An Open Letter to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee regarding Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Shirin Ebadi

14 October 2003

Nobel Peace Prize to a women's right activist or a religious figure?

Dear Committee members

As a veteran activist for women's equality, as one who has been the subject of the Islamic Republic of Iran's persecution and political Islam's brutality and has devoted her life to combat it, I would like to express my indignation at your statement regarding the awarding of the Nobel peace prize to Ms. Shirin Ebadi. 

It is said that she has been awarded the prize "for her efforts for democracy and human rights' especially for "the struggle for the rights of women and children." But further down in the statement the more specific reason for which she has been awarded the peace prize is given: "Ebadi is a conscious Moslem. She sees no conflict between Islam and fundamental human rights." It is further emphasized that the committee is awarding her the prize as "a woman who is part of the Moslem world." 

The assumptions by the Nobel prize committee are objectionable by anyone who has lived through the horrors of the Islamic Republic of Iran, or has felt or seen the terror of political Islam in the past decades. This statement is a blow to a people whose aspirations are to bring about a secular state, and to free themselves from religion rule. One need not to be a seasoned politician to understand the implications and implied meanings of this sentence. For ordinary people in Iran who have witnessed the support given by the West to the Islamic Republic in one form or the other over the years, and have also witnessed their support for Islamic states and movements, the clear message of this statement reads that the Nobel peace prize is being awarded to a Moslem movement in the hopes of reforming the Islamic Republic. 

For a committee whose main task is to follow, understand and discern the movements for improving people's lives, for improving human rights, women's rights, the rights of children, and any disadvantaged section of society, I am amazed that you have not followed the events in Iran, have not heard the message and slogans of the protest movements of the people, workers and women in Iran. The most recent one took place in June and continued for over three weeks. Every night, thousands took to the streets and shouted: "long live freedom and equality" and "down with Islamic Republic." As it regards women, they threw off their compulsory veils - some even burnt their Islamic veils - as signs of protest to Islamic laws, and broke the walls and laws of gender apartheid by holding hands with their male comrades and dancing in public. As a matter of fact as I am writing these lines, I received the news of wave of demonstrations in the streets of Tehran, in which thousands of people, especially women are shouting "down with the Islamic Republic" and demanding freedom. Perhaps you could understand my indignation at your statement when you explain that you are awarding the prize to a "conscious Moslem" who "sees no conflict between Islam and fundamental human rights." In explaining the reasons for awarding a prize to a woman for her activities in the arena of women's rights in a country where women are considered by law, that is religious law, as second-class citizens, where the secular and women's equal rights movement are tremendously strong, why do you find the need or choose to describe her as a Moslem? 

There is a clear political justification for portraying a women's rights activist from Iran, and under the tyranny of a religious state, first and foremost, by religion, and by describing the geography of her activities, again, by religion. This statement does not award the women's and protest movements in Iran fighting for a free and better world, a secular state, and the complete equality of women and men, but instead awards a section of a movement which is trying to maintain the rule of Islam. This statement, contrary to the demands and judgements of the people in Iran is awarding that movement which is more eager to stop the people than to stop the Islamic state, and religious tyranny in Iran. I believe one is justified to draw the conclusion that the Nobel prize committee is biased and has made a political decision to support not the secular movement in Iran, and the so-called "Moslem world" but the Islamic movement. Let me assure you that such a decision is contrary to the will and wishes of the majority of people and women of Iran who will free themselves and Iran of a religious state all together, and will bring about a secular, free and equal political system.

 Sincerely yours,

Azar Majedi 
Founder and Chairperson, Organisation of Women's Liberation in Iran Chairperson, Middle East Centre for Women's Rights 
Editor, Medusa, the Journal of the Centre for Women and Socialism 
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