Today's date:
Summer 2006

Democracy in Iran Would Be “Security Guarantee” Against US Attack

Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian human-rights advocate, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. She spoke with NPQ on a visit to Los Angeles in May.

NPQ | What is your view of Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s letter to United States President Bush. How should the US respond?

Shirin Ebadi | The letter from the Iranian president to President Bush did not propose any solutions to the tensions between the US and Iran. It is a lecture. Nonetheless, it should be considered a positive step in opening a dialogue and should get some response. Writing a lecture is better than writing nothing.

The issues between the US and Iran can only be resolved by this dialogue, not by sanctions or military measures. But any negotiations must be public. Iranians have a very bad memory of the “negotiations” behind closed doors with the US that ended in the coup against our nationalist champion, Prime Minister Mossadegh, in 1953.

Dialogue should take place on three levels—the government, the parliaments of both countries and civil society. As the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize from Iran, I am joining with Jody Williams, a Nobel peace laureate from the US, to convene a meeting in Vienna of nongovernmental organizations from both Iran and the US. This is a beginning that, hopefully, will percolate upward to the parliaments and governments.

NPQ | Hans Blix, the former United Nations arms inspector for Iraq, argues that the US should resolve the nuclear crisis with Iran by giving it “a security guarantee” against attack. Do you support that idea?

Ebadi | First of all, I don’t think a nuclear bomb brings security to Iran. What brings security to a country is a government accountable to its people and therefore unable to abuse its power. If a people support its government, then no foreign country will dare attack it because they know it will be defended fiercely. Remember, when President Khatami was elected with 22 million votes, these games were not played with Iran.

Now, when the world sees there is no democratic basis for the government, this nuclear issue is constantly raised. The government of Iran has stated that it does not want to make a nuclear bomb. The problem is that the world doesn’t believe this. Clearly, without democracy, the government doesn’t have credibility. There are countries that already have nuclear weapons, like France, but is anyone afraid of them? No, because they have democracy.

In my opinion, therefore, the best security guarantee against an attack on Iran is democracy, not theocracy.

NPQ | It has been reported in the US that the Pentagon still has contingency plans for regime change in Iran. How does the dissident community view that possibility?

Ebadi | Military invasion, or even the threat of military invasion, will only postpone democracy. It will provide the government with the justification to suppress those of us who are freedom fighters in the name of national security.

The whole Iraq episode certainly makes it clear that democracy can’t be brought to a country, especially from the outside, with bombs and guns. Iranian democracy is an Iranian matter. It is up to each and every Iranian to fight for it. It is not a matter for soldiers.

NPQ | What is your view of what is happening in Iraq, and what should be done?

Ebadi | Iraq is on the verge of a civil war, I’m afraid. I have many friends in Iraq. They tell me that, under Saddam, if you were not political at least you knew if you went out in the morning, you would come home in the evening. But now, the roadside bombs don’t discriminate. No one, whether political or nonpolitical, is sure they will make it home in the evening. In order to put an end to this, the US has to leave Iraq as soon as possible. Perhaps then a UN-sanctioned force can be deployed to keep order.

NPQ | Are you afraid for your personal safety in Iran?

Ebadi | Yes. I am in danger, like other human-rights activists in Iran. In my memoir, “Iran Awakening,” I recount how I found my own name on a death-squad list when reviewing documents for a client on trial.

Fear is an instinct, like hunger. So, yes, I’m afraid just like I get hungry. But if you believe with passion in the cause of human rights, you just can’t let fear take over. Also, I’m a Muslim and I believe in Allah. It helps to know my destiny is in His hands.