E-Post on Shirin Ebadi

Friday, 9 September 2011 Michael Craig Hillmann A friend has just sent me a YouTube link for a 19-minute television talk by Bahram Moshiri (an Iranian-American political activist who hosts a Persian-language television show on an IranianAmerican channel in Los Angeles) noting that the subject of the latter's talk is "criticism of Ms. Shirin Ebadi." In the talk, Mr. Moshiri describes the now expatriate Iranian attorney Shirin Ebadi as a person who had an opportunity or chance owing to her receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize to accomplish things, but lacked the "capacity to take advantage of that opportunity" and asks: "Is Ms. Ebadi's mind working?" He further asserts that hers is a "mistaken interpretation of Islam" and that she engaged in "cheating" in a recent public appearance. In addition, he characterizes Ms. Ebadi's Nobel acceptance speech as "emphasizing Muslims." As arguably the best known Iranian outside of Iran these days, Shirin Ebadi has taken advantage of her fame as a Nobel recipient to speak all over the world about Iran, Islam, women's rights, democracy, and the Islamic Republic of Iran. At a recent conference on Peace in Newark (NJ), she condemned the Islamic Republic of Iran for passing specific laws which she enumerates that discriminate against women. At another recent conference in Washington, D.C., she reminded her audience that what the Islamic Republic of Islam prescribes and advocates is not Islam, but rather the IRI's fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, her interpretation as an educated Muslim essentially different. Readers can guess those differences from a careful reading of Ms. Ebadi's Nobel speech, the text and translation of which one can easily find online. It so happens that a transcript of her signed Persian text and an approved English translation appear in a textbook called Persian Listening (Dunwoody Press, 2008) as an illustration of speechifying in Persian. It also so happens, contrary to Mr. Moshiri's assertion, that the speech does not base itself on or emphasize Islam. Indeed, the first half of the speech does not deal at all with Islam and when Ms. Ebadi identified herself in the second half of the speech as a Muslim woman opposed to patriarchy and male domination, her audience understood that she was rejecting any sort of Muslim or Christian or monarchical or socialist or other sort of government that deserves the label patriarchal or male chauvinist or totalitarian. And her unequivocal opposition to the Islamic Republic of Iran shows that she practices with her political activism what she preaches. When Ms. Ebadi, who is not a dynamic or particularly articulate public speaker and who sometimes speaks simplistically off the cuff, reminds her audiences that different interpretations of Islam exist, she is presumably saying that she does not accept a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam that does not acknowledge equal status to woman or does not behave democratically in other arenas. When Mr. Moshiri alleges that Shirin Ebadi's is a "mistaken interpretation of Islam," some non-Muslim students of Islam and most students of logic will likely disagree. When a non-Muslim tells a Muslim that his or her interpretation of his or her or faith is "mistaken," that non-Muslim is imposing an outsider's view of something on an insider. When some one tells me that he is a Muslim while holding a glass of wine in his hand, I don't tell him he can't be a Muslim, because the Koran has seven or so different things to say about wine and,

in my view, my Muslim interlocator can choose which of those Koranic statements to abide by or adapt. In fact, forty years of living among Muslims offer me anecdotal evidence that contradicts Mr. Moshiri's characterization of Muslims. And as an academic student of Persian writing and some other Iranian arts, I have an equally lengthy exposure to Muslims from Rudaki onward, including medieval Muslim poets such as Sa'di, Rumi, and Hafez and medieval and later Muslim architects and painters and Persian carpet designers and such, and scores of contemporary Iranian writers and artists and thinkers whose faith system is Islam, but who opposed the Pahlavi monarchy and oppose the Islamic Republic of Iran and oppose any role for religion in governance. In his Autobiography, Benjamin Franklin had these things to say about religion and Islam. ...the building of a house [in Philadelphia for religiously minded people] to meet in was no sooner propos'd, and persons appointed to receive contributions, but sufficient sums were soon received to procure the ground and erect the building...Both house and ground were vested in trustees, expressly for the use of any preacher of any religious persuasion who might desire to say something to the people at Philadelphia; the design in building not being to accommodate any particular sect, but the inhabitants in general; so that even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service. I never doubted...the existence of the Deity; that he made the world, and governed it by his Providence; that the most acceptable service of God was the doing good to man; that our souls are immortal; and that all crime will be punished, and virtue rewarded, either here or hereafter. These I esteem'd the essentials of every religion...I respected them all...This respect to all, with an opinion that the worst had some good effects, induced me to avoid all discourse that might tend to lessen the good opinion another might have of his own religion. Benjamin Franklin’s words make sense even to agnostics like me who find the condemnation of religion as a faith system of religiously minded persons who practice their religion personally and privately and whose behavior does not impinge upon the rights of others does not seem to make intellectual sense.