Iran Awakening: From Prison to Peace Prize: One Woman's Struggle at the Crossroads of History

by Shirin Ebadi

Book, 2007

Publication

Vintage Canada (2007), 256 pages

Description

The winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize is an advocate for the oppressed, whose spirit has remained strong in the face of political persecution. Best known here as the lawyer working tirelessly on behalf of Canadian photojournalist Zara Kazemi--raped, tortured and murdered in Iran--Dr. Ebadi offers us a vivid picture of the struggles of one woman against the system. The book chronicles her childhood in a loving, untraditional family, her upbringing before the Revolution that toppled the Shah, her marriage and her faith, as well as her life as a mother and lawyer battling an oppressive regime in the courts while bringing up her girls. Outspoken, controversial, Ebadi became the first female judge in Iran; when the religious authorities declared women unfit as judges, she fought her way back as a human rights lawyer, defending women and children in cases that most lawyers were afraid to represent.--From publisher description.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member labfs39
Every once in a while I read a book that not only personalizes a human rights issue, but does so in a way that inspires without candy-coating the situation. The first book I think of in this category is [I Shall Not Hate] by Izzeldin Abuelaish, who wrote about the Gaza Strip and some of the
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atrocities there, but also about the hope he sees for the future. Iran Awakening is another such book. Shirin Ebadi is a long-time human rights lawyer who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. Her life has been a constant struggle as an Iranian woman to be educated, to become a female jurist, and to practice her profession with dignity despite the many obstacles in her way. When women are forbidden from being judges, she doesn't let that stop her, and becomes a renowned human right lawyer defending women and children from the vagaries and abuse of the government's system, often working pro bono. Learning there is a fatwa out for her assassination doesn't stop her. Imprisonment doesn't stop her. Disappointment doesn't stop her. She is single-minded in her demand for a better Iran, one which is ruled by law, not whims.

Although the story of her public life alone is enough to open eyes and inspire, I found the juxtaposition of her public and private lives to be the most complex and culturally interesting part of the book. For at home, Ms. Ebadi is a traditional wife and mother. Her faith is very strong and often helps her in her work, as she is able to quote religious passage back to imams who seek to create law based on very narrow interpretations of Islam. In addition, she sees herself as a woman devoted to her family, and in her context, that means cooking and freezing meals for her family so that they will eat well while she is in prison. She is devoted to her children and takes their upbringing seriously, while at the same time knowingly exposes them to danger through her work. She doesn't see a contradiction in these things. In her words:

In the last twenty-three years, from the day I was stripped of my judgeship to the years doing battle in the revolutionary courts of Tehran, I had repeated one refrain: an interpretation of Islam that is in harmony with equality and democracy is an authentic expression of faith. It is not religion that binds women, but the selective dictates of those who wish them cloistered. That belief, along with the conviction that change in Iran must come peacefully and from within, has underpinned my work.

I would highly recommend this book. It's a bit dated now, having been published in 2006, and I wish a new edition would be published, with updates. The message is important for those of us in the West to hear, and her life is an inspiring example of how to effect change in a complex political climate. The book is written with the assistance of Azadeh Moaveni, who went on to write her own very engrossing memoirs of her life as a young person in Iran: [Lipstick Jihad] and [Honeymoon in Tehran], two books which I would also recommend. My one fault with Iran Awakening is that the transitions between voices can occasionally be jarring. Some parts I assume Moaveni wrote (about politics and Iranian history, which are her forte) and other parts are clearly in Ms. Ebadi's voice (personal statements of belief and how she has chosen to live her life). Sometimes the transitions are seamless, sometimes not. But that is a minor quibble, and I would still encourage everyone to read this book.
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LibraryThing member four_bears
This was a quick read and definitely interesting. Even more than Reading Lolita in Tehran, it gave me a sense of what Iran is really like—and especially what it’s been like since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
Shirin Ebadi won the Novel Peace Prize for her work as a lawyer and activist
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redressing the wrongs done to women and children in Iran. The book recounts her life and yet it seems deliberately to shy away from herself as a person. We know what she did, but only superficially how she felt. Reading the book, one might cry at the horrible situations she tried to redress (like a family of a murdered girl who had to raise the money to pay for the execution of the murderer after he’d been convicted, or the woman who wanted redress for the brutal deaths of her elderly dissident parents) but Ebadi is very circumspect about her own emotions. When she’s hauled off to prison she is still “accentuating the positive” even as she recounts her thoughts and feelings. There’s very little personal anger in the book (even though she faced situations that would make most women angry and bitter for life), and I suspect that’s the key to her having been so successful operating within a repressive Islamic republic and yet making significant progress toward peace and fairness for all citizens.

The book starts with the time she and other lawyers were given actual documents which might be able to prove that the government had hired assassinations to rid them of dissidents and other troublesome citizens. Even though the lawyers were given a time limit of 10 days to go through thousands and thousands of pages of documents without being allowed to photocopy or take notes, they realized that this was a breakthrough they could not pass up. The shock was when she found a document in which she herself had been named as a target for assassination.

