Thursday, March 4, 2010

"The little dictator"

In 2007, I attended a conference where Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel peace prize winner and human rights lawyer from Iran, was supposed to speak. Unfortunately, her visa got held up and she couldn't make.

Last night, after two and a half years of following Dr. Ebadi's activities and reading her compelling autobiography, I finally got to see her speak at Asia Society. Jody Williams, the Nobel peace laureate from the US, once described Dr. Ebadi as "the little dictator," a reference to both her short stature and impassioned way of speaking, and I can now confirm it's an accurate description. Despite the use of a translator (which always dilutes one's speech), anyone privileged to see Dr. Ebadi speak will know she speaks with every fiber of her being (the only other person I've seen come close is Elizabeth Warren, head of the TARP oversight, on consumer protection).

Because I didn't go in my professional capacity as a member of the press and didn't record the event or take notes, I don't want to reiterate what Dr. Ebadi said last night lest I get my facts wrong. But since I also didn't get to thank her, I would like to do so here and share with readers my favorite story about her that I read in her autobiography, Iran Awakening.

When one of Dr. Ebadi's friends decided to flee Iran (some years after the Revolution), Dr. Ebadi went to her friend's apartment. The friend was trying to sell her things and had placed price tags on much of her furniture. Dr. Ebadi went around pulling the price tags off just as her friend was putting them on, trying to convince her friend to stay in Iran. She explains, 'if everyone goes, who will be left?'

This may seem like an innocuous story, but I always remember it on the days when I'm tired or frustrated with the lack of progress in some area. Clearly, that's how much you have to love a country and a culture and your cause to stay and fight against all odds. And how can I ever be tired when Dr. Ebadi is fighting so tirelessly at an age when most people are contented to retire in an easy chair and play with their grandchildren?

So thank you, Dr. Ebadi. The world needs more dictators like you.

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