Nobel laureate faults Iraqi strategy

Courtesy Visual Art Service ebadi.jpg

"A military attack on a country, even for the purpose of establishing democracy and human rights, will not only in the long run damage the cause of democracy, but will invariably turn into a source of more violence," Ebadi said to thunderous applause from an audience that included leading Iranian academics, businesspeople, and Hoover and Stanford faculty gathered at the Crowne Plaza Cabana Hotel May 20.

Democracy cannot be exported at gunpoint, and cluster bombs do not bring human rights to a nation, Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi told more than 350 people at a May 20 dinner in Palo Alto honoring the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

"A military attack on a country, even for the purpose of establishing democracy and human rights, will not only in the long run damage the cause of democracy, but will invariably turn into a source of more violence," Ebadi said to thunderous applause from an audience that included leading Iranian academics, businesspeople, and Hoover and Stanford faculty gathered at the Crowne Plaza Cabana Hotel.

Ebadi's remarks in Farsi came at the end of the first day of a two-day international conference sponsored by the Hoover Institution. The conference, "Politics, Society and Economy in a Changing Iran," brought together dozens of leading Iranian intellectuals from Tehran and abroad with Hoover and Stanford scholars to discuss topics ranging from "The Political Landscape in Iran Today" to "U.S.-Iran Relations."

Ebadi's veiled criticism of the U.S. occupation of Iraq during her dinner remarks was stated more bluntly at a press conference on campus two days later.

"The United States declared its purpose was democracy in Iraq, and it has remained in Iraq based on that premise," Ebadi said through a translator. "Even if it was genuine in its claim, this is not the right way to go about it. Military occupation not only doesn't help the evolution of democracy, but in fact hurts the process of democratization. It leads to further unification among the fundamentalists. It weakens the positions of those who defend human rights. And it becomes a machine for producing further violence. ... That's why you see the kind of events taking place in Iraq."

Ebadi said President Bush should withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq and have the United Nations oversee the country's political transition.

Ebadi's visit to Palo Alto, part of a nationwide tour, included a public address, titled "Democracy, Pluralism and Human Rights," to an overflow crowd of 1,700 people packed into Memorial Auditorium May 22. The 20-minute speech was repeatedly interrupted by standing ovations from the audience, which included hundreds from the Bay Area's 35,000-member émigré Iranian community.

Ebadi, 56, was one of the first female judges in Iran until she was forced to resign after the 1979 Islamic revolution. An activist for the rights of refugees, women and children, Ebadi has been imprisoned several times for championing religious freedom and free speech. Ebadi continues to work as a lawyer, and has rejected calls from Iranian reformers to become more active in politics.

"I don't wish to enter into the political struggle," she said at the press conference. "I'm not the leader of a political party. I'm not a model for anyone. I'm simply a defense attorney. In my opinion, what has caused Iran to become a despotic society for centuries, what has turned us away from democracy during this period, is a culture of hero worship."

In Ebadi's speech May 20, she reiterated the common need for democracy and human rights around the world. "Terror, violence, torture and humiliation of other human beings is a shameful act in every culture and every creed," she said. "The world shall enjoy peace and security only when human rights are universally recognized and respected."