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Opinion

Root of democracy
What Ebadi was getting at

By Mitra Yousefi
May 27, 2004
iranian.com

Wow. I too saw Shirin Ebadi speak and I left feeling empowered, proud, grateful, happy, and in awe of this amazing woman. I think it is wise to be analytical and not simply go with the masses, but it is sad to be critical just for the sake of being so. I do not know if that is what you are doing but I could not read your letter [The new voice of the Islamic Republic] and not respond.

You wrote:

"Strangely enough, the last Pahlavi Shah always told the world that Iran was not yet ready for democracy and that it would take time to reach that goal, he always pointed out that one must not expect it to happen overnight. For this, he was overthrown and called a tyrant, for Ebadi, applauses and standing ovations all around."

It is beyond ridiculous to compare Shirin Ebadi to the Shah. The Shah had his secret police and countless spies who would work to stifle any opponents or even potential dissidents of the monarchy. People were tortured in unimaginably ruthless ways while he sat on his Peacock Throne maintaining his glorious image to the rest of the world. His own people were starving and he and his family were living a lavish life style. That is simply the nature of all monarchies, and he wanted to maintain his power so that he could keep that lifestyle.

Iran had a chance at democracy in 1953 under Mossadegh when the Shah was overthrown and the Prime Minister, with great support from the people, came into power. Iran was working, within itself, without outside (and especially western) interference, toward a democratic Iran. Then the US and Britain staged a Coup d'Etat and forcefully reinstated the Shah because it served their own oil interests. Clearly the Shah was a dictator and had no intention of ever leading the country toward democracy, making your point mute in my opinion.

"... the Islamic Republic has found their new voice piece and fact to spew their rhetoric."

Right, which would explain why this woman was imprisoned by the Islamic government. Yes, Ebadi did spend a significant part of her introduction highlighting the virtues of Islam. My father strongly opposes Islamic views so I recognize and understand your distaste for the religion.

What Ebadi was simply trying to do is make it clear that Muslims are not criminals, are not terrorists, and are not backwards people. She emphasized that Muslim leaders have abused the religion and made the people follow their own interpretation of it.

It should also be noted that throughout her speech she never once made a reference to Iran. She was speaking broadly in terms of all Islamic Middle Eastern nations ("These leaders... "). She said that modern, educated, devout Muslims should work to make the masses from these countries understand that they can be good Muslims while living better lives and while not being oppressed by unjust rulers.

I do not know if we were even listening to the same speech based on what you are saying in your allegations. When she was speaking, my mom leaned over to me and whispered, "wow, how is she going to go back to Iran after having said all this stuff against the government?!" I assured her that with all the international attention the Nobel Prize has brought her they would not dare touch her (I hope).

"Finally, she tried to say that Iran is not a separate identity, but rather belongs to a greater Islamic world and culture (Cyrus the Great must be turning over on his grave as I speak)."

When did she say this?!

"The first section of her speech, an Iranian friend and I joked sounded like sermons given by Iran's mullahs during Friday Prayers (namaz-e Jomheh). Islam, its prophet, all could do no wrong. A one sided history of Islam was beautifully put forth, while no wrongs were pointed out. For example, she mentioned how Muhammad cared highly for women and children, forgetting to mention what the Quran says about womn, or how this prophet of God and representative of that great entity on earth married and copulated with a nine-year-old girl."

I do not agree with all the theology behind Islam and I certainly do not revere the prophets. I do not think any religion has it right actually. I think that in the context of Ebadi's speech and her message that does not matter. The United States is founded on Christian values. The pledge of allegiance: "... One nation under God... " Yet this is a free country (though it has many flaws) and I have never felt that anyone's religious views were governing my way of life.

The U.S. is a democracy where there is a Christian base but I am free to be Muslim, to be Persian, and to pursue my dreams. That is what Ebadi was getting at. That democracy does not equal abandoning your faith, your values, or your roots. That a few people should not allow their opinions of what is the Will of God to be the law and to torture and oppress people who oppose.

You can go into Islamic history all you want and point out all the things that disgust you. I will never shrug off the fact that Muhammad had multiple wives and I will never see it as a pious act; I will always see it as male justification and dominance. But I also see beauty in the religion and beauty in people trying to be good, working toward self-betterment, contributing to society, and being loving. And I think religion is beautiful when people willingly accept it and follow it out of a desire to be good rather than out of fear and force.

If Islam or Judaism or Daoism helps someone be more loving and gives them strength, then that is wonderful. If you interpreted Ebadi's message of "Islam, Democracy, and Human Rights" the way I did, then there would be no way that you would think she was a spokesperson for the Islamic Republic. 

"I think those at the MCI Convention Center [in Washington DC] will agree with me that Ebadi, with her sweet words, turned her back on all Iranians inside and out of Iran who have died, and are in jails and under torture, today and in the past, who have struggled for Iran, not Islam."

Well, I was at the Comcast Center and I STRONGLY disagree. Ebadi is an amazing human being. I cannot imagine the strength and courage it takes for her to stand up in that society, and to do so as a woman. I find it insulting that you say she has turned her back on Iranians. I think she has done nothing but serve us. I cannot imagine and do not really want to think about what happens to such a vocal woman when she is imprisoned by a government such as the one in our country.

What she has done is nothing short of self-sacrifice. When I was watching her speech I was so proud. Here was an educated, powerful, charismatic, accomplished, and endearing woman that I felt like I could relate to despite my awe and great respect for her. Her speech brightened my day and left me with an even greater belief that I should consciously work to be aware of injustices around the world because any injustice against another human being is indeed an injustice against you.

I'm bad at conclusions so I'm done with arguing with you and I would like to add that if anyone knows of anywhere I can go on the web for a copy of her speech that night, I would be very grateful :)

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