Leaving Islam



Iranian Reactions to Shirin Ebadi

By Potkin Azarmehr

There have been many reactions to Shirin Ebadi winning the Nobel prize amongst Iranians, both amongst the ex-pats and those inside Iran. 

These reactions can be summarised in the following categories: 

The reaction of the ruling hardliners (Iranian Talibans) : 

Of course the reaction of the hardliners was no surprise. They are absolutely livid about Shirin Ebadi winning the Nobel peace prize. Some like the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, can not even bring himself  to talk about it. Some like the conservative newspapers Kayhan and Resalat have filled their pages with insults to Shirin Ebadi. Either accusing the Nobel peace panel as agents of America and Zionists who had previously awarded the prize to the likes of Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin or directly accusing Shirin Ebadi herself as a non-believer who had sexual relationship with the former Shah’s sister!  

The most comical award of this category however must go to the Jomhouri Eslami (Islamic Republic) daily, which completely got it wrong. The daily wrote Shirin Ebadi is a previously convicted activist who now lives in America and her journalist husband Siamak Pourzand is currently serving an 11 year sentence. In fact the paper got Shirin Ebadi mixed up with another Iranian lioness Mehrangiz Kar. This just about sums up the level of intellect of this category. So the less said the better. 

The reaction of the Khatami faction (2nd Khordad Front): 

This group known as “reformists” by some of their enthusiasts in the Western press were also taken by surprise. The initial reaction of some like the Entekhab Daily’s director, Tah Hashemi, after some delay was that the prize should have instead been awarded  to president Khatami for his leadership in starting the “dialogue amongst civilisations”, yuk!

I am sorry I feel sick every time I am reminded of this statement. However the very president who kids himself about being the pioneer and the champion of dialogue amongst civilisations could not bring himself to a dialogue with the first Iranian ever to win the Nobel prize.

After several days of silence there was a luke warm congratulations from president Khatami with lots of ifs and buts.

But there is also a comedy award for this category which must go to president Khatami himself when he so self-assuredly suggested that the Nobel peace prize is not very important and it is the literature award that counts! 

Most of us Iranians if not the Western press, remember how Khatami unconditionally praised the butcher of Evin, the very much hated Assadollah Lajevardi, who killed thousands of political prisoners including pregnant women and children, yet this reformist champion of the Western press couldn’t bring himself to praise Shirin Ebadi. 

However some of the more cunning figures in this camp quickly realised that they could exploit this situation by feeding their crony journalists such as Jim Muir, the BBC correspondent in Tehran, their usual misinformation. They got their order taker journalists to misinform the world public that Shirin Ebadi is in fact one of the major figures in this “reformist” pro-Khatami faction! 

We need to tell the world that Shirin Ebadi unlike the 2nd Khordad figures, has never been part of this Islamic Republic establishment. She has never held a government post within the Islamic Republic. As a lawyer she has endeavoured to take forward her agenda of children and human rights within the law of the Islamic Republic. No minor task at all. 

The reaction of the mainstream Iranians 

There is no doubt that the majority of Iranians are absolutely ecstatic about Shirin Ebadi winning the Nobel peace prize. First of all she is our compatriot and we all feel very proud. More importantly she is an activist against this medieval regime who is active inside Iran. She was the first woman judge under the Shah’s regime. The clerics decided that women are not allowed to be judges according to Islamic teachings and so she continued as a lawyer defending the poor, the oppressed, our political prisoners and others. She was also instrumental in revealing the string pullers of the vigilante thugs who attacked the political gatherings and protests, by exposing the video confessions of a repented vigilante, Amir Farshad Ebrahimi. For this she was banned from the bar and received a short spell in prison as well as a suspended sentence. 

For the majority which fall within this category, Shirin Ebadi will now be another one of those Iranians who are above the factional party politics and will be crucial in keeping the order in the immediate post-Islamic Republic era. We will need this period of calm and stability to rebuild our national institutions and hold a referendum and elections. A pluralistic secular Iran which is also stable and prosperous will lead the way to peace and stability in the Middle East too. Such a future Iran will contain the fundamentalist threat that currently threatens the civilised world. 

