Saturday, July 29, 2006

Books: Iran Awakening

Cross-posted from Logs of the Written Word
Iran AwakeningBook Name: Iran Awakening
Author: Shirin Ebadi with Azadeh Moaveni (website in Persian)
"The moving, inspiring memoir of one of the great women of our times, Shirin Ebadi, winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize and advocate for the oppressed, whose spirit has remained strong in the face of political persecution and despite the challenges she has faced raising a family while pursuing her work.

"Best known in this country as the lawyer working tirelessly on behalf of Canadian photojournalist, Zara Kazemi – raped, tortured and murdered in Iran – Dr. Ebadi offers us a vivid picture of the struggles of one woman against the system. The book movingly chronicles her childhood in a loving, untraditional family, her upbringing before the Revolution in 1979 that toppled the Shah, her marriage and her religious faith, as well as her life as a mother and lawyer battling an oppressive regime in the courts while bringing up her girls at home.

"Outspoken, controversial, Shirin Ebadi is one of the most fascinating women today. She rose quickly to become the first female judge in the country; but when the religious authorities declared women unfit to serve as judges she was demoted to clerk in the courtroom she had once presided over. She eventually fought her way back as a human rights lawyer, defending women and children in politically charged cases that most lawyers were afraid to represent. She has been arrested and been the target of assassination, but through it all has spoken out with quiet bravery on behalf of the victims of injustice and discrimination and become a powerful voice for change, almost universally embraced as a hero.

"Her memoir is a gripping story – a must-read for anyone interested in Zara Kazemi’s case, in the life of a remarkable woman, or in understanding the political and religious upheaval in our world."
From: Random House

Ebadi tells a story of conviction and courage. She is determined to bring democracy and equality to the oppressive rule of Iranian fundamentalists. As with all heroes, she does not believe she is doing anything special, only that which must be done. She is one tough cookie who can throw the teachings of the Quaran and its specific interpretations back without hesitation. She has tested the boundaries of the Iranian court system and been punished with jail time and death threats for her determination to see fairness restored to Iran.

Favourite passages:
On the "new" statutes imposed by the Khomeini regime after the Revolution of 1979:
The grim statutes that I would spend the rest of my life fighting stared back at me from the page: the value of a woman's life was half that of a man (for instance, if a car hit both on the street, the cash compensation due to the woman's family was hlaf that due the man's); a woman's testimony in court as a witness to a crime counted only half as much as a man's; a woman had to ask her husband's permission for divorce. The drafters of the penal code had apparently consulted the seventh-century for legal advice. The laws, in short, turned the clock back fourteen hundred years, to the early days of Islam's spread, the days when stoning women for adultery and chopping off the hands of theives were considered appropriate sentences. [p. 51]

The komiteh, or morality police, harassed all Iranians - Muslims as well as Iranian Christians and Jews, old people as well as the young - but they preyed upon women with a special enthusiasm. Slowly we learned to cope with the obstacle course that was public space. Dating couples socializing ahead of marriage, for example, would borrow a young niece or nephew on their evenings out, to appear as a family, and pass through checkpoints unmolested. We monitored everything from our personalities to our wardrobes, careful not to express opinions in public, to wear socks with our sndals. But often the harrassment was arbitrary and senseless, and thus impossible to anticipate. When most look back on those years, their memories are of antagonistic scenes that left them with headaches and a reservoir of resentment. Some recall encounters so wounding that neither their bodies nor their spirits every quite recovered. [p. 56]

The suicide rate amont women rose after the Islamic Revolution, commonly taking the form of self-immolation. This tragic exhibitionism, I'm convinced, is women's way of forcing their community to confront the cruelty of their oppression. Otherwise, would it not simply be easier to overdose on pills in a dark room?

