A Nobel Winner Writes Of Peace In 'The Golden Cage'

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The Golden Cage: Three Brothers, Three Choices, One Destiny
By Shirin Ebadi
Hardcover, 256 pages
Kales Press
List Price: $26.95
Read An Excerpt

"If you can't eliminate injustice, at least tell everyone about it." That quote opens and closes Shirin Ebadi's new book, The Golden Cage: Three Brothers, Three Choices, One Destiny. Ebadi is the Iranian human-rights lawyer who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. In her new book, a nonfiction work, she tells the story of the Iranian Revolution through three brothers: a monarchist, an anarchist and a revolutionary Islamist. All three met tragic ends.

Ebadi spoke with Robert Siegel, via a translator, on All Things Considered.

Of the three brothers in the book, one was executed in prison and other two left Iran — one was executed in exile, presumably at the behest of Iran. Five years ago on All Things Considered, Ebadi herself spoke about why she didn't choose to leave Iran. She said, "I'm Iranian, I belong to Iran, and I work for Iran so I have to be in Iran." Since then, she has left the country. Here, she explains why.

"One day prior to the elections of 2009, I left Iran to participate in a seminar in Spain," she says. "Four days later when I had concluded my seminar, Iran was not the country I had left. People had taken to the streets; many were arrested, many were killed. So my colleagues recommended that instead of going back to Iran I should go to the United Nations and tell the world what was going on in Iran. Working on human-rights issues has become almost impossible in Iran.

"And I want to talk about one of my colleagues," she continues, "who left his home 16 days ago and has disappeared. His accusation in court was having cooperated with me and with my center, though the judgment has not been finalized yet. We don't know what has happened to him."

Ebadi explains that in Iran today, cooperating with her is considered a criminal charge.

"Unfortunately that's true. He has received nine years for having cooperated with me," she says.

Ebadi contends that Iran could erupt into an uprising similar to those in other countries earlier this year, though many argue that Iran already did that following the presidential election of 2009.

"The green movement has not come to an end," she says. "All those who oppose the government, with different ideologies, are in this movement. Iran is like fire under the ashes."

Shirin Ebadi is an Iranian lawyer, a former judge and human-rights activist and founder of Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran. On Oct. 10, 2003, Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

hide captionShirin Ebadi is an Iranian lawyer, a former judge and human-rights activist and founder of Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran. On Oct. 10, 2003, Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Courtesy of Kales Press

This year, in Tunisia, there were obvious similarities to what happened in Iran in the '70s — broad opposition to a dictator amid great optimism. So what does Ebadi believe is the lesson in Iran's story that the people of Tunisia can learn from?

"The lesson that they can learn is that it is not enough to oust a dictator. What we need when we replace a dictator is a democracy. In Iran, unfortunately, we replaced one dictator by another one, a religious dictator."

When asked about the quotation that she begins her book with — "If you can't eliminate injustice, at least tell everyone about it" — Ebadi says that it has become something of a guiding principle.

"This has taken over all of my life. To give you an example, when I am in court and I am defending someone, when I'm frustrated and I get out, I talk to everyone. And I tell everyone about what went on in the courts."

Ebadi says that despite the difficulties in her native country, she refuses to give up or stop speaking the truth about injustice.

"I don't have the right to get tired or to lose hope. Please remember that the duty of a human-rights defender is to work when things are not that good, because when things are good, I wouldn't have a job. I wouldn't have anything to do."

Exceprt: The Golden Cage

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The Golden Cage: Three Brothers, Three Choices, One Destiny
By Shirin Ebadi
Hardcover, 256 pages
Kales Press
List Price: $26.95

"Wait here," I said to my driver. "I'll be back soon."

I checked the rearview mirror to make sure that my hair was still covered by my foulard, but I shouldn't have bothered: in that heat the fabric clung to my forehead. As soon as I stepped out of the car, the Khavaran's torrid desert air hit me like the breath of a furnace. It was the middle of August, and the humidity was unbearable. For a split second I wanted to rush back into the air conditioning. But no, I couldn't, it was silly even to consider it. I adjusted the strap of the handbag on my shoulder and set off at a brisk pace. I passed the old Hindi and Bahá'í tombs and approached the gathering crowd.

For them, this wasn't an unusual sight: a shapeless expanse of grass and dirt, without a fence in sight. The bodies of thousands of political dissidents, crushed beneath the blows of the Pasdaran, had been buried here, one on top of the other, like mowed hay. They'd been denied funerals and interment in Muslim cemeteries. They were zedd-e enghelab: counterrevolutionaries. "No memorial services. If you're lucky we'll let you know where you can find the body." That's all that the families of the condemned were told. The dead were discovered after weeks, even months of silence, uncertainty, and absence. That's what had happened to Javad.

