Shirin Ebadi wants Americans to do what they can to stop the Bush administration’s threats to bomb Iran as punishment for presumably making nuclear weapons.
“Nuclear weapons are not a daily concern of the people,” said Ebadi. “They want jobs; they want houses; they want health; they want more freedom.”
However, she predicted that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would whip up nationalistic support if Iran were forced into a face-off with the United States, just as it did when Saddam Hussein invaded Iran in 1980. The invasion resulted in an eight-year war between the two countries.
“Iranians may criticize their government, but if there is a military attack on Iran, they will defend their own country,” she said. “A government that is in danger from the outside will take any chance to accelerate nationalism inside the country.”
The lawyer, writer, teacher and former judge, became the first Muslim woman and first Iranian to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her efforts to promote democracy and human rights in Iran.
She spoke recently at the annual Great Lakes PeaceJam held at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.
PeaceJam’s (www.peacejam.org) mission is to work with Nobel Peace Laureates to help create a new generation of young leaders committed to peace through positive change in themselves, their communities and the world.
Instead of preparing for war, Ebadi wants to see Iran, the United States and every nation make education a top priority by taking 10 percent out of the military budget and re-directing it to education.
The cost of the military overwhelms government budgets, she said, and only a few countries in the world are “lucky” enough NOT to have this expense drain their resources.
“Governments tend to act in violent ways,” she said. “So the people must build an awareness that every violent act begets more violence.”
In other words, citizens should not wait for their government to promote peace and justice. The people must demand and fight for it themselves.
“I believe we must introduce peace and peaceful co-existence to children when they are young,” in programs like PeaceJam, she said.
In general, Ebadi doesn’t trust government and judging from her experience, she has good reason.
At age 23 she became the first woman judge in Iran (1975-79) serving as head of the city court of Tehran. However, she lost her judgeship because the post-Revolution government, the Islamic Republic, deemed women too “incompetent” to serve as judges.
Not to let a few mullahs to disturb her, Ebadi continued to defend women and children as well as government dissidents. She also distributed evidence implicating government officials in the murders of students at the University of Tehran in 1999. That landed her in jail for three weeks in 2000 and resulted in her disbarment.
Through all of this turmoil she taught law at the University of Tehran, tended to her family and wrote books.