Monday, December 03, 2007

Iran Awakening

By Shirin Ebadi

Shirin Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her work for children's and women's rights. She is the first Iranian to receive this award and the first Muslim woman to receive it.
Iran Awakening is about her experiences with the repressive revolutionary religious government that took over Iran after the overthrow of the Shah.
Initially, Ebadi supported the movement to overthrow the Shah because his government was corrupt and repressive and not democratic. She fancied that the new regime would be more democratic than the old. She soon discovered how mistaken she was. As she says, "It took scarcely a month for me to realize that, in fact, I had willingly and enthusiastically participated in my own demise. I was a woman and this revolution's victory demanded my defeat."
Shirin Ebadi before the revolution was a law judge, presiding over a court room. After the revolution, she was only permitted to be a law clerk as a woman was not deemed fit to be a judge. She tries to conform but eventually leaves the court to move into private practice. Her focus becomes abused children and women who have no one to defend them or stand up for their rights in this cruel, male-dominated society that the revolution has created and sustains.
The main problem with the revolution in Iran and in all fundamentalist Islamic societies is their desire to enforce an outdated, centuries-old legal code based on a macho, tribal culture that views women and children as the property of the men in their lives. As Shirin says, "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 thieves were considered appropriate sentences."
Shirin takes on the cases of abused children and women and of the other victims of the regime. She brings these cases to public notice and comes under the hateful gaze of the government fanatics. She lives knowing that her life is in danger and that she could be killed or locked up at any time, as has happened to so many who have spoken out. Indeed she discovers in government transcript between a government minister and a death squad member that she is reviewing for a legal case that she is on the list of people to be killed: "The next person to be killed is Shirin Ebadi."
After decades of living under a religion-dominated government, Ebadi has come to believe that democracy will only be achieved when religion and government are completely separate. As she says, since the Islamic Republic considers their interpretations of Islam to be divinely inspired and nonnegotiable, how can tolerance and an appreciation of inalienable human rights ever be guaranteed under such a system? The only solution is to separate the two.
Despite the overbearing tactics of the Islamic government in Iran, Ebadi continues to believe that "an interpretation of Islam that is in harmony with equality and democracy is an authentic expression of faith." She also believes that change will come to Iran eventually, even if it takes decades.
At the end of the book she warns the US that using strong arm tactics against Iran will only backfire because it will serve to strengthen the regime's hand against any dissidents and prompt Iranians to stand behind their government out of defensive nationalism.

An interesting look at life inside Iran in the decades following the Islamic Revolution, Ebadi's book is informative, compelling, engrossing and well worth reading.

Review from Kirkus Reviews:

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