A blog written by our members about their experiences at community events.
By: Lamisa Mustafa
Two days ago, Tuesday June 14th, I went to a World Affairs Council speaker series event titled "Until We Are Free: My Fight for Human Rights in Iran" to hear Shirin Ebadi speak.
When I got to the venue, I was a little intimidated by the distinguished attendees in their high heels and tailored suits. Luckily, I saw some familiar faces! I got to shake hands with Tarek Radjef, an Algerian who came and spoke to NSHS’s French club! Ms. Ledwon and Ms. Syphus were also there and we sat next to each other.
I was a little bit surprised at first when Ms. Ebadi did not speak in English and had a translator. It took a bit of time to adjust to the back-and-forth between her and the translator but later on, it was perfectly fine. Although, it was funny when Ms. Ebadi made a joke and the audience members who understood Farsi laughed right away, while the non-Farsi speakers had to wait to laugh and clap along until her joke was translated.
Ms. Ebadi is an astonishing person whose credentials are out of this world and whose experiences are unspeakable. I am going to start off by saying how lucky I am to have heard her speak. She is the first Muslim woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize and only the fifth Muslim. She is the first Iranian woman to have served as a chief justice, a job that was taken away from her after the Iranian Revolution. She wrote her book, "Until We Are Free" for two reasons: “to help young women gain self-confidence” by reading about her experiences and “to tell the truth about the nature and substance of the Iranian government.”
In terms of the current situation in Iran, she explained that government officials treat activist leaders horribly by imprisoning them with no evidence of guilt. There are strong feminist, workers’, and student movements in Iran.
She spoke about how there are a lot of human rights violations in her motherland. At the age of 63, she lost everything including her money, property, accounts, law office, and NGO. Because she wasn’t home at the time, the government arrested her sister and her husband. Through resilience and perseverance, she realized that she was lucky to be alive and continued to fight for human rights. In 2003, she was honored as a Nobel Peace Laureate for her efforts for democracy and human rights, especially for the rights of women and children. She works with other women recipients of the award in the organization, Nobel Women’s Initiative, in the fight towards gender equality.
Her speech ended quickly because she wanted to break down the stereotype that attorneys “talk a lot”. Afterwards, there were audience questions.
The last few audience questions started to get a bit heated because they were about the touchy subjects of Palestine and Israel conflicts, as well as fundamentalism in Islam, but Ms. Ebadi handled them with class, staying true to her values. When a person asked “why does Iran hate Israel?” Ms. Ebadi replied that it was a strategy of the Islamic republic to be the leader of the Islamic world by opposing Israel. She pointed out the incongruity in the government’s actions when it was silent when Russia took Crimea and when Chechen Muslims were killed. Her opinion about the migration crisis of refugees going from Yemen, Libya, and Syria to Europe is that the displaced people are only security threats when they are isolated: she believes they can be economically useful if they are integrated into European society. She was frustrated when someone asked “Is Islam compatible with democracy and human rights?” because she gets that question often and never gets asked whether or not Christianity or Judaism are compatible with democratic values. Her response was that government should be secular and separate from religion and also that Islam should be interpreted in a way that is compatible with human rights. On the topic of nuclear weapons, she is against nuclear power plants because she believes solar power would be more practical.
I was lucky enough to get her signature and a picture with her after the event. I also spoke with Ms. Hardy and Sergiy Shtukarin about educational opportunities for our Forum. (Stay tuned!)
Of course, if you want to learn more about this amazing woman, read her newest memoir, "Until We Are Free: My Fight for Human Rights in Iran" or just Google her (yes, she IS that well known).
I encourage all of you to go to future World Affairs Council speaker series events to hear from world leaders about their experiences and current events.
Human Rights Forum members