We desperately need a humanizing and personal antidote to this brinkmanship and mutual demonology. This is just what Shirin Ebadi provides in her inspiring autobiography Iran Awakening. In 2003, Ebadi, a lawyer and a prominent and courageous human rights campaigner, became the first Iranian (and the first Muslim woman) to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Her story encompasses a Tehran childhood prior to the fall of the Shah and an adult life in which she juggled a private life as a mother, wife and devout Muslim, and a career as a defence advocate for women and children in the Iranian court system. When the reactionary religious authorities declared women unfit to serve as judges, Ebadi found herself as clerk in the court over which she had once presided.
A War Too Far
Despite systematic harassment, threats and imprisonment, she has continued to be an eloquent voice for women’s rights in Iran. The Nobel Prize has given her a platform from which she intends to widen her campaign beyond Iran’s borders. It is, therefore, ironic that, unable to have her book published in Iran, Ebadi was banned in the US too, due to a trade embargo. It took a court case before she was allowed to publish in the United States. Shirin Ebadi’s story is symbolic of what happens to citizens when states are in the hands of zealots and mutually intolerant fundamentalisms collide. But she stands as an exemplar of a much nobler tradition: that of tolerance, respect and the inextinguishable human desire – often against all the odds and all the evidence – to forge a better future.Peter Whittaker