormitories, and this was against the law.
They beat up students, and this was against the law. All the
officials of the country agreed this was wrong."However,
perhaps, it is her unofficial role as spokeswoman for Iranian
women for which hard-line ayatollahs have come to accuse her
of undermining Iran's Islamic revolution. In the area of Family
Law, for example, where rights are generally slanted towards
men in the Islamic court, Ebadi has managed to make sure a husband
can no longer automatically obtain a divorce without paying alimony.
In the year 2000, accused of distributing the videotaped confession
of hardliner claiming that prominent conservative leaders had
instigated physical attacks on reformists, Ebadi herself landed
a suspended jail sentence and a professional ban. Yet, in the
words of the Nobel committee she "never heeded the threat
to her own safety". It is a shame, and ironic, that while
she is fighting to hold responsible those who violate human rights,
her own safety is constantly feared for.
The thing about Ebadi
is that it is not that she is unaware of the danger she faces
in her line of work but that she stands up for what is passionate
about in spite of the fear she faces. In a 1999 interview she
admitted, "Any person who pursues human rights in Iran must
live with fear from birth to death, but I have learned to overcome
Her theories about Human Rights are simple, and certainly not
She believes in the universality of human rights no matter
what their country of origin, religion, and descent. In her words,
"Extreme poverty is a violation of human rights since people
are deprived from the rights to healthcare, education, food
or housing. It also results in further human rights violations
without resources, many rights become pure theory - rights
to a fair trial, freedom of expression and opinion, right to
and fair election. I believe that this situation is not ineluctable
: remedy lies in a greater respect for human rights."
only for myself, I have to admit, that comparing her life and
the risks she has taken to bring freedom to lives
of others, I feel a certain shame at who I am. Not long ago
I write a small essay for Iranian.com about the abuse of children
as soldiers in Iran and almost immediately friends and family
began warning me that if word ever got back to Iran that I
spoken out against the government I would be putting the lives
of anyone I know in Iran quite at risk.
As I said, I now feel
ashamed, not because I believed what was being told may be
true, but because for a moment I cared. In the words of Shirin
"Have confidence, have courage, and know that if we work
hard, our struggle will be victorious."
For more about Buddahead, aka Raman Kia, and his band, visit buddaheadmusic.com
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