The last category: 

There are also some Iranians opposed to the Islamic Republic who also see Shirin Ebadi’s Nobel prize as a conspiracy by those who want to prolong the Islamic Republic. I could not find a suitable name for this section of Iranians to categorise them. I have no doubt in their patriotism and on most occasions I share their stance. So lets just refer to them as Ebadi sceptic opposition. 

This section of Iranians criticise Shirin Ebadi’s remarks about there being no contradictions between Islam and human rights. They quite rightly point out numerous contradictions between Islam and human rights and I share their view. However we must remember none of us who share these views dare to go back to Iran. The likes of us live outside Iran and enjoy the security of the democracies we live in and so we can comfortably afford to be so outspoken in our views. 

We have to remember the limitations that the people in Iran face. Yes of course I would have preferred Shirin Ebadi to call herself an Iranian woman first and foremost instead of a Muslim woman. Of course I would have preferred Shirin Ebadi to come out and say Islam is not compatible with human rights, but do I dare to go to Iran and say such things myself? Do I know of any Iranians who publicly say these things inside Iran and are not dead or in prison right now?  We are in fact a testimony to how our right to express our views is denied to us in Islamic countries. 

Instead I revel in the joy of watching Shirin Ebadi appear before a press conference without the Islamic head dress, and say all Iranian political prisoners should be freed.

I revel in the joy of her telling the world that the “reformists” in Iran have reached a dead end and if the Guardian Council continues to veto the candidates the people will just boycott the next parliamentary elections. 

I revel in the joy of watching hundreds of thousands of Tehran’s citizens rush towards the airport at short notice and greet Shirin Ebadi, who again as soon as she arrives in Mehrabad airport demands the freedom of Iranian political prisoners. 

I revel in reading the news that the traffic towards the airport was bumper to bumper and many abandoned their cars and walked to the airport. That 10,000 women alone wore white scarves symbolising peace, that people outside the terminal  sang Ey Iran and other patriotic anthems. 

I revel in the fact that all the flower shops on the way to the airport had sold out and people greeted their heroine with bouquets of flowers. 

We keep going on about civil disobedience and try to educate ourselves about the ways in which to bring the masses into the streets and yet we ignore such an opportunity because Shirin Ebadi was not as anti-Islamic as we wanted her to be!

It is precisely occasions such as this that we should exploit. For it is within the capability of all citizens to go towards the airport. The bigger the crowds the more confidence the people will have. The more opportunity there will be for protest and more radical slogans.

The more opportunity there will be to get the Law Enforcement personnel on our side.

We have to win concessions step by step. Let’s be realistic. 

We also always complain about lack of news about the pro-democracy movement in Iran and yet some choose to miss the promotion of such photo opportunities and such news worthy items by their rigid anti-Islamic views. 

If  I or the likes of me say something against the Islamic Republic it does not make the headlines. If however Khoemini’s grandson says he wants to see the overthrow of the Islamic Republic then that is news and we should try to publicise it. Who cares if Hossein Khomeini is also a cleric. He will appeal to sections of the population that the likes of us will never be able to reach to.  

I am not in favour of making worshipped idols of any mortals and I don’t like writing blank cheques to anyone. Those who want to criticise Shirin for not being outspoken enough have the right to do so and it is a good thing that we no longer let any individual take the mantle piece of being above all criticism. I encourage them to criticise Shirin Ebadi as I encourage people to keep a check on any public figure. But just let us understand the opportunities that events like this present us. 

Twenty four years ago an ill-informed, poorly educated generation of Iranians went to welcome a medieval man who represented the dark ages and on his flight back to Iran when he was asked what his feelings were before returning to Iran after 15 years of exile, he replied “Nothing”. Yesterday hundreds of thousands of Tehran citizens lined up the streets and welcomed a woman who demanded the freedom of political prisoners and after only a few days away from her motherland Iran, when asked about her feelings, she replied  “I feel like a child returning to her mother”.







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