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Opinion

How sweet it is
Shirin Ebadi's triumph over fanaticism

By Jamshid Charmchi
October 20, 2003
The Iranian

Before the Noble Committee's historic announcement, I had only heard of Shirin Ebadi once before. I had seen a picture of her in a book dedicated to groundbreaking Iranian women. Ebadi was of course, Iran's first female judge. There were many other firsts in that book, such as first in flight and first in parliament. However, the picture of the female judge had an undeniable air of authority and dignity that was hard to forget.

I was sad that the regressive misogynists who seized Iran, forced her from the bench since they deemed women to be too emotional and hysterical to make rational decisions (ironic given their own poor decision making capacity). But, as it turns out, while they silenced her gavel, they could not silence the force of her intellect. They could not divert her from her courageous battle against the draconian fundamentalist laws, laws that regard women as half a man in court, laws that essentially keep women in perpetual childhood, always at the mercy and whim of a man.

Ebadi is a Persian lion, her words a fierce roar against the injustice and brutality that has gripped her beloved land. Each stroke of her pen is a blow against the tyrants who shudder like cowards behind old and tired slogans. Her selection as Noble Laureate is a major strike at a defunct ideology, whose supporters have no real faith.

I am referring to fundamental Islamists of course, who having failed to achieve an Islamic Utopia (but having come close to an Islamic Hell), cling to empty symbols such as veils and beards as their only accomplishments. Ebadi said it best, "instead of telling women to cover their heads, we should tell them to use their heads."

How sad that people in power can't accept good advice even when it is blaring at them from the four corners of the world. The Noble Committee's decision to honor Ebadi brings to the world's attention the epic battle currently underway in Iran. It forces the outside world to take note of the aspirations of the Iranian nation for democracy and human rights. It challenges the ugly stereotype of Iran as a backward society, filled exclusively with religious zealots and bigots at war with progress (and the rights of women).

It reinforces Ebadi's contention that secularism and plurality are not just for the privileged minority of the world's inhabitants who live in Western societies, but rather are the inalienable birthright of all humanity. By extension, it also undermines the ridiculous contention that the 1300-year-old tribal laws of Arabia can be blindly applied, without a modern interpretation, to today's Iran. And lastly it challenges the contention that Islam and democracy are incompatible, when they are not (it is dictators hiding behind the guise of religion who are at odds with both God and freedom).

My heart is filled with joy and pride at the thought of a modern, eloquent Persian woman who has once more attained a first and who by the force of her will and unshakable conviction has forced the world to stop and take notice of her and the cause she espouses - equality for all before the law.

I am equally proud that she emphasizes her Persian-ness to the chagrin of the Arabist mullahs who are more interested in emulating the Arabs' rough tribal ways and promulgating the defunct theory of religion based states rather than promoting Iran's unique identity. Ebadi's existence gives them much to fear for she represents everything they loath; modernism, secularism and the emancipation of women from the shadow of patriarchy..

The AFP estimated that 10,000 people showed up at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport to greet their champion, upon her return home. I am inspired by their courage to walk past the batons of the regime's security forces and the clubs and chains of its hooligans (many of them Arabs imported from Iraq, Syria and Lebanon), to welcome home a person who has the interests of her country at heart.

I am encouraged by the change that the new generation symbolizes. While their parents cheered home a regressive old man, schooled exclusively in medieval thought, (who turned the country upside down and sent close to 1,000,000 innocents to their graves with false promises of paradise), this generation has welcomed home a hero who epitomizes what Iran can become if it is allowed to utilize the potential that it harbors; a modern and secular democratic state at peace with itself and the world.

I hope that Shirin Ebadi's example continues to inspire those who languish inside Evin prison (such as Ahmad Batebi) and the many other dungeons the regime operates. I hope that the self-serving dictators realize that their days of oppressing the people of Iran (and particularly its women) are numbered. They must amend and reform or be prepared to get swept away- but in that event, at least they will have a fair and educated female judge to hear their case!

"Time and circumstance are imposed on us," Ebadi once carved with a spoon handle into the concrete wall of her prison cell. And yet how we choose to confront our fate rests with us. This is her ultimate message.

Silence and passivity will get us nothing, while confronting fear and oppression with the force of our intellect, will strike fear into the hearts of the terror mafia pillaging Iran. Sooner or later the walls of the prison will fall because of people like Ebadi and the countless others who have offered the ultimate sacrifice, so that criminal, reactionary thugs will not defeat modernity and progress. This prize is for all those patriots who have so selflessly subjected themselves to government-sponsored terror, imprisonment, torture, and even death, so that Iran would live.

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