A Different Path to Mideast Freedom
The Nobel Prize committee's selection of Iranian reformist attorney Shirin Ebadi to receive the 2003 Peace Prize demonstrates a way of promoting peace and democracy in the Middle East that the Bush administration should heed.
Ebaldi's achievement brings focus to thousands of Iranian women and men who are actively changing their country's sociopolitical landscape by promoting the rule of law, human rights and a more pluralistic government in place of the country's clerical regime. Far from rattling sabers and demonizing the whole country of Iran, President Bush should make common cause with just such Iranians.
Ebadi, 56, is married and has two daughters. Before the 1979 Islamic revolution she became Iran's first woman judge. Forced to resign her position by the mullahs once they took power, she has become an outspoken dissident and defender of rights for women and children, a lecturer in law at the University of Tehran and an attorney for a number of the regime's victims. She does not see a conflict between Islam's Sharia law and broad, equal human rights for men and women.
She was also awarded the 2001 Norwegian human rights Rafto Prize, and has been praised by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Her clients have included the family of Darioush and Parvaneh Frouhar, who were among several Iranian writers and intellectuals whose mutilated bodies were found on the streets of Tehran in 1999. Those murders have been traced to some of the most dangerous elements within Iran's vast security police apparatus. In 2000 Ebadi was briefly jailed for exposing the regime's use of vigilantes to suppress dissent. She received a suspended sentence and was banned from practicing law in a closed court.
The official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) carried a brief dispatch to report Ebadi's award --without mentioning any of her activities.
Ebadi received news of the award while in Paris to attend a conference on Iranian films and human rights. At a news conference she expressed her surprise, and added, "It means that our way is correct, and I must say it doesn't belong only to me. It belongs to all the people who work for human rights and democracy in Iran."
In contrast to Ebadi's bold yet nonviolent work for human freedom, instead of finding and supporting those who share the best American values in Iran and elsewhere in the Islamic Middle East the Bush administration is alienating the entire region with its military presence, as it futilely tries to buy friendship with billions of American taxpayers' money.
The attempt to determine the course of Middle Eastern events from Washington is badly misfiring. Each day brings news of fresh violence in Iraq. American forces are engaged in open-ended battles along the Afghan-Pakistani border, Iran is defying calls not to enrich uranium at its nuclear power plants and an Israeli air raid on Syrian soil threatens a wider regional war.
The Bush administration, in a desperate attempt to salvage the Iraqi occupation, is shifting the burden of carrying on its manifestly misguided policies from the Defense Department to the National Security Council.
With every passing day, as only armed soldiers continue to symbolize America's presence in the Middle East, the region's most radical elements become more emboldened, posing an ever greater threat to this country's interests and security abroad and at home.
Lost in the fury of blind power politics are the sane voices of thousands of Middle Easterners who share Shirin Ebadi's values and are willing to fight for them to bring changes from inside -- not outside -- the region. Perhaps Ebadi's lifetime of courageous activism, and the visibility now afforded her, can mark a new beginning in how Americans view and relate to Middle Easterners.
PNS contributor Behrouz Saba (BehrouzSA@aol.com), a native of Iran, writes widely on Middle Eastern and American social, political and cultural issues.