Nobel Winner Urges Patience on Iran

Nobel Peace Prize winner and women’s rights activist Shirin Ebadi spoke at a Harvard Book Store sponsored event yesterday, arguing Americans and Iranians “have no differences” despite sour relations between their governments, and that political change in Iran must first occur internally.

“It is upon us Iranians to resolve these issues. It is not the job of foreign soldiers,” Ebadi said, speaking through an interpreter before a crowd of nearly 200 at the First Parish Church.

Ebadi, an Iranian who is also a lawyer and one of the first female judges in Iran, became in 2003 the first Iranian and the first Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Prize.

“Iran and the U.S. must bring an end to their disputes through dialogue and negotiations which are public, open, and direct,” Ebadi said.

Democracy is the only solution to Iran’s conflicts with the international community, Ebadi said. “Is anyone concerned about the fact that France has an atomic bomb?” Ebadi asked. “No! This is because it is a democracy and people are able to supervise their government.”

Ebadi said she advocates for her country a “new democracy” in which the government places liberal restrictions on majoritarianism. “I believe in secularism,” Ebadi said, “but if a society elects a candidate from a radical religious party, are we going to say their voices don’t matter?”

Because governments receive legitimacy from more than just votes, “the majority does not have the right to put half of society away, or to limit free speech, in the name of religion,” Ebadi argued. Leaders must work within “the framework of democracy,” she said.

Ebadi expounded on the state of women’s rights in Iran, citing laws requiring women to veil, which she argued reflects the fact that Iran is “not an advanced democracy.” According to Ebadi, these laws are not reflective of Islam but rather of a “patriarchal and wrong interpretation of Islam.”

“If you go further east—Malaysia, Indonesia—the veil is not mandatory and people there are able to live more comfortable and free lives,” Ebadi said.

Ebadi expressed faith that the Iranian people will find their own solutions to the country’s problems.

Despite Iran’s difficulties, its people are strongly connected to their country and will not “let Iran become another Iraq,” Ebadi said. She emphasized that Iranians must themselves fight against Iran’s extant patriarchal culture.

Ebadi further commented on the U.S.’s role on the international stage, criticizing U.S. opposition to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the country’s refusal to sign the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Because it is a “superpower,” decisions made by the U.S. have global impact, Ebadi said.

“The U.S. should join the ICC and become a role model for the rest of the world,” Ebadi said, “This is how the dictators of the world will lose sleep.”

International conventions should be the framework for international action because, Ebadi said, “it is in this manner that democracy can be spread all over the world without shedding blood.”

—Staff writer Ariadne C. Medler can be reached at