Shirin Ebadi Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

The Struggle for Human Rights in Iran: Conversation with Shirin Ebadi, 2003 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate; May 10, 2006, by Harry Kreisler

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Background

Welcome to Berkeley. Looking back, how do you think your parents shaped your thinking about the world?

I was born to parents who came from educationed backgrounds. My father deeply believed in the equality of rights between men and women, and he practiced that in his day-to-day life.

Were there a lot of books and reading and discussion of world events in your home?

Yes, my father had a very large library, and I don't recall seeing him without a book because either he was busy with some work or when it was his free time he was reading a book.

Your family was very much affected by the fall of Mossadeq through the CIA intervention. Tell us a little about that.

I was young when the CIA started a coup in Iran that overthrew the national hero, Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq. He was consequently arrested. A number of his followers, too, were arrested. Some were forced to give up their jobs and stayed at home. My father also was forced to give up his job for a few years, and naturally that affected our lives.

Looking back, how did your mother affect you and shape what you became?

My mother was extremely kind and she devoted all her attention to raising her children. She believed that that was the most important task for a mother. When I had my own children, too, I took that lesson to my house and believed that good motherhood is the most important role for every woman.

When you were growing up, or through college and law school, were there any teachers that had a profound impact on you?

Yes, there was a professor. He was an old man and he was the one who encouraged me to take up the pen and to write. In fact, I wrote my first book together with him.

What led you to decide to become a lawyer?

Immediately after finishing law school I became a judge. Following the revolution I was told that I could no longer serve as a judge because I was a woman, so I decided to join the Iranian Bar Association and practice law.

And after the Shah fell, was overthrown, your lost your position as a judge although you were the first woman to be a judge in Iran.

I was not the first woman who became a judge. I was part of the first series of women who entered the system to become judges. But I was the first woman who started presiding over a court.

As a judge -- this is before the Islamic revolution -- what body of law did you use to reach a decision?

Iran's legal system prior to the revolution was very close to the legal system in the West, and particularly France.

It must have been a shock when you lost your position as a judge after the Islamic revolution. Tell us a little about your feelings and how you adjusted.

I had lost my job and I had realized that by losing it, it was not just my job lost but that the system was hurting, in fact, women and society. And that was indeed what had happened. That was the beginning of the attack on women and a series of laws were passed consequently that were very discriminatory. So, I decided to focus all my attention on promoting women's rights and issues.

Before we talk about that, I want to ask you what are the skills and the temperament to be a lawyer, before the Islamic revolution and after?

In principle, everyone has a certain motivation by going to law school. Some want to make big money by practicing law. Others want to use law as an entry into politics and into political life, and to succeed in that arena. And for others, the practice of law is a way to serve justice. That was what it meant to me, a tool to serve justice.

Next page: Seeking Justice under Fundamentalism

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