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Ebadi examines human rights

Madeline Buckley | Friday, April 24, 2009

In Iran, 65 percent of students attending universities are women, but the law states a man’s life is worth twice that of a woman’s, said Shirin Ebadi, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003.

“Gender discrimination exists,” Ebadi said through a translator. “The testimony of two women in court equals the testimony of one man.”

Ebadi, a lawyer and human rights activist known for defending women’s rights in Iran, discussed human rights in the Islamic world for the 15th annual “Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C. Lecture in Ethics and Public Policy” Thursday.

Along with gender inequality, she said religious discrimination is a pressing issue in Islamic countries.

“A number of Baha’is live in Iran, but are deprived of social and civil rights,” Ebadi said.

Legally, if a Muslim commits a crime, they can be punished with 100 lashes, but if a non-Muslim commits a crime, they can be punished with execution.

Some Western theorists and radical Islamic governments contend that the Islamic religion is incompatible with human rights and democracy, but Ebadi said she rejects that idea.

Many moderate Islamic intellectuals believe human rights are compatible with Islam, she said. They maintain that it is actually the Islamic governments’ interpretation of Islamic law that is incompatible.

“Non-democratic Islamic governments get power from religion and not votes from people, and they believe they have to guard Islam” she said. “If the government relies on its own interpretation of Islam, any political criticism of the government is deemed a criticism of Islam.”

Ebadi said this interpretation of Islamic law is a means of retaining power.

“If Islam is interpreted this way, the government loses ground and the people will be able to take over,” she said.

Ebadi said Western theorists who write about a “clash of civilizations” between Islamic and Western societies also contribute to the idea that Islam is not compatible with democracy

“Some who believe Islam is not compatible with human rights believe democracy and human rights are just Western philosophies and they are not compatible with Islam,” she said. “I do not accept this theory.”

She said there are inconsistencies in the idea of a culture clash between Western and Eastern civilizations.

“If there is a clash, how do you justify the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States?” she asked.

There are human rights violations in Iran, Ebadi said. But Iranian citizens should have the job of implementing human rights – not foreign soldiers.

“We not only oppose an attack on Iran, but we also oppose a threat of attack on Iran because the government will oppress people based on national security,” she said.

Ebadi criticized United States military presence in Iraq, expressing the hope that the new administration “shows better practice of foreign policy.”

“America attacked Iraq on the excuse that Saddam Hussein is a dictator with weapons of mass destruction,” she said. “However, when American soldiers didn’t find weapons, they said bringing democracy was the goal. Was Saddam Hussein the only dictator in the world? The difference was there’s a lot of oil in Iraq that doesn’t exist in other countries.”

Ebadi said the theory of human rights is an idea not confined to a specific culture, religion or country.

“These are international principles,” she said. “It has nothing to do with East or West.”

In order to resolve the problem of human rights violations in the world, Ebadi stressed cooperation.

“Let’s plant the tree of cooperation like the earth,” she said. “Let’s be kind to each other. Kind.”