Italians listen to Ebadi speech
By Roxanne Moin
July 5, 2004
Last month (June 14) I heard Shirin Ebadi speak at
Europe's oldest university,
the University of Bologna, where political activism thrives among
the young intellects, some of who sport dreadlocks and multiple
body piercings. The students here are politically conscious, delving
into newspapers to read up on candidates running for public offices
while others dress as clowns to perform anti-war skits in center
squares and even in the middle of crosswalks. It was in this atmosphere
that Ms. Ebadi delivered her speech on Islam, democracy and human
rights. But the event was not at all what I expected...
A month earlier I had attended Ms. Ebadi's lecture
in Los Angeles, the home to the largest hub of Iranians living
Iran. This event exploded into a conflagration, a spectacle of
amusing sorts. And for some silly reason, I anticipated a similar
atmosphere in Bologna. I expected to see masses of exiled Iranians
heckling a Nobel Peace Prize Winner and getting booed out of the
auditorium. But to my dismay, a mere trifle of perhaps 15 Iranians
had the room starving for the kind of volatility and intensity
I observed at the University of California at Los Angeles lecture
a little while ago.
Absent in Bologna were the dynamic and emotional
power plays between Iranian monarchists, nationalists and other
expatriates. The only
outburst this time around did come from one of the fifteen or so
Iranians present, but the little rant, uttered apparently in mangled
Italian, left the crowd quiet and confused. But overall the one
thousand Italians and a few other people in the audience sat quietly
and attentively, bearing their ears and engaging their minds.
After the university head's long introduction, which
bestowed upon Ms. Ebadi the highest Italian honor of primadonna
this Nobel Peace Prize Winner appeared on stage smiling and triumphant.
The audience rose to their feet for yet another one of her standing
ovations from around the globe. Then they listened respectfully
as she spoke. They stopped her only to clap after every bold statement:
how we must be careful to separate human error from religion, that
democracy is not a gift you can give to people and that bombs do
not enforce human rights. She culminated her speech with powerful
imagery, likening democracy to a flower. She emphasized that one
cannot overfeed a flower for one day and return a year later expecting
it to still be alive. Ms. Ebadi also took the time to demand women's
equality under Islam and to make a plea for the release of Mr.
Aghajari in Iran.
Ms. Ebadi had just delivered another passionate
speech defending Islam, championing democracy and demanding respect
for human rights.
I must say, however, that this Italian audience, albeit, curious,
respectful and attentive, lacked the kind of connection with her
that evoked so much emotion in Los Angeles. Most of these people
here today were at home in Italy; they didn't have to leave
their country after a religious revolution, in the middle of a
war, or for fear of political persecution. These people didn't
have a sense of national pride in Ms. Ebadi. They were outsiders,
I realized, and this wasn't Los Angeles. For these people
in Bologna, listening to today's lecture may have just been
one their many routine intellectual activities of the week. After
all, this is the politically active city of Bologna.
During the Los Angeles lecture, a lady
broke down and cried ten feet away from me, screaming about how
Republic had "murdered
her sons." I watched as a security guard towered over her
flailing body and gave her a warm hug instead of an escort to the
exit. Although I didn't witness such things in Bologna as I originally
expected, I appreciate that so many people showed up even though
most of them didn't have these strong bonds
that Iranians do for Ms. Ebadi or for Iran. Bravo! And to the fifteen
or so Iranians who came to see a hamvatan speak in Bologna, Bravo
to you, too.
Roxanne Moin has a B.A. in political science
from University of California, Los Angeles.
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