October 24, 2003

La Prensa Persa

Editors Note: The biweekly column of La Prensa Persa (The Persian Press), is an opportunity for members of the middle-eastern communities to communicate and talk about the many issues facing them, immigration law, civil and constitutional rights to name a few, which not only impact that community but also impact the Hispanic community.

One Noble Peace Prize Winner and Multiple Views

By Kathy Hadizadeh

Winning the Noble Peace Prize by an Iranian lady: Shirin Ebadi has resulted in many different opinions from different sources. Perhaps it can be the most controversial news-making event during the lifetime of Noble Peace Prize.

I heard the news on the Iranian radio 670 AM-KIRN while driving to work. The news was so shocking that I could not believe my ears. The radio hosts were congratulating all Iranian people around the globe. The SC people were calling to say how proud they feel after some time that they could not lift their heads. After all it is no fun to come from an Axis of Evil country!

The first news site that I checked was CNN. This paragraph caught my attention: “Nobel experts said the five members of the Nobel committee, who include three women, probably chose Ebadi as a way of promoting change in Iran. The Middle Eastern nation was once branded part of an ‘axis of evil’ by U.S. President George W. Bush with pre-war Iraq and North Korea.”

The point is promoting change refers to the fundamental changes in the internal Iran affairs caused by the conflict between radicals and reformers in government. It has nothing to do with the President Bush calling Iran an axis of evil for reasons within his domain of influence as US President.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan took the opportunity to congratulate Shirin as the first Moslem woman to win such a prize and to promote the idea that human rights are compatible with Islam. Annan stated: “Her interpretation of Islamic law in a way that recognizes the harmony between human rights, democracy and equality before the law distinguishes her”.

Human rights watch had another positive opinion on this choice. They considered it a welcome sign of international support for all Iranians, especially women, struggling to exercise their basic rights. Said Kenneth Roth, executive director of HRW. “The Nobel Committee has sent a powerful message to the Iranian government that serious human rights violations must end. We hope they hear that message.”

Other Official reactions outside Iran to Shirin’s prize were all overwhelmingly positive, and even the Vatican congratulated her. The only instance of dissatisfaction from this decision came from Pole Lech Walesa who stated explicitly:” I have nothing against this woman, but if there is someone alive in the world who deserves this distinction it is certainly the Holy Father”. He did not give any reasons why he believes so and if has knows anything about the terror environment of Iran. An atmosphere where even the thought of freedom of speech would be extinct by now, had it not been for the efforts of people like Shirin who did not leave the country and stayed to fight.

There was another very feminine view that three members of the Noble Prize committee this year are women. Which enabled the Vatican, cheated of the prize they had been so confident would come to John Paul as a crown on his ‘lifetime of achievement’, to comment 2003 prize had more to do with sexual ethics than peace. But to stress the feminist aspect of the award, however important for women in Iran, does less than justice to the breadth of Shirin’s work as a lawyer. Before the outbreak of the Iranian revolution, 56-year-old Shirin had been Iran’s first female judge, forced to resign in 1979 to be replaced by a man. She is assertive, severe and frighteningly well-versed in Islamic and western law—that Iran’s conservative establishment cannot stand. She has defended several controversial cases of political murder, repression and domestic violence and was herself convicted by the courts for her role in producing a video alleging that prominent members of the government were the supporters of violent murders of some Iranian intellectuals.

Iranians outside Iran were all feeling proud to be Iranian hearing the big news, considering it as a big ray of hope for some change in Iran. Karim Lahidji, president-in-exile of the Iranian League for Human Rights said the prize was a “great victory” for rights groups in Iran, which is dominated by conservative Muslim clerics.

Inside Iran there were two completely controversial views going on. The response from the hard-liners controlling the real power has ranged from indifference to harsh denunciations. “This prize carries the message that Europe intends to put further pressure on human rights issues in Iran, a political move as part of its pursuit of its own particular ends,” wrote the hardline mullahs’ daily Resalat.

People in Iran were exceedingly happy. Thousands dressed mostly in white went to the airport to welcome Shirin. In her own words “a sea of white” welcomed her. The crowd together with banners they carried, mostly filled with political slogans demanding referendum and freedom for political prisoners seemed to form a peaceful anti-governmental demonstration.

Despite all these views, the fact is that Shirin Ebadi is the 2003 Noble Peace Prize winner. It is not the end of struggle BUT rather the beginning of it. Her celebrity might protect her to some extent yet brings new fears but she has feasts of steel and carries a true belief in her chest that will save her:”Any person who pursues human rights in Iran must live with fear from birth to death, but I have learned to overcome my fear” .

Kathy Hadizal can be emailed at: khadiza1@irf.com.

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