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Iran: Interview With Nobel Prize Winner Shirin Ebadi

By Azam Gorgin/Elahe Ravanshad

Prague, 13 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Elahe Ravanshad, a freelancer for RFE/RL's Radio Farda, interviewed Nobel Laureate and human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi on 11 December. The translation into English was done by RFE/RL's Azam Gorgin.

Ravanshad: What does it feel like to have won the Nobel Peace Prize?

Ebadi: I have a good feeling; it�s a feeling of dreams coming true. In fact, in my dreams, I could see myself winning the Nobel Peace Prize, but did not think it [would happen] so soon. I thought maybe when I am 80 years old, then is the time to win this award. I thought that I still have to do most of my work, travel more, write more books, attend more conferences, and voice my opinion and make sure the world hears it all.

I always thought, when I win this prize I would be too old to come to the podium and would have to be helped by one of my own grandchildren who, he or she, would have studied law. At the podium I would say that my father was a lawyer, I have studied law, my daughter has studied law, and I always pursued justice; now my grandchild who is studying law is walking me here. But I won this prize 25 years earlier than I had imagined -- thus, I'm naturally shocked. I feel I have reached my dreams 25 years earlier [than expected].

I was proud that I surpassed my dream, but at the same time I felt shamed. A human being without a dream is not so fortunate. Therefore, the first night after I heard the news I was sleepless, because I thought, what am I going to do now? What would tomorrow have in store for me? I thought it's difficult to lead a dreamless life. My new dream is to clear Iran from land mines. We have fields of land mines which people step on daily, farms which have become barren lands, and dilapidated villages. Now my dream is to get rid of these mines to the very last one. By then, if I am still alive, I'll look for another dream. But that does not mean that I will stop my activities on behalf of human rights or the rights of children, for which I have established two NGOs. Rather, I will form another NGO for land-mine clearance.

Ravanshad: Did the Nobel reception meet your expectations?

Ebadi: Yes. It was more or less what I had expected. I had seen these things [award ceremonies] on television. I did not think it was anything extraordinary. I did not feel it would be unfamiliar, thus I did not have fear or anxiety and could go through the ceremony without any accelerated heartbeats. At the same time, what helped me most was the kindness of my fellow countrymen or Norwegians, with which one feels very much at ease.

Ravanshad: Do you think that winning the Nobel Peace Prize will help to accomplish your goals?

Ebadi: Winning this prize enables one to have one's voice heard loud and clear. My wishes remain the same -- democracy and enhancement of human rights. Winning this prize brought me access to media, to influence people�s way of thinking inside and outside my country.

Ravanshad: Now you don't just belong to yourself, you belong to everyone -- and it is not an exaggeration if one states that you belong to the world. What kind of a future do you expect?

Ebadi: I never expected much in life. To be able to do my work with peace and tranquility would be quite sufficient for me. I have repeatedly said, I have not changed since winning the prize. I remain the same humble Iranian lawyer, servant of the people.

Ravanshad: What do you expect from the people? What do you expect them to do to help you in your effort to achieve democracy and justice?

Ebadi: My wish is for the culture of hero worship to depart from my country. Creating heroes is a very dangerous thing that the Iranian culture has always fostered. We have formed a habit of creating heroes and feeling secure. We become passive and leave our heroes to do the work and even speak for us. This is not right, because heroes die, are defeated, and they may even betray. No one should speak for others. I expect all my fellow citizens to speak their hearts, and persevere in their endeavors. It�s a mistake to think that our heroes can resolve all our problems.

Ravanshad: What do you expect from the intelligentsia and defenders of civil laws?

Ebadi: I think an intellectual should be among the people, speak in a way that people would comprehend, act in harmony with the people, and encourage them to insist upon expressing their beliefs. I have often seen intellectuals who know right and wrong, but will not express thoughts outside their mental framework -- they are fearful of breaking those frameworks, and thus they say nothing. Truth is the best ornament of a human being.

Ravanshad: How do you envisage the future of Iran's freethinkers, women, children, and men?

Ebadi: I am an optimist. I have to be, because a pessimist and a person without hope will stop all endeavors. We all have to think that we are destined to secure victory and must struggle to attain it.

Ravanshad: You seem exhausted, have you ever wished that you had not won this prize, so that you'd have peace of mind?

Ebadi: I have never reached that state. Of course, I am tired. But I never wished not to have won the Nobel Peace Prize. I told you it was my life-long dream. But God willing, when I return to Iran, I won�t spend all my time giving interviews. And I ask everyone [in the media] to allow me to resume my real work, which is to practice law.

Ravanshad: You have said repeatedly that you don't have a magic key, otherwise you would have opened all the prison gates and resolved all problems. If you have any message for the Iranian children, we would like you state it here so we could broadcast it. What, in your opinion, should parents do so that children can build a better future in Iran?

Ebadi: Our most important duty is to create a world filled with understanding and love. Children need peace, and that should begin at home and then spread beyond. By setting a preference to think first of the interests of children, we will secure a better future for our country.