Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer, writer, teacher and former judge recently stood up to an American audience, looked them in the eye and proclaimed: “Never have the problems of any country been solved through war.” (She came to Kalamazoo last week to participate in PeaceJam, an international peacemaking education program for youth.)
Ebadi won the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to promote democracy and human rights, especially those of women and children in Iran. She was the first Muslim woman and the first Iranian to receive the award.
During the same week, Hillary Clinton, a lawyer, graduate of the elite institutions of Wellesley College and Yale Law School and former First Lady, said that the U.S. could “obliterate Iran” if it attacked Israel with nuclear weapons. She is running for president and if she wins, she would be the first woman president in U.S. history.
Ebadi’s memoir, Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution and Hope, was banned in Iran because it criticizes the Islamic Republic government for its murder of Iranian intellectuals and dissidents, imposition of theocratic controls over women and restriction of human rights. Her book, published in the USA, has been interpreted in several languages and distributed all over the world.
Clinton, who has promoted women and children’s rights most of her professional life, wrote the book, It Takes a Village. Although it was mocked by her political opponents and right-wing info-tainment media hosts, the book made the New York Times Bestseller List in 1996 and a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album in 1997.
Ebadi believes that the strength of a chain lies in its smallest piece, therefore, it is essential that the strong protect the weak and most marginal people of society. Children are the most vulnerable because they are unable to protect themselves. She established the Iranian Society for Protecting the Rights of the Child as well as the Center for the Defense of Human Rights. She also drafted the original text of a law against physical abuse of children that was passed in 2002.
Clinton served as chairperson for the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) from 1986 to 1992. However, she failed to influence her husband when he signed the August 1996 welfare reform bill a.k.a. “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act.” It was seen as a betrayal of poor women and children in order to ensure Bill Clinton’s re-election that fall. Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the CDF and close friend of Hillary, called the law an “abomination.”
Ebadi believes that the education of children should be a country’s greatest investment, not the military. She recognizes that armies drain resources from the populace in order to support military ventures. Iran, which is wealthy through its abundant natural resources, continues to devote much of its treasury to the military while children from poor families must help support them by leaving school to sell flowers or beg.
Ebadi calls on her government, and governments all over the world, to decrease their military budgets by 10 percent and to dedicate that money to education. She also advises a ban on toys and computer games that promote violence and insists that children learn how to work for peaceful coexistence.
Clinton voted for the October 2002 resolution authorizing President Bush to take pre-emptive military action in Iraq and doesn’t regret it. She has consistently voted for war funding, which now amounts to nearly $600 billion through FY 2008. So far, this military venture has resulted in the deaths of over 4,000 Americans and one million Iraqis and the displacement of 4.5 million Iraqis from their homes.
Ebadi believes that a military attack on Iran would worsen what’s left of its tattered democracy. The government would only respond by using national security as an excuse to suppress more of the people’s human rights. Furthermore, she claims a U.S. attack would create further chaos in the region.
Clinton doesn’t offer any noticeable change from Bush’s foreign policy, which advocates U.S. domination in the Middle East. She has shied away from discussing the war in the presidential campaign as much as possible.
Ebadi knows the limitations of government. After serving as the first woman judge in Iran (1975-79) as head of the city court of Tehran at age 23, she lost her position because the Islamic Republic government deemed women incompetent to serve as judges.
Not willing to let a few mullahs to stop her, Ebadi continued to defend women and political dissidents. She also distributed evidence implicating government officials in the murders of students at the University of Tehran in 1999, which resulted in her imprisonment in 2000 and eventual disbarment. Through all of this she still teaches law at the University of Tehran and remains a wife and mother of two grown daughters.
Since she won the Peace Prize, Iranian authorities have tried three times to build a case against her. Currently, Ebadi is accused of having taken money from the U.S. to give to Akbar Ganji, an international award-winning journalist who calls for a replacement of Iran's theocratic system with “a secular democracy.” She regularly receives death threats for working against Islam and Iran.
As a young lawyer Clinton worked with the House Judiciary Committee’s Watergate investigation. When her husband was governor of Arkansas, she promoted education reform. When her husband was president, she tried to advance universal health care. She ran for senator of New York and won twice.
Clinton has endured marital infidelity, public embarrassment, right-wing assaults on her character, and some losses in the presidential primaries. She is constantly asked the first question in the presidential debates. However, no matter what is dished out to her, she always gets up, brushes herself off, re-makes her image and presses onward. Through all of this, she remains a good mother and a faithful wife.
So how does each woman continue in the maelstrom of political and ideological crossfire?
Ebadi describes herself as stubborn. Others perceive her as courageous, tough, and possessing a sense of humor. However, there is no mistaking her seriousness of purpose or her willingness to put herself on the line to advocate for those who are unjustly persecuted by the powerful.
Clinton survives the hits by hitting back, maintaining her position, and resolving to win. Principle sometimes fails her in the process perhaps because she believes she has something to offer the world so the ends justify the means. Consequently, she uses race baiting, social class slurs and her love of guns and God to defeat her opponents. Party unity apparently means nothing to her and she would rather bludgeon her primary opponents and risk losing the general election than give up the possibility of the presidency, an office she deems she is entitled.
While I would like to see a woman president in my lifetime, I want a woman whose leadership offers just and peaceful solutions for resolving conflict rather than one who would imitate the aggressive and violent tactics of men.
Maybe Americans could swap Clinton for Ebadi.