Ebadi to remove headscarf for awards
Shrugging off criticism, Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi is to cast off her headscarf when she goes to Oslo this week to formally receive her award.
She dismissed the belief that such a move would only strengthen hardline opposition to her campaign for the rights of women, children and dissidents.
“I will not be wearing the hijab,” Ebadi told AFP in an interview. “My actions have always irritated some people, but that is not important.”
“I want Iranian women to be free to wear or not wear the hijab,” she said of the Islamic dress code enforced in the republic since the 1979 revolution and a symbol seized upon by many feminist activists.
After being informed of her win in October, she gave a press conference without a headscarf – something that drew fierce criticism from many quarters in Iran. In theory, such an act of defiance can be pursued by the courts in Iran.
Ebadi, however, did point out that she was opposed to moves in secularist France to ban the hijab from schools: “I protest equally against the French government as I do against the Iranian government.”
Ebadi, 56, insisted her life “has not changed” since she was awarded the prize in October, although she did admit that demands on her time and workload were increasing.
But she acknowledged the prize, together with its purse of $1.3 million she will collect in Oslo on 10 December, would be a boost to her work for the rights of women, children and dissidents.
“This prize is important for my objectives. I will use the money for my work. And I now have a certain notoriety.”
Coupled with that, however, are death threats. But these were shrugged off as part and parcel of campaigning on issues in opposition to powerful hardliners.
Ebadi says receiving death
“These are nothing new. I’ve been receiving threats for 10 years now – telephone calls, letters. I’ve turned down offers of bodyguards, although when I go somewhere where there is not many people, I do inform the interior ministry,” she explained.
Ebadi also shrugged off the disappointment of those in the Islamic republic hoping she would be taking on a more public role in her opposition to the conservative figures that pull many of the strings in Iran and have frustrated the reform efforts of President Muhammad
Ebadi asserted she would not become a standard bearer for reform.
“The Nobel prize has not changed my commitment. And (German playwright Bertolt) Brecht said ‘Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes’.”
“The cult of the hero has always put this country back. Iranians have not learned this lesson. Heroes die, betray or fail. If Iranians have been disappointed by Khatami, it is because they committed a new historical error of wanting to create a hero,” she said of the embattled president.
“I tell people that they have to fight for their rights themselves, and that I will be among those who defend them. I believe in the parliamentary struggle, and the constitution has a method for reform – a referendum.”
“The human rights situation has been getting worse over the past two years, even though it is better than it was 20 years ago…”
Reforms, she argued, “have to be carried out peacefully” – even though to many people the Iranian parliament has failed to deliver the changes that voters mandated it to deliver in 2000.
“People have not fought like they should have. They tired too quickly,” she said of the current Majlis, which comes up for re-election on 20 February 2004.
But she did warn against a boycott, or a low turnout such as during municipal elections in February this year that saw conservatives win:
“When people leave the arena, the conservatives or the United States profit. We don’t want conservatives or a military occupation.”