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Nombre de messages : 1737
Localisation : Montréal
Date d'inscription : 01/06/2005


Don't Hold Your Breath
by Vali Nasr 1 | 2 | 3 | 4
Post date 06.06.06 | Issue date 06.12.06

Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution and Hope
By Shirin Ebadi and Azadeh Moaveni
(Random House, 232 pp., $24.95)
Click here to buy this book.

Since the Nobel Prize committee recognized Shirin Ebadi's tireless efforts on behalf of Iranian women, children, and political dissidents, she has become the international face of Iran's struggle for democracy. A judge during the Shah's time, Ebadi found herself, like many other women of her generation, pushed to the margins by the revolution's turbaned rulers. She became a lawyer and a human rights activist, building a career solely devoted to unmasking the absurdities of Iran's theocracy and fighting its archaic laws, violations of women's rights, and mistreatment of dissidents. All this is chronicled in her memoir. The book is a powerful condemnation of the dictatorship of the ayatollahs, at its best when it recounts the suffering of those whom Ebadi represented. The gross injustices and the everyday cruelties of the Islamist regime in Iran would be comical were they not so tragic.

But the narrative loses its poignancy when it shifts to the writer herself. As commendable as her efforts on the part of the victims of injustice in Iran have been, Ebadi's confused rendition of Iranian history, which vacillates between celebrating the revolution and condemning its consequences, makes it difficult to regard her as a symbol of democracy. Still, it is possible to look beyond her perplexing tentativeness and regard her story as emblematic of the paradox of a revolution that mobilized, educated, and ultimately frustrated Iranian women. Revolutionary fervor promised to break down traditional patriarchy, but in its place there appeared new discriminations. Ebadi hopes that the unfulfilled promises of revolution will finally bring a fury down upon the Islamic Republic and fracture its pious edifice. But this hope, however fond, is a distant one--more distant than Ebadi seems to understand.

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To point out that the Islamic Republic falls grossly short of Iranians' expectations is to belabor the obvious. To a moderately informed reader, the tales of woe in Ebadi's book will seem nearly as predictable as they are horrid. Less obvious is a deeply troubling question that lurks in the background. What led Ebadi and her generation of educated Westernized professionals to get themselves into this bind, to be "hypnotized" by the ayatollah's revolution? Why were their rights and their freedoms so cheap in their eyes that they so hastily traded them for the will-o'-the-wisp promise of a revolutionary utopia? "I'd rather be a free Iranian than an enslaved attorney," she cavalierly told a baffled judge who reminded her that the revolution she was championing would destroy her career. What accounts for the tragic mistake of her generation, for the grand delusion that subjected the Iranian people to the ignominy of discrimination and tyranny?

Even now, some twenty-seven years after the Iranian revolution, Ebadi displays more acrimony toward the regime that recognized her rights and made her a judge, I mean the Shah's regime, than for the one that has stripped her of those rights, ended her career on the bench, executed her brother-in-law, and put her in prison. "I had reclaimed a dignity," she fondly recalls about her euphoria on the day of the revolution, one that she "had not even realized [she] had lost." She condemns theocracy, to be sure; but she remains enamored of the revolution that brought it into being. She shows empathy for its makers, even for violent terror groups such as the Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization, whose history is soaked in blood. How can those who speak for democracy also continue to idealize an anti-democratic revolution? Perhaps this is part of the Iranian problem.

Reading Ebadi's story, one wants to think of Mandela or Havel, except that there is no happy democratic ending to her tale. Three-quarters of the way through the book, she notes plaintively: "I am often asked, Why do Iranian young people simply not rise up? If their discontent is so deep, their alienation so irreversible, if they are 70 percent of Iranian society, what explains their complacency?" It is a good question. Indeed, it is now the question on everyone's mind. Why have the youth, not to say the broader freedom-loving population, not charged the barricades in Tehran? And in the time since Ebadi wrote her memoir, such a charge has become even less likely. In the presidential election in 2005, which was supposed to have energized pro-democracy voices and isolated the clerical regime, a clear majority of Iranians voted for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a favorite son of the fanatical paramilitaries. Stepping beyond Ebadi's message of hope, then, it is fair to ask whether her tale of woe and horror, of courage and youthful rebellion against tyranny, really explains Iran today.

For close to a decade now, Iran has been tantalizing and baffling the West. No other country in the region is so close to and so far from democracy. With its youthful, literate, and Web-happy population, with thousands of activist NGOs, with more women in universities than men, and with a measure of cultural dynamism that is unique in the Middle East, Iranian society has stood in sharp contrast to the clerical leadership that is suppressing it. Persian is today, after English and Mandarin Chinese, the third most popular language online, where one can surf tens of thousands of Iranian blogs. Offline, hundreds of widely read newspapers, magazines, and periodicals host thinly disguised intellectual and political debates. Iranians also get their news and views from a myriad of international sources. The BBC's Persian website at one point received 450,000 hits a day. On satellite television, Iranians watch everything from CNN to The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

There are lively discussions about Western thought. Full-page debates over postmodernism often adorn the pages of popular dailies, while seminars and lectures regularly discuss Western thinkers from Hegel to Samuel P. Huntington. Iran's spirited book market has for many years now dwarfed the oft-repeated statistics showing the paltry quantity of translations in the far larger Arab world. Foreign tomes that seem as if they might be helpful in prying open Islamic orthodoxy are particularly popular. There have been more translations of Kant into Persian in the past decade than into any other language, and these have gone into multiple printings. (One is by the current conservative speaker of the Iranian parliament.) In some areas of mathematics and physics, such as string theory, Iranian research centers rank among the best in the world. Iranian cinema has in recent years become a powerful force at home and abroad.

Next: "The expectation that a democratic opening must follow this cultural revival has turned to disappointment."
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