My Fight For Human Rights | The first Muslim woman and first Iranian to win a Nobel Peace Prize, Shirin Ebadi is a leading lawyer and activist who has campaigned fearlessly for freedom of speech and equality before the law in her country, despite being betrayed politically and personally, and forced into exile from Iran. This utterly incredible woman joined Edinburgh Book Festival to talk about her life, and latest book Until We Are Free.
“I lost everything at the age of 63.”
Reading history can be tedious for people, Shirin explains, however we can make it much more attractive through literature and biography. When you read that 20,000 are killed in a war, that can read as just a number that you forget about soon after. If the story of that war is told by a survivor or relative, it makes it more accessible and easier to empathise with the plight. The same applies to the situation in Iran, and it’s why she lays her story out there.
The other reason Shirin wrote her latest book is that she has come across many people who feel the world has ended when they hit a setback. At one point, “within a week I lost everything I possessed”. Her job was gone, Iranian security raided and confiscated her possessions – she was forced to leaver her homeland.
“I lost everything at the age of 63,” she says, “including my profession. Anyone in those circumstances would feel that the world had come to an end.” At first she was very upset – she sat in a room thinking. But then she came out of the room and said to herself, “I am still alive and I can work.” She worked harder than before – now she’s even more successful and richer than she was when she won the Nobel Peace Prize!
“So my aim is to show young people to have confidence in themselves and not be disillusioned by setbacks.”
“I say I’m no hero.”
The combination of her knowledge of the law and Islam is what makes her a threat in Iran. She shows time and time again that what they do in the name of Islam, isn’t in the name of Islam. It angers the government that she uses the same weapons on them as they do on their people. To all intents and purposes she’s defending the name of Islam as well as the people – the name is being abused by many people for their own gains. She launches a scathing attack on the country, admitting that she is followed by the threat of death. But it will not silence her.
Shirin talks through many parts of her professional and personal life that are shocking, harrowing and at times surprisingly uplifting, as she jokes and reinforces that she came back from having nothing and you can too. The work she’s done is incredible, her bravery astounding, and the Nobel Peace Prize merely gave her a larger and louder platform to continue her work and raise awareness of what’s going on in Iran. She believes Islam can be adapted, that progressive nations can cut off platforms for non-democratic companies and that ultimately her story, and others like hers, will continue to be told until change occurs.
As a heroine to many – does she ever feel the pressure to create change? “Unfortunately, passive individuals expect those who are activists to make society better for them,” she smiles. “I say I’m no hero – you should go be the heroes of your own lives.”