Nobel Laureate: Change in Iran must come from within

By Torin Otis, NewsNetNebraska

Human rights activist Shirin Ebadi sees change as a good thing.

“I’m sure that democracy will come to Iran,” said Ebadi, the first Iranian and Muslim woman awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003.

Ebadi examined the connection between religious faith, politics and human rights globally in her E.N. Thompson Forum speech titled “True Islam: Human Rights, Faith, and Women.” (See NewsNetNebraska’s live coverage of the speech here.)

A lawyer and former professor at the University of Tehran, Ebadi referred often to the fact that free speech is extremely limited in Iran. Ebadi said Gallup recently polled Iranian citizens to gauge their support in the Iranian nuclear program. The results, she said, are “suspicious.”

“The Iranian government does not permit live people to take stats,” Ebadi said. “Phone conversations and email are under governmental control. You can’t speak against the government.”

The results showed more than 50-percent of Iranians support the study of the nuclear program, while 60-percent feel America is at fault for increased nuclear tension.

Ebadi, who has been imprisoned on several occasions for her involvement in many controversial political cases, said while the feminist movement in parts of the Muslim world is very strong, in others the life of a woman is worth “half of that of a man.”

“Bangladesh and Pakistan have both had a woman prime minister or president,” Ebadi said. “India has over 200 million Muslims and had a woman president years ago.”

Ebadi said women in Saudi Arabia can’t drive, yet alone hold political positions.

“The testimony of two women equals the testimony of one man,” Ebadi said. “A man can have four wives and divorce when he wants. It’s near impossible for women to divorce.”

When asked how democracy will exist in Iran, Ebadi said changes must come from within.

“Democracy is not merchandise to be exported to a country,” Ebadi said.

Senior civil engineering major Garret Menard said after the speech that U.S. involvement in Iran should not be a top priority.

“We have our own problems to deal with,” Menard said.

David Raybine, who also attended the speech, agreed with Menard and said America should not engage in hostile action.

“The only reason to act militarily is if they strike first,” Raybine said.

Ebadi, too, does not want to see military response.

“If attacked militarily, democracy will only be postponed.”

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