- I was too young during the time frame of the Iranian Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War that quickly followed to have much knowledge about what was going on in the larger world outside of what I saw directly affecting me, nor would I really have even understood it. Though I have read a bit about these events in the years since, I admit to not being very knowledgeable in regard to what occurred. The first part of Iran Awakening was insightful to me, as it provided some personal account of this time from someone who was directly affected. Ebadi provides a brief account of the United States' role in what occurred and her explanation for the perspective and distrust of many Iranians in regard to the U.S. and the West, which I think is prudent for those of us in the West to keep in mind. Her opinions towards the end of the book in regard to relatively recent relations/developments between the West and Iran and what actions would/would not be wise for the West to take were interesting for consideration as well (keeping in mind the book was published in 2006, so does not address the most recent developments), though not explored enough in the scope of this book to provide extensive insight. In regard to options of military force used against Iran, Ebadi says, "I can think of no scenario more alarming, no internal shift more dangerous than that engendered by the West imagining that it can bring democracy to Iran through either military might or the fomentation of violent rebellion." I finished this book just shortly before the Iran Nuclear Agreement was announced, so this was a timely read for me, and gave me a little more framework with which to contemplate the news of the agreement.
- I was taken by Ebadi's determined hope that things can and will get better in Iran despite the persistent and pervasive systemic injustice she has seen and experienced in the decades since the Revolution. Her optimism and ability to find a positive element in incredibly disheartening experiences is humbling and inspiring. One of her first cases as a pro bono lawyer involved representing a family whose eleven year old daughter had been raped and murdered. Despite the horrific nature of the crime and because of the discriminatory Iranian penal code, the victim's family was left homeless, destitute and shamed. Ebadi sought justice for the victim and her family, but the case was never resolved. This and other cases which Ebadi described in her memoir were shocking to me in how inconceivably unjust the supposed "judicial" process was and in how Ebadi managed to find a thin silver lining despite such grossly unjust rulings again and again. In the case of the young girl mentioned above, Ebadi says "I did not succeed in getting the legal system to mete out anything approximating justice, but I do think we accomplished something else: we made a national showcase of the flaws in Iranian law concerning the rights of women and children.... I learned very quickly that one of the most powerful tools at the disposal of the legally powerless was the media. My prominence in turn made me more effective at defending my clients, because the judge knew that both he and the judiciary would be forced to justify their decision in the court of public opinion. Oftentimes they simply did not care, but at those times I reminded myself that raising people's awareness of their rights was in itself a contribution.... I was struck by how few women even knew the legal system discriminated against them so severely."
- In reading the book, the need for separation of church and state in laws and governance was reinforced for me. Religion is very subject to interpretation, and that interpretation is at the whim of whoever holds the most power at the time. (Note: I do very much believe in the protection of religious freedoms - which can itself present controversy that I won't address here - but I believe the separation of church and state is vital.) Although Ebadi believes in the separation of religion and government, she wisely acknowledged that she could not approach her cases from that viewpoint given that those in positions of power based their legal decisions on religious law and interpretation of the Koran. Intent on truly helping people rather than airing her political views, Ebadi built her cases and advocated for female equality by using Islamic principles and precedents, and argued for a religious interpretation that supported such equality; she knew any other approach would be futile. Often, during her trials or as a result of them, Ebadi was accused of speaking against Islamic law - a dangerous accusation given the oppressive climate; however, she is adamant that Islam can be interpreted to support equality. As she states in the book, "In the last twenty-three years, from the day I was stripped of my judgeship to the years doing battle in the revolutionary courts of Tehran, I had repeated one refrain: an interpretation of Islam that is in harmony with equality and democracy is an authentic expression of faith. It is not religion that binds women, but the selective dictates of those who wish them cloistered."
- Ebadi spoke in the her book of the Iranian brain drain, as many of the country's most talented and educated left the country to escape the oppression and lack of opportunity. She herself grew very angry as colleagues and friends left Iran for better lives for themselves and better futures their children - she felt a strong ethical and political obligation to stay in Iran, maintain their culture and Iranian identity for their children and work to improve their country and the lives of Iran's people. I admire her courage, tenacity and dedication to her country though I don't know that I would have chosen to do the same, nor can I fault those who chose to leave. As it came to be, in the years since Ebadi wrote this book, she has been exiled from Iran.
It would be unsurprising, though not necessary, for religion to come up in a discussion of this book. I don't see this memoir as being even chiefly about religion, but rather about a remarkable woman's experiences. However, due to some recent discussions or articles/commentaries I've seen, religion was on my mind as I read the book, and I will mention that briefly here. I am not going to embark on either a defense or a criticism of the religion of Islam, as I have never been a Muslim, have never studied it objectively, and have no substantive knowledge and experience upon which to base a legitimate argument. Unfortunately, it's not unusual for me to see or hear commentary by others who are no more knowledgeable or experienced than myself, but will put forth their limited knowledge, experience or opinions as undeniable and universal fact. I think that some of the value in reading a book like Iran Awakening is that it can challenge some stereotypes non-Muslims may have about all Muslims and their beliefs, in that it offers the perspective and experiences of someone who, while a Muslim and a citizen of a very conservative Muslim country, challenges a theocratic institution that interprets the faith to justify oppressive and discriminatory actions in the name of Islam. Ultimately, regardless of any differences in our religions, I value many of the same things that Ebadi values - equality and justice and working to improve the lives of women and children and all vulnerable populations who are often the victims of gross injustice. If one interprets and practices their religion in a way that supports those values, I can respect that; if one uses their religious beliefs and interpretations to discriminate against, oppress and victimize women, children or any group, I stand against that. (It goes without saying that all of these statements are high level summaries of my thoughts. One could easily play devil's advocate and toss up numerous "what if" scenarios that delve into the gray areas of any philosophical, religious or political stance or that demand all-encompassing definitions of every word I have stated. However, I'm neither interested in going to that level here, nor do I think it would be feasible on this platform.) The book is also an opportunity to get a personal account of experiences that many of us in the West have likely never even come close to experiencing and would find hard to imagine; I enjoy reading accounts that open my eyes to the struggles that others face and that challenge me to look beyond my own world and experiences. Additionally, I can always use more role models and inspiration for peace, courage and standing up in defense of human rights, and this book provided that inspiration.