Nobel Laureate Outlines U.S. Challenges in the Middle East

In describing a Middle East ruled by undemocratic governments that violate human rights, Iranian Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi told a College audience that U.S. foreign policy often contributes to the region’s negative status quo.

Ebadi (left) met with students, including freshmen Quincy Adamo and Jessica Bhullar.

“Many of the undemocratic countries of the Middle East are old allies of the United States,” said Ebadi, a human rights lawyer who won the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for work on behalf of women and children in Iran.

Ebadi’s Oct. 14 speech in the Soda Center was delivered in Farsi and translated into English by SMC political science instructor Banafsheh Keynoush.

Ebadi challenged a central tenet of recent U.S. Middle East policy: the notion that democracy can be promoted through military means. She said the approach has failed in Iraq and is bound to fail in other countries.

“Democracy is not a gift to be given out to a nation. Democracy cannot be dropped through cluster bombs over nations,” she said. “Democracy is a historical process that must mature.”

The first Muslim woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize, Ebadi noted that women’s organizations contribute significantly to progressive reforms throughout the Middle East.

“The role of women in promoting peace and democracy in the region is arguably more important than the role played by men because of their influence over their children in teaching the benefits of human rights for future generations.”

Ebadi continues to work in Tehran, where she represents women and religious minorities in cases against the government. She said Iranians want to fix problems in the country, but insisted that change needs to come from the Iranian people and not through a U.S. invasion.

“We love Iran and will not allow Iran to be attacked or bombarded. We will not allow it to turn into a second Iraq.”