I was there for him. Although, for many years, I couldn't figure out why, I had always kept him in my heart. Him and the rest of our ruined generation, torn apart by half a century of ideological battles for the soul of my country. Noble Persia; miserable Iran. On that suffocating day I was there for Javad, from whom I'd been separated by history. And I was also there for Parì, Abbas, Alì, and all the others. I was there to make up for the years of incomprehension and distance, to erase the words of hate and to recover other words—the words of our old friendships.

I joined a large group of women. They walked slowly, like a migration, from every direction—mothers, wives, and sisters holding single carnations or red roses. They all had fiery expressions on their faces and they did not cry. When people die the way their children did, you can only mourn them at home.

I recognized the woman they called Mother, the spokeswoman of their grief. She pushed her way into the center of the crowd. Her sparse white hair was just visible beneath her foulard. She was about seventy years old. Her son, an engineer who had studied in America, was buried somewhere in Khavaran.

Mother slowly raised her arm and began to speak. The buzzing stopped.

"Today we're here to remember. We know that blood can't wash away blood. We are women, not guerrilla fighters. Wives and mothers and daughters and sisters who have already seen more than enough violence. Killing the murderers will not bring back the victims—"

"Silence, infidel! They weren't victims—they were traitors, zedd-e enghelab—and they deserved to die!"

The voice reverberated in the tense air above our heads. I looked to see which woman had spoken. She was wrapped, from head to toe, in a black chador.

We'd been surrounded by women and men of the goruh-e feshar. The forces that attacked and broke up public demonstrations were once again ready to act.

We pressed together to protect ourselves, shoulder to shoulder, uncertain as to what to do. I remembered what my mother said when I left home: "Shirin joon, don't go, it's dangerous." It occurred to me that perhaps, next year, she would be one of those women on the bloody sands of Khavaran, remembering her daughter.

As if obeying a silent order, the goruh-e feshar lifted chains and knives into the air. They prepared to attack. Then there was only silence and the dense odor of our fear.

They launched their attack on the outermost circle. The crowd scattered. The women ran off in every direction. The few men among us were immediately seized by the lebas-shakhsi— government agents in civilian dress. They beat their backs with lubs, growling, "This should finally put an end to your traitorous demonstrations. Your children don't deserve any memorials. They were enemies of Allah and of Iran. You should have thought about that when you still had time. You should have taught them proper values. It's your fault they're dead!" The lebas-shakhsi dragged off their semi-conscious victims, staining the sand with thin streams of blood. Gray-haired women were sprawled all over the ground.

One of the women in chador managed to hit Mother's forehead with a stone. At the sight of the blood, as if driven mad, Mother ran forward even more frantically, despite being buffeted by blows—it was as if all the stones in the desert wouldn't stop her. Some of the others followed her example. Mother was undeterred.

The rocks whizzed by her body. "Cowards," she muttered, staring straight ahead.

I couldn't take so much as a single step. I felt paralyzed in fron to fthis surreal display of violence. A woman pushed me aside; I'll never know whether she wanted to help me of ir she was only trying to push me out of her way, but that awoke me from my trance. I started to run, following the unknown woman. In a confused haze I saw the faces of weakened women, I heard the metallic sound of chains, smelled the metallic odor of blood. Mother was yelling now – "Cowards!" – but her voice soon faded into the distance.

I tripped over a root, fell, got back up. Any second now I could be swept away or trampled. Or struck down by a scrum in which you couldn't distinguish friends from enemies. My heart leapt into my throat, it echoed in my brain and blotted out every thought. I ran, breathless. A man grabbed me by the arm and I blindly turned to give him a kick.

"Ms. Ebadi? It's me."

It was the driver. He dragged me into the car and we drove away at full speed. Exhausted, I dried the sweat that stung my eyes and tried to calm myself. Feeling cold for the first time, I looked down and realized that in my flight I'd lost my foulard. I lifted one foot onto my knee and saw that the sole was scratched and bleeding. I watched a thick drop of blood fall on the floor mat, and only then did I feel the burning sensation of my wounds.

Excerpted from The Golden Cage by Shirin Ebadi. Copyright 2011 by Shirin Ebadi. Excerpted by permission of Kales Press. All rights reserved.

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