16 October 2003, Volume 4, Number 28
IN FOCUSPEACE PRIZE SIGNALS NONVIOLENT CHANGE FOR IRAN IS POSSIBLE. Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer and human rights activist who is this year's recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (see http://www.nobel.se/peace/laureates/2003/press.html), returned home to Iran this week and was greeted by several thousand well-wishers. The Iranian government didn't share in the joy. Dozens of Ebadi's supporters were beaten or arrested in the crowds welcoming her return and some had cellular phones and cameras confiscated, according to reports on iranvoice.org.
Iranian President Mohammed Khatami said the decision to award the prize to Ebadi was "political" and, in any event, the prize was not as important as those for literature or science, Western wire services reported. Khatami urged Ebadi to use her achievement in the interests of Iran, rferl.org reported on 14 October. Speaking in front of crowds at the airport, Ebadi said the prize "does not just belong to me but...to the Iranian nation," rferl.org reported. "Granting the Peace Prize to a Muslim woman has a profound meaning...and it is that Islam is not a religion of terrorism. Islam is not a religion of killing," she added. She said that the most profound meaning of the prize for her was that the "world has accepted that the path of peace goes through human rights."
Ebadi, 56, a lawyer and teacher at the University of Tehran, is the first Muslim woman to receive the award, the 11th woman, and the third Muslim among Peace Prize laureates. She had earlier broken the statistical barriers by becoming Iran's first woman judge before being forced to step down after the 1979 Iranian revolution. She continued her struggle for human rights, focusing particularly on the rights of women and children who had fallen victim to violence and jailed intellectuals. In 2000, Ebadi was accused of disseminating a videotape of a violent Islamic vigilante group said to be related to conservative politicians. She was arrested, detained for several weeks in solitary confinement, and banned from practicing law.
While little known in the world at large, Ebadi is a prominent figure among human rights organizations. In 1996, the New York-based Human Rights Watch gave her one of its annual awards for human rights defenders for her work representing the families of writers and intellectuals attacked by pro-government vigilantes in 1999-2000. "The Nobel Committee has sent a powerful message to the Iranian government that serious human rights violations must end. We hope they hear that message," said Ken Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, in a press release published at hrw.org on 10 October.
Ebadi herself has been less confrontational. Since receiving word of the award, Ebadi has called for the release of political prisoners and an end to strict interpretations of Sharia law, including punishments of stoning and amputation. But she was also careful not to attack her government directly, to warn the United States not to interfere in Iranian affairs, and to describe the award as good for Iraq
As the award cannot be given posthumously, many Nobel-watchers were certain that this year's award would go to the ailing Pope John Paul II, because of his work in ending communist domination of Eastern Europe and opposing war and the cruelties of capitalism.. However, the traditional Catholic stance against abortion and a recent dispute involving the Vatican's defense of its tactics to fight AIDS without condoms, didn't do the pope any favors with the liberal Nobel Committee.
David Brooks, commenting in "The New York Times" on 10 October, wrote that "when history looks back on our era, Pope John Paul II will be recognized as the giant of the age, as the one individual who did the most to place democracy and freedom at the service of the highest human goals." While the Nobel Committee lauded Ebadi's commitment to dialogue and democracy in its award citation, Brooks asks plaintively, "Dialogues toward what truth?" and "Democracy for what?" and speculated that the pope, who was willing to confront totalitarianism, "understands we will never persuade a radical Islamist to give up his absolute grip on what he sees as God's truth if all we are offering is a tepid dialogue on the need to get along."
The announcement of the prize on 10 October came just as such a tepid dialogue was winding down between the European Union and Iran -- a dialogue criticized as lacking clarity and sincerity by the International Federation for Human Rights, a nongovernmental advocacy group that hosted Ebadi's press conference this week in Paris. Earlier the EU had postponed the dialogue because Iranian authorities refused to allow some international and local NGOs to take part.
In Russia, there were brief media reports about Ebadi's honor, but not much outpouring of praise from public figures. "The First Heroine of the 'Cold War' With Islam," ran the headline in the Russian online newspaper gazeta.ru on 10 October. Gazeta.ru commentator Fyodor Lukyanov said the Nobel Peace Prize is often criticized now for being too politicized or subjective, although he conceded that this year's prize "was politically correct in the good meaning of the word." The Nobel Committee chairman has denied any attempt to influence politics, but said the prize was to encourage certain positive tendencies in the world. Dismissive of the comment, Lukyanov wrote that the Nobel Committee was merely trying to serve as an international arbiter.
