Censoring Peace

Category: Americas, World Affairs Topics: Human Rights, Iran, United States Of America Views: 4602

When I received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, Iranians and Muslims around the world hoped that the prevailing and unfair image of Muslims as terrorists would be discarded. We believed that the prize would encourage a positive, forward-looking understanding of Islam. We hoped that our belief in an interpretation of Islam that is in harmony with democracy, equality, religious freedom and freedom of speech would reach a wider audience, particularly in the West. 

For many years now, I have wanted to write my memoir - a book that would help correct Western stereotypes of Islam, especially the image of Muslim women as docile, forlorn creatures. Sixty-three percent of Iran's university students and 43 percent of its salaried workers are women. I have wanted to tell the story of how women in Islamic countries, even one run by a theocratic regime as in Iran, can be active politically and professionally. It is my impression, based on the conversations I have had during my travels in the United States and Europe, that such a book would be a welcome addition to the debate about Islam and the West. 

So I was surprised and angered when I learned that regulations in the United States make it nearly impossible for me to write a book for Americans. Despite federal laws that say that American trade embargoes may not restrict the free flow of information, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control continues to regulate the import of books from Iran, Cuba and other countries. In order to skirt the laws protecting the flow of information, the government prohibits publishing "materials not fully created and in existence." Therefore, I could publish my memoir in the United States, but it would be illegal for an American literary agent, publisher, editor or translator to help me. 

Iranians and other Muslims have long placed great value on the power of the written word. My parents taught my siblings and me that ideas on the page can be put into action. My husband and I have passed these values to our daughters. Iran is bursting with young, educated and dynamic people who are eager to communicate with the American public. Many of our university students and scholars have tried to publish their papers in leading American journals, but they have been turned away out of fear of the Treasury Department's regulations. An American scientific journal, for instance, recently declined to run a paper on the human and economic consequences of the catastrophic earthquake last year in Bam, Iran, because Iranian scientists helped write it and therefore the journal would have to obtain a license to publish it. (Newspapers are exempt from some of these requirements.) 

Since 1979, when I was removed from the judiciary after clerics ruled that women were too "emotional" to be judges, I have been defending women, children and human rights advocates as an independent lawyer. I learned, sometimes in the face of tragedy, that the written word is often the most powerful - and only - tool that we have to protect those who are powerless. Many of my cases have placed me in opposition to hard-liners in our government. I have been harassed, threatened and jailed for defending human rights and pursuing justice for victims of violence: most recently when I led the legal team representing the family of Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist who was killed in July 2003 while in detention in Tehran. (She had been arrested for taking photographs of the families of political prisoners outside the notorious Evin prison.) 

I cannot publish my memoir in Iran. The book would either be banned altogether or censored to such an extent that it would be rendered useless. Publishing my book in the United States would involve risk and repercussions for me back in Iran. I believe, however, that the message of the book is so important that I will happily accept the risk and its possible consequences. 

If even people like me - those who advocate peace and dialogue - are denied the right to publish their books in the United States with the assistance of Americans, then people will seriously question the view of the United States as a country that advocates democracy and freedom everywhere. What is the difference between the censorship in Iran and this censorship in the United States? Is it not better to encourage a dialogue between Iranians and the American public? 

This is why I filed a lawsuit against the Treasury Department on Oct. 26, joining one filed in September by several American organizations representing publishers, editors and translators. We seek to overturn the regulations on what Americans can and cannot read in the United States. 

Human rights, including the freedom to read whatever one wishes, are universal values that transcend national boundaries. Therefore, just as I take on court cases in Tehran to defend others' rights, so must I follow my conscience and take on a lawsuit in the United States to defend my own rights and the rights of Americans. 

Shirin Ebadi is a law professor at the University of Tehran.

Source: NY Times

  Category: Americas, World Affairs
  Topics: Human Rights, Iran, United States Of America
Views: 4602

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Older Comments:
Ms. Ebadi should be allowed to publish her book here. I can't believe (and did not know) that there was such a law banning books. That is wrong, it infringes on the free flow of information in a supposedly free society. Sorry if that's redundant. But I feel very strongly that negative stereotypes about Islam need to be addressed in the US before they get more out of control than they already are. Some of the things that I've heard said are very disturbing; it saddens me, because it is unnecessary and I think that education would at least help to fix the problem. If people aren't told the truth, you can't expect them to know it.
As you can no doubt guess from my name, I am a Christian, but I repsect the religion of Islam and tell people this openly. I believe that Islam and Christianity are more alike than any other religion on earth, and it is ridiculous that they should ever be in conflict.
Ms. Ebadi, good luck with your struggle. Until a settlement is reached, might I suggest the internet as a possible avenue of expression, as you can no doubt see from this web-site, there are many good things that can be accomplsied here.

What may be showing are probably signs of my disgust and outrage. Please do not assume too much, as elsewhere in my articles and postings I have also "vehemently attacked" Arab and Sunni leadership and elite for their silence and collaborations with the "vested interests".

We must deal with this terrible virus and treat it with regular doses of Islamic education, rather than let the "vultures and carpetbaggers" call the shots. We may place the blame on outside forces as being the "purveyors of hatred" amongst the Muslim Ummah, but the blame lies, regrettably with us. Unfortunately, we have in our midst leaders and elites with unsound understanding of Islam, and who are therefore, used by those with vested interests.

Unfortunately, ethnic and sectarian "card" is used by these leaders and elites to divide-and-rule, by breaking the various ethnic and sectarian groups into pieces. Such props are used for "grabbing power" for the benefit only of the rulers and their cronies.

The code of conduct prescribed by Islam gives Muslims a feeling that they are one Ummah. In an ideal condition, we would simply be Muslims and the Ummah would supersede ethnic or sectarian loyalties. Let's hope and pray for the solutions which are found in Islam for those who care to seriously search in the Qur'an and the Sunnats of the Prophet Muhammad-sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam.

