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Ayatollah Ebadi?
Shirin Ebadi seems far from acknowledging separation of religion and state

October 23, 2003
The Iranian

We Iranians usually don't listen to each other. When we do we usually hear only what we want to hear. I am not sure if the crowd that praises Ms. Ebadi has ever listened to what she has to say, and if so, if they have actually heard her out.

Let me make it clear that as an Iranian I am very proud to see an Iranian woman become not only the first Iranian Nobel Laureate but also the first Muslim woman to receive this honor. But I have to admit that I am extremely disappointed by her views.

In a round table with BBC, she made several disturbing remarks. First was her emphasis on the possibility of reconciling human rights with Islamic fegh (jurisprudence). She gave examples of the flexibility of fegh to serve the specific needs of the society through the so-called "ahkaam-e-saanaviyeh". This was given against the backdrop that "reason" is one of the sources of knowledge and wisdom in Islam.

Make no mistake Ms. Ebadi. The Islamic establishment in Iran is very pragmatic in the way they handle fegh. The only problem is that they use it as a flexible tool to serve their own goals and why not? After all they are the "supreme interpreters" of what fegh should be about.

Ms. Ebadi, what you are suggesting was institutionalized years ago through the formation of the Expediency Council (which is now headed by Mr. Rafsanjani). Recall that this council was established by Ayatollah Khomeini with the mandate to even abolish daily prayers if seen fit by the members. Somebody wrote in a web site: "Ms. Ebadi, please leave fegh to foghahaa (theologians)." Let them do their job, you do yours.

Second, Ms. Ebadi vehemently insists on abiding by the laws of the land. It is not clear though whether it is her belief, some sort of moral judgment, or just a convenient tactic. What if the laws of the land are inherently discriminatory, with no room for meaningful changes except by the approval of the discriminators (which in almost all practical situations would mean never)? Should they then be abided by? Is this Aristotelian view of the law the only alternative?

Black Americans challenged Jim Crow by intentionally but peacefully breaking the segregation laws of the South. Does this make their struggle any less worthy? What about Gandhi's civil disobedience movement? What about American anti-war protesters who burned draft cards to refuse to serve in the Vietnam War? Weren't those people, speaking, or actually shouting their conscience?

Isn't the over-emphasis on abiding by the law one of the biggest impediments of the reformist movement? Hasn't it been one of the leading causes of the current political stalemate? Laws that don't reflect the conscience of the society deserve no more respect than the rules set by a band of thieves.

Without complete separation of religion and state we will be doomed to re-experience failures over and over. Ms. Ebadi seems to be far from acknowledging this, let alone taking any steps towards leading the society in such direction.

Nevertheless, I still have some hope that the people of Iran could benefit from her standing as a Nobel Laureate but it all depends on us. Now that the honeymoon is over, we have to look at the hard facts and increase our level of expectations from her.

Meaningless tarofs will do us no good, nor will it do justice to Ms. Ebadi. She needs our help to prove it to herself and to the world that she indeed deserved the honor. For this to happen, Ms. Ebadi should set an example of a Muslim who can be democrat and who can respect human rights not a preacher of Islamic democracy and Islamic human rights.

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By Sheema Kalbasi




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