Still, the prize could have a beneficial effect, says Lukyanov, because in his mind, as in the minds of many Middle Eastern commentators, Iran is a potential target for U.S. strikes. Like his colleagues in Egypt and Yemen writing about the Nobel selection, Lukyanov conceives a scenario of doves and hawks fighting it out in Washington over the issue of whether to use force against Iran, and contrasted that with the peaceful path advocated by Ebadi. Leaving aside the issue of Iranian nuclear power, which is a function of the nature of Iran's regime in any event, says Lukyanov, the question is "whether the ayatollahs' regime is capable of independently transforming itself into something more acceptable for the West or is such a transformation only possible if force is used?"
Looking back at Soviet history, Lukyanov recalls that no one could have known in 1975, when veteran human rights campaigner Andrei Sakharov was given the Peace Prize, that in 10 years irreversible changes would take place. Yet they did begin, and Sakharov and his associates, once out of favor, participated in them. In the same way, Iran is now at a crossroads. "Will the Iraqi scenario of forcible installment of democracy where it does not exist continue, or will a more traditional, conservative scenario be chosen, proven in the era of the Cold War?" asks Lukyanov. In the "war of ideas," the Nobel prizes awarded to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (literature) and Sakharov were "a powerful weapon," he writes, and in the same way, the prize for Ebadi could bring about change. In an 11 October editorial, Britain's "Independent" also found that the prize was "an implicit rejection of the Bush administration's simplistic view of Iran as part of an 'axis of evil' where military force might be required to topple the regime."
Although celebrated as an exemplar of women's rights, Ebadi found herself challenged and scrutinized by the Western media in ways that the male scientists who won the physics awards were not. Many news outlets commented on Ebadi's lack of a headscarf, the color of her lipstick at the Paris news conference, and described her dress in great detail. She was also watched closely by journalists to see if she would join a strident chorus against her country's policies or her religion, no doubt disappointing some Iranian exiles as well as Western politicians. "There is no contradiction between Islam and human rights," she told reporters at a Paris press conference on 10 October. "If a country abuses human rights in the name of Islam then it is not the fault of Islam," she said. Returning to Iran, she was watched even more attentively. Arriving at the airport in Tehran, Ebadi wore a red headscarf and was greeted by women wearing white headscarves, and men holding white flowers, irandokht.org, an Iranian women's web magazine, reported on 14 October. White traditionally signifies the human rights struggle. A number of women leaders in the Muslim world, quoted on the website, applauded the award, but also cautioned that women who chose to wear headscarves and follow Islamic customs should not be stigmatized for their choices.
On 10 October, when asked by CNN how people could help the struggle in the country designated by U.S. President George W. Bush as part of the "axis of evil," Ebadi had only a few words: "In Iran, there are many people who believe in peace, who believe in human rights." She added that the Iranian people must work for reform themselves, relying on the outside world only for support and to publicize their nonviolent struggle.
IRAQGAUGING PUBLIC OPINION IS STILL PROVING TRICKY. A recent study of public opinion in Iraq carried out by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative think tank, and Zogby International, a polling agency, says there is support in Iraq for a continued U.S. presence in the region (see http://www.aei.org/news/newsID.19192,filter./news_detail.asp). And like other nations in transition, justice at home and admiration for Western democracy abroad has emerged as a more popular theme than democracy at home per se. Some liberal commentators critical of the AEI have already begun to challenge the findings of the poll merely on the basis of the institute's political profile, but so far no other pollsters have taken up the challenge of measuring sentiment in Iraq so systematically.
"We have relied on anecdotal temperature-takings of the Iraqi public and have been at the mercy of images presented to us by the press," says AEI's Karl Zinsmeister, editor in chief of "The American Enterprise" magazine, which participated in the survey. "We all know that journalists have a bad-news bias: 10,000 schools being rehabbed is not news; one school blowing up is a weeklong feeding frenzy," Zinsmeister himself has published a book about his own experiences as an embedded reporter during the war, and says he is puzzled by postwar media coverage, which he found much more negative than what many individuals involved in reconstructing Iraq have told him.
