Coverage on Shirin Ebadi's Noble Peace Prize
October 16, 2003
Har kee beh fekr-i kheesheh
kooseh beh fekr-i reesheh
are the words I mumble as I sit here at the library, reading articles
about Shirin Ebadi.
I got the news relatively early in the morning last Friday, when
a man I barely know (we are in a seminar together), approached
me with a smile.
"You must be proud," he said.
Perplexed by this
comment and still wrapped in my book, I replied, "Excuse me?"
"You know, the woman whose name starts with a 'Shshshsh'!"
I must have looked even more confused, because he
immediately explained: "I just read it on the internet, that Sh-something
who is an Iranian woman, won the Noble Prize! I don't know how,
immediately knew who this Sh was. Proud, aren't you?"
put in a position of having to decide right then, I said, "That's
great, Shirin Ebadi deserves many awards. But, why now?"
did not understand my question and responded, "Well, this is the
time they decide!"
It took him a couple of minutes to realize what
I had meant, after which he said, "Oh! Well, they gave it to Jimmy
Carter last year and then there was a Burmese woman, wasn't there?
So, they are creating a balance between the East and the West!"
found discussing this point with this Ivy-leaguer to be a mute
point, so I cut the conversation short by saying, "It is great
news," and moved on. It was great news. But, a million questions
kept crossing my mind about "Sh" the other nameless woman from
Burma, the politics
of the Noble Prize, and the "balancing" of "East" and "West".
that day, conversing with a well-established professor in her office,
an old man (a divinity school professor) pushed his
walker in, disrupting our conversation with a near screaming voice,
"So, is she good?"
I don't know how, but I knew who he was talking
about. Who else would be the "representative" of all Muslim women,
except for the only Muslim woman who teaches in this school? Aren't
we "Orientals" all the same after all?!
Apparently, I wasn't the only one who knew what
the question was about. The professor, with whom I was meeting,
replied, "Well, I
don't know. You should ask her. She's Iranian." The man followed
the order: "Is she as good as they say she is?"
as the "native informant" who has the "authentic" information,
for the second time that day, I said, "Yes. She is very good indeed."
man seemed to want to know more, as he was standing still, looking
at me. Not knowing if this person had some important business
for which he had disrupted our meeting, I tried to move my chair
so that he could push his walker in. It was a mistake, for before
I knew it, I got a lesson on how Iran (Eye-ran) used to be called
Smiling politely, I listened until the man, who astonishingly
resembled framed pictures hanging on the walls of the school
in which he teaches, decided to leave and let us get back to
That was just the beginning of the Shirin and the Kooseh tale.
The coverage on Shirin Ebadi's Noble Peace Prize
has been amazing, to say the least. To begin with, the Noble Committee
itself demands deliberation. In their statement, the Norwegian
Nobel Committee lets us know that Ebadi is "a woman who is
part of the Moslem world, and of whom that world can be proud,"
marking and highlighting her difference as 1. a woman 2. one
who belongs to a whole "other world".
statement simultaneously flattens all other difference in "that
world" under a single signifier: Islam. So, those aliens
(isn't this what people from another world called?) are all supposed
to feel the sense of pride that comes with having a representative
among the "noble".
The committee does not hesitate to remind us that
"no society deserves to be labeled civilized unless the rights
are respected." Thus, by deploying the plight for women
and children and through making them markers of civilization
the committee exercises its authority of measure and "label"
of civilization, by reifying the difference between the
"civilized" and the "barbaric".
It doesn't take much to figure
the civilized and the barbaric in this modernist discourse
last sentence resolves this dilemma through an evolutionary
logic: [We, the committee ] hope the Prize will be an
all those who struggle for human rights and democracy
in her [Ebadi's] country, in the Moslem world, and in all
countries where the fight
for human rights needs inspiration and support."
Thus, the donor of the prize, the Norwegian committee,
assumes a temporal lag in the "Moslem world and all
that need a push to get to the time of "progress"
where some "countries"
have supposedly achieved respect for "rights of women
and children!" The task of the Nobel Committee,
are told, is
to "to speed up this process".
The language of the
mystifies the sovereignty of the nation-states
("her country"), but also turns this affair into a national
hope that the people of Iran will feel joyous that
for the first
history one of their citizens has been awarded
the Nobel Peace Prize."
Another form of representation is Sajjadi's reformist
critique, which seems to be inclined towards
the logic of "Westoxification"
or "Occidentosis" [Taba'aat-e
Nobel]. Sajjadi pathologizes Iranians
who celebrate this event, and claims that Iranians who
suffer from an
inferiority complex (khod kam beenee) and narcissism
use this event as a ruse for their "lack".
such, Sajjadi reconsolidates
Orientalist assumptions, where "jahaan-i peeramoon"
(by which I assume he means the "West"), possesses
Iranians who are celebrate Ebadi's achievement
"lack", but desire! It
with this phallogocentrism that Sajjadi deploys
a wrestling metaphor in claiming that Ebadi has been elevated
medium weight ("neemeh
sangeen") to ultra heavy weight ("fowq-i sangeen").
This critique is not to dismiss every point
that Sajjadi's argument raises, for I agree
transnational relations of power. However,
I think Sajjadi repeats what he criticizes
and by assuming
dichotomies such as "Western civilization",
(Tamaddon-i qarb) and the "Muslim world"
to be natural categories
are mutually exclusive.
With the amount of
resentment that Sajjadi expresses over
"defeat", I wonder
of his argument is based on a kind of sexism
that dismisses any form
of feminist practice and politics, by deeming
it as less important than other areas of
called "real politics").
His logic puts Ebadi between a rock and
a hard place, where she has no choice but to choose
Any position of liminality is halted and
perceived as being prone to "contamination".
And then there is Hossein Noushazar's
attempt to "feminize" Ebadi's return to Iran! [Esteghbaal
Noushazar's recourse to Pre-Islamic
utilizes myth-history to revive an immemorial
upon the body of the Iranian woman. This
"Iranian woman" into the site of contestation
of people and the state ("mardom
Noushazar praises women
who wore white hijab and held white flowers at
signified both peace and womanhood!
("ham payaam aavar-i solh bood, ham az zanaanegi-ye
a'een nishan daasht"). Heterosexual
of domesticating the pure Iranian
virgin woman are embodied in the image of
the woman-in-white who greets
and Ebadi herself,
who becomes "the bride of the metropolis"
Not surprisingly, Noushazar's
atavistic woman is the
keeper of the
tradition (of Pre-Islamic kind)
and historically continuous with Mitra. Being robbed of
her agency, the Iranian
woman is fetishized
as the object that decorates the
masculinized city. Within Noushazar's configuration,
is only intelligible
as far as it
is conceptualized within the heterosexual
hegemony, and Iranian women's
activism is reduced to their adherence
to modesty and virginity!
Now you see why I mumble "Har
kee beh fekr-i kheesheh / kooseh beh fekr-i reesheh"?
I have not gone crazy.
I have good
sit at the library, look at the
computer, and talk to myself! I just hope that
in the midst
Ebadi continues her important
work, despite the fact that her work
being appropriated by sharks
of all sizes who are running after her in quest of
that she will,
as she and many Iranian women
have found their
ways around all the kaasehs,
koozehs and koosehs that appear on their ways.
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