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  • Documents on Democracy


The 2003 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Iranian lawyer and human-rights activist Shirin Ebadi. The November 3 issue of the Weekly Standard featured an interview with her by Amir Taheri. Excerpts from her responses appear below:

I see the prize as a message from the international community to the people of Iran, especially to women, and beyond them, to the Muslim world. The message is that human rights belong to all mankind and that peace is possible only if they are respected. . . .

Those who fight for human rights in places like Iran, and many other developing countries, should always be prepared for the worst. But those who make threats would be wise to stop for a moment to ponder the undercurrents of history. They will see that the age of rule by fear is coming to a close throughout the world. Why should Iran be an exception? . . .

What we have in Iran is not a religious regime, but a regime in which those in power use religion as a means of staying in power. If the present regime does not reform and evolve into one that reflects the will of the people, it is going to fail, even if it adopts a secularist posture. I support the separation of state and religion because the political space is open to countless views and interests. This position is actually supported by the grand ayatollahs. So it is in conformity with the Shi'ite tradition. . . .

It is true that human rights are violated in most Muslim countries. But this is a political, not a religious, reality. We have had all sorts of regimes in Muslim countries, including secularists, Marxists, and nationalists. They, too, violated human rights. If corrupt and brutal regimes oppress their people, in what way is this a sign of Islam's incompatibility with human rights?

Hossein Khomeni, the grandson of the founder and Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, recently left Iran and relocated to Iraq. While on a visit to the United States, he gave a speech at the American [End Page 182] Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., on September 26. Excerpts from that speech follow:

The important goal for the Iranian people in the revolution was the creation of democracy and political freedom, but after the victory of the revolution, as we all know, this was not followed and the goals were not achieved, and there were no freedoms . . . in Iran, and a greater and more ruthless dictatorship . . . became prevalent in Iran and still goes on.

Today, Iranian people again want democracy, they want freedom. Furthermore, they have experienced . . . a theocratic regime in Iran, and they have come to understand that religion and government cannot be one and the same. There should be a government of rationality, of people who believe in reason. There should be reliance, of course, on the wishes of the people, at the same time on the edicts of Islamic texts. There is no way to rule present communities in the Middle East, except the government of reason and rationality, and those forms of government which we call democratic regimes.

Democracy is compatible with all the basic values of Shi'ism and Islamic law, and faith is free; individuals . . . can follow a particular religion or not follow a particular religion, as they wish. A true Muslim is a Muslim that accepts religion freely. If everybody were supposed to become a Muslim, God himself would have turned everybody into Muslims. At the present time, the question is how we can get to democracy and freedom in our communities in the Middle East. Our nation is ready, but it cannot have any kind of activity because there is no leadership.

We cannot remain silent and watch the . . . further destruction of Iran and the Iranian people. . . . What I have stressed in all my statements and talks is that I have asked all the free societies in the world to think and be concerned about those countries in the Middle East. . . . They should try to create hope in these people, in the Middle Eastern countries. . . . The establishment of freedom and democracy in Islamic countries is the guarantee of international...


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pp. 182-186
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