Zinsmeister says in an introduction to the poll that security problems delayed the fieldwork several times, but that the polling team "labored at careful translations, regional samplings, and survey methods" to be as accurate as possible, even consulting East European pollsters on the best way to interview people who have lived in a closed society and been conditioned not to speak their minds. The poll was conducted in August 2003, with a sample of 600 respondents and a plus or minus degree of accuracy of 4.1 percent, in four cities all outside Baghdad: Basrah, the second-largest city in Iraq, with a population of 1.7 million; Mosul, the third-largest; Kirkuk, Kurdish-dominated and fourth largest; and Ramadi, an area of resistance in the Sunni triangle. AEI says that far from portraying the people of Iraq as fanatical and resentful of U.S. occupation, opinion appears to be more "sensible, stable, and moderate than commonly portrayed."
The pollsters recorded the respondents' ethnicity as they gave it themselves: 80.8 percent were Arab, 9.3 percent were Kurd, 4.3 percent were Turkomen, and 5.2 were Assyrian. Asked to describe their religious affiliation, 57.5 percent said they were Shi'ites, 36.2 percent were Sunni, and 6.0 percent were Christian. The respondents were evenly divided as to gender.
Asked if they thought Iraq would be a better country in five years, about 32 percent said they thought it would be "much better," the largest group of 38 percent said they thought it would be "somewhat better," while about 7 percent said it would be "a lot worse." When pollsters queried whether people thought rebuilding Iraq economically or politically would be harder, a large majority of 67 percent said they thought "politically" it would be harder, about 22 percent answered "economically," and nearly 11 percent were unsure.
One question in the survey asked whether democracy could work well in Iraq, or was it a "Western way of doing things" and would not work in Iraq. More than 50 percent conceded that democracy could not work in Iraq and nearly 39 percent believed that it could. Asked about countries that could serve as models for Iraq's reconstruction, 23 percent chose the United States, 12 percent chose Syria, 17 percent chose Saudi Arabia, and 7 percent chose Egypt. Only 3 percent polled selected Iran as a model. Still, 60 percent of respondents said they would rather rely on Iraqis alone to form a government; about 32 percent said they would like the United States and the United Kingdom to help.
Respondents were divided over how long they would like U.S. and British troops to remain: about two thirds were evenly divided between six months to a year; about a quarter said two or more years. Asked if Iraq should have an Islamic government or let everyone practice his own religion, at least 60 percent said people should practice their own religion; about 33 percent opted for an Islamic government. That answer reveals the secularization of Iraqi society under the Ba'athist Party.
Opinions about Al-Qaeda head Osama bin Laden broke down approximately as follows: 22 percent were "very favorable," 14 percent were "somewhat favorable," 13 percent were "somewhat unfavorable," and 34 percent were "very unfavorable". The public's great emphasis on justice for the crimes committed under the Hussein regime is seen in the responses of about 74 percent who wanted to see the leaders found guilty of perpetrated abuses in the past to be punished; nearly 18 percent wanted to "put the past behind us."
Over the next five years, 54 percent of respondents thought that Iran will "hurt Iraq" and nearly 22 percent said it will help; 20 percent said it will have "no influence." Meanwhile, 60 percent thought Saudi Arabia would "help Iraq," about 7 percent said it would "hurt," and 28 percent said it would have "no influence."
Whatever good grace the United States has earned now, in the next five years, 50 percent think it will "hurt Iraq," whereas at least 35 percent believe it will "help Iraq". Commentators often suggest that the UN is a target of public anger, because it is associated with the imposition of sanctions under the Hussein regime, and some believe that the 19 August bombing of the UN compound had the tacit support of at least some Iraqis. The AEI poll tells a very different story: at least 50 percent said the UN will "help Iraq" -- less than Saudi Arabia but more than the U.S.; some 19 percent said it will "hurt Iraq" and a decisive 25 percent said it will have "no influence."