Sometimes I think this is the one of the saddest realities of being an activist or an intellectual in a place like Iran. When dissidents or just regular old intellectuals come out of prison, often they are not celebrated for simply being brave and having survived but are pruriently examind for their conduct in prison. Did they succumb and agree to videotaped confessions? Did they sign letters? Did they make lists of their comrades? By judging what ethically should be immune from judgment - the response of an individual to a form of torture - we enable the interrogator's tactics. We legitimize the sickness of the whole enterprise, as though when forced into the wretched position of sustaining torture or breaking down, there is such a thing as a right response. [p. 173]

... from the day I was stripped of my judgeship to the years doing battle in the revolutionary courts of Tehran, I had repeated on refrain: an interpretation of Islam that is in harmony with equality and democracy is an authentic expression of faith. It is not religion that binds women, but the selective dictates of those who wish them cloistered. That belief, along with the conviction that change in Iran must come peacefully and from within has underpinned my work. [emphasis added]

I have been under attack most of my adult life for this approach, threatened by those in Iran who denounce me as an apostate for daring to suggest that Islam can look forward and denounced outside my country by secular critics of the Islamic Republic, whos attitudes are no less dogmatic. Over the years, I have endured all manner of slights and attacks, been told that I must not appreciate or grap the real spirit of democracy if I can claim in the same breath that freedom and human rights are not perforce in conflict with Islam. When I heard the statement of the [Nobel Peace] prize read aloud, heard my religion mentioned specifically alongside my work defending Iranians' rights, I knew at that moment what was being recognized: the belief in a positive interpretation of Islam, and the power of that belief to aid Iranians who aspire to peacefully transform their country. [p. 204]

I can think of no scenario more alarming, no internal shift more dangerous than that engendered by the West imagining that it can bring democracy to Iran through either military might or the fomentation of violent rebellion. [emphasis added] [pp. 214-215]


Blogger Karen M said...

Great choice, Stephanie! She is such an incredible woman.

11:48 AM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

And yet I am amazed at how many people do not know who she is.

11:51 AM  
Blogger Karen M said...

True. Yet, if she were a man...?

1:44 PM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

If she were an Iranian man, would she be fighting for the rights of women and children? It's too broad a brush, I know but Iranian men who would do what Ebadi has done (and continues to do) are practically non-existent.

I knew the names of the prominent men she wrote of instantneously ... Pahlavi, Khomeini, Khatami, Moktahri, Rafsanjani.

7:19 PM  
Blogger Shahrul Azmi said...

friends from different world,

let me throw in some insignificant comment, with big friendly smiles.

I don't know so much about Iran, but I can tell you some facts about my country Malaysia.

It is not only the man to be blame, there is another problem to women's right here, its the lady themself who most of the time refuse to be seen, and most ot the time the person from same gender who condemn and isolate any brave lady... coz they would prefer being traditional and loyal the old way.. high time for these women to be educated..

7:18 PM  
Blogger Lyssa Strada said...

You will find only agreement here on the importance of women becoming educated.

In addition to the woman herself, her family and the whole world benefit.

One of the reasons for this blog's existence is to try and change what you describe... women enforcing oppression upon other women, because they have internalized it themselves. It happens even in the West.

Thank you for your comments.

8:08 PM  
Blogger Karen M said...

"Iranian men who would do what Ebadi has done (and continues to do) are practically non-existent."

Perhaps that would make such a man even more notorious.

8:10 PM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

I do appreciate your commentary here and hope that we will hear more from you.

In the case of Iran, it has been codified that women must cover up. Ebadi's book is filled with stories of women being arrested for not wearing the hejab (scarf). Even her mother was once arrested for wearing her slippers, not proper shoes (or socks and sandals). "What could I do? My feet were swollen!"

Karen: it may not be such a good thing to be notorious in Iran. Ebadi has "gotten away" with a lot because of her international acclaim. It would be a bigger scandal for the Iranian government to lock her up and throw away the key; although they tried at least once.

This is not to say that her book represents a hopeless scenario for Iran. Slowly things are getting better, but so slowly as to be scarcely recognizable and it is due to people like Ebadi who stayed behind and are working hard to make things better.

9:51 PM  

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