Review: Iran Awakening, Shirin Ebadi
Iran Awakening is a brutal account of the remarkable life of Shirin Ebadi. The first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, she tells her story with passion and humility, in a way which both shocks and enlightens.
Dr Ebadi is a qualified judge who dreams of reform in her native Iran, where she strives for a new interpretation of Islamic law, endorsing democracy, equality and religious and political freedom. She speaks of her childhood and of the great influence that her parents’ somewhat liberal ways had on her upbringing and consequent views in life. She chronicles her education and the freedom she enjoyed as a student at the University of Tehran, and discusses her marriage and the trials and tribulations within it.
Recounting the tale of the Iranian Revolution in 1979, which at the time she enthusiastically supported, Ebadi describes the establishment of the fundamentalist religious regime which eventually sidelines her career and temporarily costs her her influence. Within days of the Shah’s departure she finds herself in front of a board of Ayatollah Khomeini’s new order, which commands that she cover her hair and adds, almost as a side point, that she can no longer function as a judge. “I was a woman, and this revolution’s victory demanded my defeat.” She, like so many others in Iran at the time, was unable to see any good at all in their previous regime which, despite its many faults, was secular, modernising and the most liberal and progressive of the Middle East. No one noticed, until it was too late, the looming problems with the religious leadership of the uprising, and no one suspected that the harshest and most authoritarian regime would prevail. Newly stripped of her judicial status and eventually forced out of a job altogether, she watches her qualified, intelligent, female friends give in and adhere to the traditional role of wife and homemaker – but Ebadi cannot abandon her beliefs.
Shortly afterwards, Ebadi witnesses an immense brain drain of her beloved homeland, as the educated and skilled flee the country in search of a ‘better’ life. Friends and family pack their things and, despite her vain attempts at persuading them to stay, “turn[ed] their backs on Iran.”
In a country where a man’s life is worth twice that of a woman’s (literally when it comes to paying blood money), she is determined to defend those in desperate need despite her sudden loss of power. As a human rights campaigner, in particular for women, children and political prisoners in Iran, Ebadi discusses the appalling cases of injustice with which she deals every day, some of which are distressingly haunting. With the government growing more and more suspicious of her campaigning, and the chance of imprisonment and/or death becoming more probable each day, she does not lose faith but instead fights even harder to achieve her aim – justice.
Written with modesty and a shocking amount of honesty, this book is a must-read account of women’s every day struggles in Iran. It is an inspirational tale which does an incredible job of putting our country’s achievements in gender equality into perspective. As soon as I read the first page, I couldn’t put it down – and I guarantee that you will do the same.
Article by Anna Dewhurst.
Edited by Kate Banks.