The American Enterprise Institute's poll was taken with a relatively small sample (600) and did not ask any specific questions about the personal attitudes of Iraqis to the presence of U.S. and other foreign troops in their country, or their sense of personal and national security since the end of combat operations in April. Furthermore, the survey was made before a series of terrorist attacks that have further eroded a fragile trust in public safety, including the 19 August bombing of the UN compound in Baghdad and this week's blast at the Turkish Embassy. There have also been large street protests. On 7 October, 2,000 people demonstrated at the Al-Bayya Mosque over the arrest of the mosque's imam by U.S. forces. The poll also preceded a call from the Organization for the Islamic Conference (OIC) for the U.S.-led coalition to remove its troops from Iraq, although the influence of the OIC and fellow Muslim countries have yet to be measured.
Those following events in Iraq continue to scour the Internet for alternative news and comments from the Iraqi people because they feel that no one media outlet or think tank study will provide satisfactory coverage on the complex situation. One popular weblog, or blog, has been maintained since September 2002 by "Salam Pax," the pseudonym of a 29-year-old resident of Baghdad also known as the "Baghdad Blogger." Pax was avidly sought by fans when he disappeared for a time after his connection was lost after the bombing of Baghdad began in March (see http://www.dear_raed.blogspot.com/). His postings contain everything from music criticism to open attacks on Hussein's regime and frank accounts of life under foreign occupation -- he seems to have a dig at everybody, which in part explains his popularity.
The Baghdad Blogger has also been missed in recent weeks as he went abroad to promote his new book and website (http://www.thebaghdadblog.com/promo/followup.php). Recent entries describe his struggles traveling abroad as an Iraqi, mistrusted by many people. While he was gone, his parents' home was searched by U.S. soldiers in search of terrorists. Commenting on the 19 August attack on the UN, he writes that the bombing "is not about American presence in Iraq. [T]hese attacks have nothing to do with the so called resistance. These are [expletive deleted] idiots who [are] destroying all the efforts to help this country get back on its feet."
RFE/RL's Valentinas Mite has attempted to get a sense from both policemen and ordinary people about security on the street in Baghdad (see "Iraq: Baghdad Wears the Face of Normality As Killings, Crime Continue," rferl.org, 9 October 2003 and "Iraq: Police Fight Crime -- And Public Mistrust -- On Streets of Baghdad," rferl.org, 13 October 2003). Women and children are back on the streets along with Iraqi police patrols, but there is a "feeling of danger in the air" and political parties, religious organizations, and mosques are taking security precautions after a wave of suicide attacks and car bombings. "Five months ago, [anti-American forces] were targeting only the Americans, at the places where [U.S. troops] were located. Now, we feel danger in every place...We don't feel secure in our own houses," said a young woman, RFE/RL reported on 9 October. She explained that women are only going outside because they need to take their children to school or buy them clothes. "You cannot keep yourself and your children jailed at home," she said. A man in his 30s said he feels more secure, but uneasy: "I feel that they -- strangers, foreigners -- have entered this country. I feel that my country will be taken over by foreigners and that it is divided into 100 pieces." He added that he wished U.S. troops would leave. Another man said he felt better now that the repression of Hussein's regime had lifted. "I had a feeling that at any time, some [of Hussein's] security men could come to my place, arrest or search me for nothing," he said. "I feel more secure now."
One police lieutenant told RFE/RL that he believed more than 50 percent of the current police force served under the former regime. A middle-aged man said the police cannot be trusted because they are "collaborating with the American occupiers". A student at Baghdad University said he did not respect the new police because they had no power or authority, even over traffic violations. But another man said that at least he had not found the new police to be taking bribes as under Hussein.
A weekly English-language newspaper in Baghdad, "Iraq Today" (http://www.iraq-today.com), is gradually gaining an audience, although, perhaps tellingly, the opinion page is still blank. In an editorial this week, titled "The $87 Billion Dollar Question: Is Security Really Getting Better in Iraq?" the paper writes, "People are staying out a bit later, Iraqi police are more visible on the streets, and the once daily stories of kidnappings are growing less frequent. But the pressing question on Iraqi streets these days, is whether these signs of improvement are real or fleeting." The paper writes of the difficulties people are experiencing in coming out of 30 years of oppression and dealing with an explosion of crime and corruption. "Where are the gifts of freedom that the Americans promised us with? To have my son together with his car missing for about a month and no one can help us find him. If freedom means losing my son I would rather have Saddam back again," protested one mother whose 25-year-old son fell victim to kidnappers. "The problem with this country is that all its former governments were inattentive to the people and we also fear the forthcoming government," said a history professor at Baghdad University. Many people seem to perceive that whatever improvements they experience now are temporary and the lack of improvements a deliberate plan to keep Iraq subdued. "The security situation has improved by about 50 percent compared to the situation immediately after the war, and many criminals are being arrested on a daily basis," a police official told "Iraq Today."
