Ebadi, Shirin with Azadeh Moaveni. IRAN AWAKENING. 2006. Alfred A. Knopf. Canada

Iran Awakening: Book Review

“The price of transforming Iran peacefully, I have long known but these days feel more acutely, is sacrifice of the highest order.”

As the USA rattles its bombs and boycotts at Iran, I found 2 books that helped me understand that country and its recent past; it all started in 1953 when the CIA overthrew the democratic and nationalist leader of Iran, Mossadegh, and installed the Shah to do the USA’s bidding. Ebadi’s memoir is the story of a society and its resistance, not just of one woman.

Shirin Ebadi started life as a privileged daughter of liberal middle class parents. In the time of the Shah she went to university and became a judge. Her life was normal; she married and enjoyed her work. Like many young educated people she saw the cruelty and corruption of the Shah’s regime and supported a revolution to topple him. When the new regime became one of religious fanaticism, she and other women in positions of authority were dismissed and discarded. The law changed along with society and daily life.

Ebadi writes about the pain and hardship, particularly to women who were classified as being half the value of men. Uprisings against the new regime were brutally crushed; her brother—in—law died in jail. Any criticism by intellectuals was punished — people disappeared, often in ‘accidents’. When she started to work as a lawyer defending women and those accused of dissent, the government cracked down on her — her name appeared on a death squad list; she spent weeks in jail. Yet through all this time she was raising a family, cooking and cleaning at night — the model of a devout Iranian housewife. This duality of her life, trying to work for justice while protecting her family from her troubled professional life, damaged her health, but her will never weakened.

The regime attempted to unite people during the war with Iraq, she and all Iranians knew that Iraq and Hussein were armed and backed by the USA. Many people still saw and experienced the violence of the regime, but sickened by war, they could not support a bloody civil war as well. She saw many of the country’s brightest people flee into exile; many begged her and her family to leave also. Her religious faith and commitment to her society kept and keep her in Iran. As she writes, she would not be any use in exile.

A friend from Iran here in Victoria told me that she made a very dangerous and important decision to stay and fight the system from within. She believes fervently in her fellow Iranians and the triumph of justice through law — no matter how difficult the struggle. It is that belief and her constant work to defend and help those who are the victims of injustice that gradually gained her international attention which she saw as only helpful for her work and clients, not for herself. She represented the family of the Canadian—Iranian photographer, Zahra Kazemi, who was beaten to death in jail in Tehran in 2003, trying to bring the murderers to justice.

That was the year she won the Nobel Prize for Peace — one of that Committee’s good choices. Flying back from a conference in Paris where she received the news of her award she reflected on her life, “Such lofty recognition could only be intended for what someone’s life symbolized, the path or approach they had followed in pursuit of some higher purpose.”

When she heard the award statement, her religion was mentioned alongside her human rights work. “I knew at that moment what was being recognized: the belief in a positive interpretation of Islam, and the power of that belief to aid Iranians who aspire to peacefully transform their country.”
Her memoir is her testament to another truth, “that the written word is the most powerful tool we have to protect ourselves, both from tyrants of the day and from our own traditions.”

Filed under Azadeh Moaveni, Book Reviews, Shirin Ebadi