For U.S. and Iran, it's time to talk
By MARK TRAHANT Editorial Page Editor:
May 14, 2006
I doubt President Bush's best friends support him 100 percent of
the time. As long as human beings are involved, there will always be
differences -- some significant -- within a philosophy, political party
Then we expect that line of thinking in this country. Even in a
democracy -- no, make that, especially in a democracy -- there is a
tension between those who govern and we who are governed. The tradition
of dissent is just one way we Americans look at the world.
But what if we had the ability to change lenses? What if we
could put on a pair of glasses and see the world differently?
Luckily, we have that power: We can look for insight from the
words of people we judge to be credible. There are voices in the world
that help us understand differences.
There's a new book that does just that. "Iran Awakening: A
Memoir of Revolution and Hope" may be the most important book you could
read this year because it gives context to the debate about Iran, its
nuclear program and a potential war. Shirin Ebadi, winner of the Nobel
Peace Prize, and a lawyer, longtime Iranian human rights activist and a
well-known dissident, wrote it. She was in Seattle last week talking
about the book and her work.
"Though words are peaceful weapons, over the past 15 years, I
have been harassed, threatened and jailed in the course of defending
human rights and victims of violence in Iran," Ebadi writes. "I wanted
to write a book that would help correct Western stereotypes of Islam,
especially the image of Muslim women as docile, forlorn creatures."
Her words are not docile at all, and are often brutal, as she
describes her story, starting with Iran's democracy under Prime
Minister Mohammad Mossadegh. That golden era ended when Mohammad Reza
Pahlavi, the shah, overthrew the popular, elected government. One of
the prime minister's actions -- nationalizing Iran's oil industry --
was seen as a threat to the West. "This bold move, which upset the
West's calculations in the oil-rich Middle East, earned Mossadegh the
eternal adoration of Iranians who viewed him as the father figure, much
as Mahatma Gandhi was revered in India."
The CIA directed the overthrow. Ebadi writes that even the shah
credited Kermit Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt's grandson, for his throne.
It was a bitter era, a time of corruption and unrest.
By the time of the Iranian revolution, Ebadi was a judge, and
from that perspective watched the imposition of what she called "unjust
and arbitrary law" by Islamic fundamentalists. "Of course, many of us
female judges did not stay silent. We protested everywhere we could --
in the halls, to our friends with revolutionary connections, to the new
minister," she writes.
The "gothic horror story" of the revolution is chilling -- but
save that for the book. Iranians themselves will take care of their own
problems. Instead, look closer at the complex relationship between the
United States and Iran.
Much has focused on the Iranian takeover of the U.S. Embassy
(what Ebadi calls a "wrong act, and an embarrassing one, too") but the
history between the two nations is much more complicated, including the
United States' support of Iraq in the brutal war against Iran. More
than a million Iranians and Iraqis were killed or wounded -- and the
war's impact "has shaped current Iranian attitudes about our future and
our place in the world," Ebadi writes. "Imagine if you were an Iranian
and watched the boys in your neighborhood board the bus for the front,
never to return. Imagine staring in mute horror at the television
screen as Saddam rained chemical weapons down on your boys, his death
planes guided by U.S. satellite photos. Fast forward about 15 years ...
you are listening to President George Bush promise he wants to bring
democracy to the Middle East. You are hearing him address the Iranian
people in his State of the Union address, telling them that if they
stand for their own liberty, America will stand with them. Do you
But Ebadi recognizes that dialogue is the only way forward. "It
is time to forget the past and think about the future," Ebadi said
She says the United States can help reformers within Iran by
spotlighting the human rights record because the Islamic system "has
shown itself sensitive to such criticism." Iranians want to fight for
their own version of democracy.
But what's at risk? "I can think of no scenario more alarming,
no internal shift more dangerous, than that endangered by the West
imagining that it can bring democracy to Iran through either military
might or the fomentation of violent rebellion."
Yes, Ebadi's book is a must read. Too bad it can't be condensed into a one-page policy memo for the president.
Mark Trahant is editor of the editorial page. E-mail:
email@example.com. A podcast of the P-I's interview with Shirin
Ebadi is posted at www.seattlepi.com.