Still, belief in progress is tied to security for most people, and "seldom does a day pass without one or more fatal blasts," said the paper. "Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim along with no less than one hundred people were killed in a well-plotted blast after Friday prayer. The sacredness of the shrine did not preclude the perpetrators from carrying out their scheme," wrote "Iraq Today" of the assassination of the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq in the holy city of Al-Najaf. At least 80 were killed in the attack and more than 100 injured.
In an op-ed piece contributed to "The Wall Street Journal," Karl Zinsmeister said if the "small number of militants conducting sabotage and murder inside the country can gradually be [eliminated], then the mass of citizens living along the Tigris-Euphrates Valley are likely to make reasonable sense of their new freedom." (For more top stories and features on Iraq, visit http://www.rferl.org/specials/iraqcrisis/)
POLANDA LIGHT GOES OUT IN EASTERN EUROPE. Marek Nowicki, president of the Polish Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, died on 10 October at the age of 56 from cancer, the foundation's board announced on the organization's website (http://www.hfhrpol.waw.pl). A major voice for civil rights and tolerance and against racism, Nowicki's death is a significant loss for the international human rights movement, which is only mitigated by the knowledge that he succeeded in training many young people to follow in his footsteps.
Nowicki, a thoughtful scientist and a veteran campaigner for human rights, was a popular lecturer throughout Eastern and Central Europe and Eurasia. He headed the leading human rights organization in Poland, which has also been recognized as among the strongest and most successful groups of the region.
In an obituary published on the organization's website, the Polish Helsinki Foundation reminded readers that Nowicki was trained as a nuclear physicist at the University of Warsaw's Department of Mathematics and Physics. In 1980-81, he was a Solidarity activist in the Mazowsze Region and was jailed for his efforts during the imposition of martial law. Once released, he formed an underground publishing house called Neutrino and edited an independent quarterly, "Praworzadnosc," where he signed his articles under the pseudonym "Man."
In December 1982, Nowicki was among the founders of the underground Polish Helsinki Committee and took part in the first reports on abuses in his homeland given to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Sometimes confused with a lawyer of the same name who became ombudsman of Poland and later Kosovo, Nowicki spent most of his career in the nongovernmental sector, carefully weighing how much progress his own country was making in human rights before joining government delegations or commissions. After the elections in 1989, for example, when many of his friends were joining government cabinets or the parliament, he urged that human rights work be kept separate from politics. "We cannot seriously be involved in human rights and take part in government because it is our task to monitor how this government acts," he said.
A slender, bespectacled man known for his listening skills and careful ponderings, Nowicki was among the first to make the transition from street demonstrations and political imprisonment to the complex world of building civil society through education and advocacy. He was frequently a figure to be seen walking the corridors of OSCE meetings, quietly lobbying governments, including his own, and when the situation required, speaking out during the sessions. Fluent in Russian, Nowicki was particularly in demand in Russia and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, where he was a trusted advisor to groups like Russia's Memorial Society and fledgling human rights committees in the Caucasus and Central Asia. In an NGO world of endless -- and often mindless -- seminars, Nowicki was known as a passionate and knowledgeable lecturer who instinctively understood the difficulties of nations in transition in a way that Western trainers could not.
In citations from his memoirs published on the Russian-language pages of the Polish Helsinki Foundation website, Nowicki wrote of his seminal experience in the Soviet Union in the 1970s, when he worked at the Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubno, and bicycled around the Russian provinces. "I was shocked, to what level of moral degradation people could be led by a political system," he wrote. He continued, "I had never been involved in civic or political affairs before, but then I felt that I had to do something. I'm not talking about the lack of toilet paper or the moonshine that people sold by the five-liter jam jar, it was rather a question of the humiliation of people that was more noticeable there than in Poland." When he returned to Poland, the Committee for the Defense of Workers was in full swing, and he joined it enthusiastically.
