People You Should Know About: Akbar Ganji and Shirin Ebadi

The drumbeats for a US invasion of Iran continue – and sadly, there are still precious few in the Jewish community who are willing to suggest that Iranian President Ahmadinejad is anything less than Hitler incarnate. (See my earlier post on what I believe is an unfortunate and unhelpful comparison). Amidst all the rising rhetoric, I’d like to spotlight one under-reported but profoundly critical anti-war voice: namely, the Iranian Human Rights community. Two of my personal human rights heroes in this regard are Akbar Ganji and Shirin Ebadi.

ganji1.jpgGanji is an Iranian journalist who has written and spoken out extensively against Iran’s oppressive domestic policies. He spent six years in prison and underwent an extended hunger strike before his release in March 2006. Although the US government spoke out on his behalf, Ganji refused a personal invitation to the White House last summer because he believes current US policy does not help promote the cause of democracy in Iran.

In an interview last July, Ganji had this to say about a potential US invasion of Iran:

We strongly oppose any military invasion against our country. First, it is impossible to invade Iran in the same manner that Iraq and Afghanistan were invaded. The most they can do is to launch missile attacks from afar or to perform pinpoint operations against. But this will not bring democracy. It will only devastate our country. And it’s certainly not clear that this would bring down the tyrannical regime.

Democracy cannot be exported with the use of military invasion or with $75 million budgets. The sad situation we witnessed in Iraq is certainly more than enough. We follow a third line. And the third line says no to American foreign policy and says no to the policies of the Iranian regime. We are antiwar. We speak for peace. And in order to bring peace, we need the system in our country to become democratic. However, we are the agents of bringing that democracy, not the United States.

President Bush and Mr. Blair have already admitted that these tyrannical despotic systems have been put in place by the West, and even today that they have realized their past mistake, they intend to solve it through a military solution. But there is no military solution to the problem.

ebadi.jpgEbadi is an Iranian lawyer and human rights activist who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her efforts – in particular on behalf of women and children in Iran. Like Ganji (whose case she defended), Ebadi has also spent time in an Iranian prison. And like Ganji, Ebadi believes that an invasion of Iran would be a tragedy for all concerned. In an 2005 article for the Independant (UK), she wrote:

Not only would a foreign invasion of Iran vitiate popular support for human rights activism, but by destroying civilian lives, institutions and infrastructure, war would also usher in chaos and instability. Respect for human rights is likely to be among the first casualties.

Instead, the most effective way to promote human rights in Iran is to provide moral support and international recognition to independent human rights defenders, and to insist that Iran adhere to the international human rights laws and conventions that it has signed.

Getting the Iranian government to abide by these international standards is the human rights movement’s highest goal; foreign military intervention in Iran is the surest way to harm us and keep that goal out of reach.

Iranian society is much more complex and multi-faceted than the image conveyed by our government and media. For years within Iran, there has been a growing movement of local politicians, grassroots activists, and young bloggers working tirelessly for civil society and human rights in their beloved country. Certainly no one has less illusions about Iranian oppression than courageous activists like Ganji and Ebadi – and few have as much moral authority as they to address the disastrous prospect of a US-led invasion.

As the drumbeats grow louder, I believe their collective voice is one we would do well to heed.

4 thoughts on “People You Should Know About: Akbar Ganji and Shirin Ebadi

  1. chessdad64

    I am not sure if Hossein Derakshan, the King of the Iranian Bloggers, qualifies as one those people Brant thinks we should know, but he apparently is at the forefront of the cyber-opposition to Ahmadinejad and the some 700,000 Iranian Bloggers. See for some more interesting reading.

    As the Haaretz piece indicates, Derakshan recently spoke at a conference at Ben Gurion University in Beersheva on “Blogging as a Realm of Opposition in the Mideast”. Derakshan, is fiercely critical of Ahmadinejad, but he also supports the Iranian nuclear program (hey… you can’t have everything). Nonetheless, for me this piece further underscores the deep divisions in Iranian society and politics. Yep, I agree…lets take a pass on this invasion for the time being………brad

  2. Shai

    Thanks Rabbi Brant for pointing these courageous folks who risk their necks for democracy but don’t want military solutions or U.S. “help”. It reminds me of a New Yorker interview from this past summer with a Shiite secular journalist in Beirut who was lamenting the Hezbollah/Israel war. As someone who is/would be a leader of secular democratic forces in Lebanon he was expressing his frustration with the United States and Israel (more for the US than Israel) for thinking that military strategies would succeed in advancing the cause of democracy. NOT.

  3. Shirley Gould

    I am pleased and proud that our congregation, through its rabbi and its leaders, can see the world beyond the Siddur. I am a proud Jew, but we must recognize and realize that there is a wide world of which we are a part, and we have a duty to help to make it better – for all people.

  4. Masoud

    As an Iranian-American Jew who left Iran about 9 years ago, much involved in politics, follow the political scene in Iran on daily bases, I totally agree with your idea, and also should add that human right movement in Iran is one of the most advanced on in moslem world, which should be supported.


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