She was born in 1947, the second daughter of what seems a fairly well-to-do middle class—certainly professional class—family. Her father had been in the government official and she had a relatively secular childhood. Her life sounded not unlike my own growing up in roughly the same time period—photographs show she wore pigtails and Peter Pan collars. She went to university to study law and became at judge at 23. (In the Iranian system one did not have to practice law before becoming a judge.) She grew up revering Mohammed Mossadegh, an effective Iranian prime minister who was dismissed when the US installed the latest Shah in 1953. She hated the profligate Shah and his minions and supported the Islamic Revolution of the Ayatollah Khomeini, not realizing that “freedom” for her country would significantly limit her personal freedom. (After all, she was a woman and as such only worth half of a man.)

She refused to quit her job as a judge when other women were harassed into doing so and when she was demoted, effectively, to the secretarial pool, she went to work every day and did what she was told. She did eventually resign but went back to work as a lawyer when that became possible, specializing in cases where women or children were unfairly treated. She took the most high profile cases pro bono, intending not only to work for the client but for changes in the laws that made such discrimination lawful. Eventually she gave up her paid clients completely. She was once thrown out of parliament where she had written a divorce law at the request of women members of that body. Questioned by a ruling cleric, she was able to justify her stance based on laws and textbooks taught to the mullahs. He couldn’t argue with her, but he could have her ousted from the building.

She’s an interesting character, whom you won’t feel like you know after reading this book, but will still be interested in. She was constantly satisfied with "some progress" rather than success in every effort. It built up over the years into a daunting reputation.
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LibraryThing member nlavery
Leaving aside the writing style which can be a bit dry, I enjoyed this book very much. Its easy to understand why Shirin Ebadi was given the nobel peace prize, by living a life inctricately woven into the politics of Iran.
LibraryThing member fourbears
This was a quick read and definitely interesting. Even more than Reading Lolita in Tehran, it gave me a sense of what Iran is really like—and especially what it’s been like since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.Shirin Ebadi won the Novel Peace Prize for her work as a lawyer and activist
Show More
redressing the wrongs done to women and children in Iran. The book recounts her life and yet it seems deliberately to shy away from herself as a person. We know what she did, but only superficially how she felt. Reading the book, one might cry at the horrible situations she tried to redress (like a family of a murdered girl who had to raise the money to pay for the execution of the murderer after he’d been convicted, or the woman who wanted redress for the brutal deaths of her elderly dissident parents) but Ebadi is very circumspect about her own emotions. When she’s hauled off to prison she is still “accentuating the positive” even as she recounts her thoughts and feelings. There’s very little personal anger in the book (even though she faced situations that would make most women angry and bitter for life), and I suspect that’s the key to her having been so successful operating within a repressive Islamic republic and yet making significant progress toward peace and fairness for all citizens.The book starts with the time she and other lawyers were given actual documents which might be able to prove that the government had hired assassinations to rid them of dissidents and other troublesome citizens. Even though the lawyers were given a time limit of 10 days to go through thousands and thousands of pages of documents without being allowed to photocopy or take notes, they realized that this was a breakthrough they could not pass up. The shock was when she found a document in which she herself had been named as a target for assassination.She was born in 1947, the second daughter of what seems a fairly well-to-do middle class—certainly professional class—family. Her father had been in the government official and she had a relatively secular childhood. Her life sounded not unlike my own growing up in roughly the same time period—photographs show she wore pigtails and Peter Pan collars. She went to university to study law and became at judge at 23. (In the Iranian system one did not have to practice law before becoming a judge.) She grew up revering Mohammed Mossadegh, an effective Iranian prime minister who was dismissed when the US installed the latest Shah in 1953. She hated the profligate Shah and his minions and supported the Islamic Revolution of the Ayatollah Khomeini, not realizing that “freedom” for her country would significantly limit her personal freedom. (After all, she was a woman and as such only worth half of a man.)She refused to quit her job as a judge when other women were harassed into doing so and when she was demoted, effectively, to the secretarial pool, she went to work every day and did what she was told. She did eventually resign but went back to work as a lawyer when that became possible, specializing in cases where women or children were unfairly treated. She took the most high profile cases pro bono, intending not only to work for the client but for changes in the laws that made such discrimination lawful. Eventually she gave up her paid clients completely. She was once thrown out of parliament where she had written a divorce law at the request of women members of that body. Questioned by a ruling cleric, she was able to justify her stance based on laws and textbooks taught to the mullahs. He couldn’t argue with her, but he could have her ousted from the building.She’s an interesting character, whom you won’t feel like you know after reading this book, but will still be interested in. She was constantly satisfied with "some progress" rather than success in every effort. It built up over the years into a daunting reputation.
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LibraryThing member MikeLogan1971
What a great personal insight into the internal life of a woman in Iran, from pre-revolution to 2004. Shirin Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize for a lifetime of fearless advocacy in jurisprudence and feminism. I have already bought Until We Are Free, her 'sequel' published in 2016 (and she has
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authored other books as well).
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LibraryThing member wickenden
This wonderful little book tells the story of an educated woman of Iran who participated in the Islamic Revolution and rose her voice to criticize it in terms of gender equality and other democratic issues, while remaining utterly faithful to her religion and to her country. She won the noble
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prize, as she see's it for her "one refrain: an interpretation of Islam that is in harmony with equality and democracy is an authentic expression of faith" (p. 204).
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Pages

256

ISBN

0676978037 / 9780676978032
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