Later, he helped to draft the "Charter of Human Rights," part of which was incorporated into the 1997 Polish Constitution. Nowicki was much sought after for help in troubled areas throughout the region, particularly during public unrest or flawed election processes, because his moderate views and willingness to listen to various sides were indispensable. On one occasion in Moscow, for example, he stayed up all night trying to resolve a conflict among activists over whether Helsinki groups should monitor the elections in Belarus, weighing the advantages of NGO presence to help protect colleagues versus the dangers of lending credibility to a dubious cause. In the end, he opted to keep his own organization away at that time, but continued to cooperate with groups that did decide to participate.
Rather than seeking high political office, Nowicki toiled sometimes without recognition in a difficult field, and provided an invaluable gift to his country and the world by educating a new generation of human rights advocates throughout the region. His funeral is to be held on 17 October at St. Karol Boromeusz Church in Warsaw.
CLARIFICATION An article on the Chechnya Film Festival ("(Un)Civil Societies," 2 October 2003) said Russian President Vladimir Putin had brought Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, now Chechnya's president, along with him to Camp David in the United States. In fact, while Kadyrov participated in the Kremlin's delegation to the United States, he did not go to Camp David. At a 29 September press conference in Moscow, a transcript of which is available on the embassy's website at usembassy.ru, journalists asked U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow about rumors that Washington was concerned about Kadyrov's presence and did not admit him to the summit talks. The ambassador replied, "As for Mr. Kadyrov, there was never any request or proposal that he participate in the Camp David meetings. And I would add that there was never a formal request for any meetings at the State Department or anywhere else in the government."
RECOMMENDED NEWS LINKSINTERNATIONAL. "World: Report Highlights Ongoing Plight Of Internally Displaced Persons by Antoine Blua." The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reports that 3 million internally displaced people (IDPs) are still living in Europe. http://www.rferl.org/nca/features/2003/10/10102003161238.asp
Several international organizations are devoted to women's issues in the Islamic world. Women Living Under Muslim Law was founded in 1984 in response to the crisis in Algeria (http://www.wluml.org/english/about.shtml) and has grown into a worldwide network providing background information on laws and practices and current news links to provide support for all women whose lives may be affected by Muslim laws. The Women's Learning Partnership (http://www.learningpartnership.org), led by Mahnaz Afkhami, a former Iranian women's affairs minister, has programs in Eurasia and around the world to provide culturally relevant information and leadership training.
AFGHANISTAN. "Afghanistan: Soviet History Provides Lessons -- Good And Bad -- For Women" by Beatrice Hogan. The Soviet campaign in Central Asia of unveiling women -- known as the hudjum -- provides lessons, both good and bad, for Afghanistan today as its interim government seeks to improve conditions for women. RFE/RL reports on a recent panel discussion at Harvard University that explored the parallels. http://www.rferl.org/nca/features/2003/10/10102003165957.asp
"Analysts Say Enforcement Of Law On Political Parties Will Test Karzai" by Ron Synovitz. In a move considered critical to creating conditions for free and fair elections in Afghanistan next year, Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai has approved a law that bans Afghan political parties from having their own militias or affiliations with armed forces. http://www.rferl.org/nca/features/2003/10/15102003163503.asp
IRAN "Nobel Peace Prize Goes To Female Lawyer Ebadi" by Charles Coalson. Ebadi, a leading figure in the struggle for the rights of women and children in Iran, is known for representing the interests of persecuted individuals and has braved reprisals for her beliefs. http://www.rferl.org/nca/features/2003/10/10102003165909.asp
LATVIA. "European Rights Official Stirs Debate With Citizenship, Voting Comments" by Kathleen Knox. Alvaro Gil-Robles, the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, said during a visit to Latvia on 8 October that naturalization requirements should be eased and noncitizens -- who make up around a quarter of Latvia's 2.4 million people -- should be allowed to vote in local elections. http://www.rferl.org/nca/features/2003/10/10102003164255.asp