The petite giant
I was taken aback by Ebadi's strength of words
By Meysa Maleki
June 2, 2004
On granting an honorary doctorate to Shirin Ebadi at
a special seating of the Convocation at the University
of Toronto, on May 7, 2004
Today I returned to the University
of Toronto. I approached the old Convocation Hall where my graduation
ceremony had taken place
five years ago. I took my seat. As memories of my graduation were
about to surface, a colourful cast of the University of Toronto's "Presiding
Officers" stepped out in neat costumes and my attention was
Amidst the colourful cast which included
the Honourable Vivienne Poy, Chancellor, Professor Robert J. Birgeneau,
President and Dr. Thomas H. Simpson, Chair of the Governing Council
of the University of Toronto, a tiny woman of no more than 5 feet
made her way to the stage. I was instantaneously taken aback by
how petite Ebadi is in real life.
Following the President's
opening remarks and the Honourable James K. Bartleman, Lieutenant
Governor of Ontario's greeting,
Chancellor Poy conferred upon Ebadi the degree of Doctor of
Laws, honoris causa and Ebadi was hooded by Professor
Pekka Sinervo, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science and Professor
Shahrzad Mojab, Director for the Institute for Women's Studies
and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto.
One by one, members
of the audience rose to their feet to give Ebadi a standing
ovation. It must have been the longest standing ovation ever. It
was truly an emotional, inspirational and proud moment for all.
Ebadi stepped to the podium to deliver her Convocation Address.
Next to her stood an interpreter who delivered Ebadi's
speech in English. And so this little woman of no more than 5
feet began to speak and immediately I was taken aback by her demeanour
and the agility and strength of her words. She exuded intensity
and delivered each statement with insurmountable conviction and
passion. Her display of energy and emotion made each word delivered
resonate across the room like the beat of the drum that resonates
long after the drum player has stopped playing.
She commenced her
speech by praising the encounter of cultures and embracing cultural
influences. Yet, she emphasized that in
embracing influences, specificity must be maintained and warned
of the danger of engulfing another culture. She spoke of democracy
and human rights as values shared by all cultures and of terrorism
as deplored by all cultures. She warned
that lately in the name of combating terrorism, terrorism itself
has become a tool to violate human rights.
She remarked that violence
and terror must be deplored but they shouldn't be a tool
for silencing and suppressing opposition. "Each act of aggression
gives an even more hostile response. We have seen the legacy of
violence and war for so many years. Let us endorse United Nations
resolutions at once," Ebadi called
Ebadi spoke of the tragedy of 911. Yet, she informed or reminded
her audience that the legitimacy of Taliban was recognized only
by the US and its allies, namely, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates
and Saudi Arabia.
Quoting Descartes, Ebadi stated, "I think
therefore I am. I beg you to doubt, doubt, and doubt everything.
and our intellect are unconsciously manipulated so be ready to
admit that your information may be partial or inaccurate."
distinguished between humanity's own mistakes and the religions
to which they belong and in the end, she delivered
a message of peace, "let us not emerge war. No one will appear
victorious from such horrors."
The audience quickly rose
to their feet and applauded with all their will. The encounter
with Ebadi had been only too short.
Yet, her message had clearly moved her audience. One by one,
the University's Presiding Officers made their way out of the
Convocation Hall and the audience watched in admiration as their
lady, Shirin Ebadi made her way out as well.
Farewell, Ebadi and
thank you. I thank you for fighting for all of us for so many
goodbye to spam!