And Allah Knows Best


Well done Shirin Ebadi for filing that law suit, and may you meet with success in that.
best regards


you show signs of the divide yet most shia i know, encluding myself, vehmently attack us policies in the me. you can read my postings.

i do not wish to dwell on this subject because it distracts from the real issue. but shia throuought history have been attacked by the sunnis. saudi arabia has been the worst case yet many in my own shia family have married sunnis, including saudis. so it pays to be respectful as this is a true muslim trait.

what is at stake here is that no muslim government has spoken against this illegal invasion yet oic just convenes and rambles on its usual pullavra. so stop blaming shias for the silence of muslim governments including ALL the sunni governments. in iran at least muslim leaders lambast the us policies and its attack on civilians in falluja. you only have to tune in to hear them.

what we need is a unified muslim voice at government levels who represent the voice of the population. this we do not have but in the domain of Allah such issues are of small importance. faith in HIS ability to deliver us from all this evil is uppermost especially under current hardship.

'wa etasemu behab'l Allah jameean, wa la tafarqoo' - this very aya' has a double affirmation and it is an injunction. it pays to dwell on it everytime we look into another muslims face.

Sameena, let's not read too much into my post. I have always stood up defending the human-rights of all the oppressed people, irrespective of their faith, if any.

Muslim leadership for the most parts, is often visionless and susceptible to manoeuvrings by anti-Islam forces. It does not make it OK for Shiite or Sunni to "sleep with the enemy" at the expense of a massacre of their brethrens. It does not make it OK to promote the agenda and interests of their foreign benefactors.

The silence of Shiite leadership over the US occupation/massacre in the Sunni city of Fallujah is "dubious and weird" according to Sheikh Mahdi El-Bedeiri, a reputable Shiite scholar. The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq is silent .... Sistani, the Grand Ayatollah is silent and according to news report by his silence given tacit blessings. Hawza, the highest Shiite religious authority is silent. Their Dawaa Party is silent! Is it any wonder than, that Allawi has declared a massacre of Sunni areas?

Whereas, Sunnis supported the Shiites in the holy city of Najaf and Sadr City. Is it any wonder than, that Iran the country called "axis of evil" by Bush, gave an endorsement to Bush in the recent US elections?

It is not the common man and woman - but the LEADERSHIP and the ELITE that we are talking about and that's just a small angle of the big picture.

Dr.Shirin Ebadi may be too "eager to communicate with the American public". Let's deal with the house cleaning before we can begin to "deal with those who want to destroy us".

And Allah Knows Best.

This censoring of the U.S. government is only allowing half of a message to reach its public. It is no wonder the American people are ignorant to Islam. The media as well as the government are allowing bad information and misinformation to feed a growing "mob mentality". I pray the truth reaches people and they gain a better understanding of Islam and stop allowing ignorance to rule peoples opinions. Salam

Farad, lets not turn this into a Sunni/Shia divide. Remember for many years Shias were deliberately left out by the Iraqi government resulting in Sunnis holding on to a majority of power and wealth in the country despite being only 40% of the population. I know you are curious to know what sect I am: I assure you I am a Sunni and one with an extreme distaste of sectiarianism. This is not the time to distrust our Shia brethren; this is a time to understand who our real enemy is. If we Muslims cannot get along with our own, how can we deal with those who want to destroy us. Shia conduct in Iraq right now needs our understanding, empathy and at times, even our forgiveness. Overall, Sunnis in Iran have been treated much better than Shias have been in Sunni nations. We Sunnis have greater power in terms of numbers, which also means we have a greater responsibility for the wellbeing and safety of our Shia brethren and to make sure we are a united community in the face of our current crisis.

Obviously, people who presume to know what is best for others tend to employ whatever excuses they can, including threats to national security, to impose upon others whatever those people presume would be better. My guess is that various American authorities see the works of Shirin Ebadi as testimony that, in spite of notable excesses by various Iranian authorities, Iran is clearly a functioning republic - "powered" by compromises which are in turn arrived at by widely diverse interests representing Iran's ordinary citizens. Generally, Americans seem less willing to support economic sanctions (and other acts of war) against nations which most Americans see as respecting and responsive to the wishes of ordinary citizens. Thus, Shirin Ebadi's struggle against what most Americans oppose is seen as a double-edged sword by authorities who might otherwise seemingly want Shirin Ebadi's story to be heard by most Americans. At least that would be my guess.

Ms. Ebadi is adding her name to a lawsuit that was filed a month earlier by several American publishers. I suppose her name adds some publicity to this lawsuit, because of her Nobel peace prize. The US courts will work this out, look at why the restrictions exist (these restrictions date from 1998, prior to the Bush administration), look at the consequences, and determine if it's legal or not. It's a little ironic that woman removed from the judiciary in her own country solely because of her sex, a women with limited legal rights in Iran, can nonetheless avail herself of the US court system.


Those who do not meet the "comfort-level" test and those who do not adhere to conformist beliefs are less likely to win approval from the Establishment. Playing a strategic role in all this are the wealthy interests who own the media and everything else in between. This elite will not let an Iranian, Nobel Prize notwithstanding, the time of the day, unless that Iranian or Indian plays the "Salman Rushdie" tune!

That's said, Iranians should first get their house in order and speak out against atrocities against the so-called "Sunni-triangle", wherein, both the Iranian and Iraqi Shiites are playing an unholy alliance with the foreign occupier, just for the sake of political expediency and short-term gains.

So first defend the human rights of Shiite-Sunni, because "words" whether written or otherwise, are meaningless, unless followed by actions and deeds closer to home first.