Woman Warrior | The Nation


Woman Warrior

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Before long, however, Ebadi realized she had "willingly and enthusiastically participated in [her] own demise." Almost immediately there were signs that the revolution, whose primary purpose was to free Iranians from the bonds of autocracy, was veering off course. First, there was the "headscarf 'invitation'" announcing that women should reflect their fidelity to the revolution by covering their hair (Ebadi, who had never worn the veil before, took to tacking one in the hallway so as to remember to put it on before leaving the house). Men in her office no longer came to work in suits and ties but in stained, collarless shirts and badly wrinkled slacks meant to identify them with the humble masses. Rumors swirled around the courtroom that Islam barred women from serving as judges. Issues once central to the revolution, such as the redistribution of wealth and the opening up of Iranian society, were replaced by the most inane and purely theatrical concerns--the length of a woman's hem or the fullness of a man's beard.

About the Author

Reza Aslan
Reza Aslan, a scholar of religions, is the author of No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam (...

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A threatening storm gathers in the Middle East.

On November 4, 1979, a few months after the collapse of the Iranian monarchy and the inauguration of Iran's Islamic Republic, a group of college students calling themselves the Muslim Students Fo

Iran's judiciary quickly became the chief obstacle to the imposition of Islamic law. The clerics were themselves jurists, and the new Iran they envisioned was founded on the belief that only they could properly judge what was lawful and what was not. One day Ebadi arrived at work to find that she no longer had a job: The judiciary had been purged and brought under the dominion of the mosque. Less than two years after helping to tear to down the monarchy, Ebadi had been demoted to little more than a clerk in the court she once presided over. In protest, she continued to show up at her office every morning but refused to do any work. She simply sat at her desk and stared at the wall.

By the time she and most of her colleagues realized that the revolution had been hijacked, Saddam Hussein had launched a surprise attack on Iran. Suddenly, the debate over the meaning and purpose of the revolution came to a halt. The provisional government was sacked and unconditional power handed over to Khomeini and his personal militia, the Revolutionary Guards. Ebadi could do nothing but watch her dreams of democracy transform into the nightmare of religious authoritarianism. "If we admitted to ourselves that the revolution had been betrayed," she writes of the dilemma facing many Iranians, "we would surely lose the war."

Ebadi's words are a timely reminder, particularly as the United States contemplates another pre-emptive military attack in the region, that the history of revolution and war in Iran is intertwined. It was the war with Iraq that ultimately created the Islamic Republic as we know it, not the revolution itself. It was the war that brought all of Iran, including the military, under the yoke of clerical rule, allowing Khomeini to make sweeping changes in the Constitution in the name of national security (a tactic with which Americans have become familiar under the Bush Administration). More than anything else, it was the war that convinced even the most pro-American Iranians that the United States could never be trusted. As Ebadi writes:

Imagine if you were an Iranian and watched the boys in your neighborhood board the bus for the front, never to return. Imagine staring in mute horror at the television screen as Saddam rained chemical weapons down on your boys, his death planes guided by U.S. satellite photos. Fast forward about fifteen years. Now you are watching faded video footage of Donald Rumsfeld shaking Saddam Hussein's hand, smiling at the butcher who made our capital's cemetery a city. Now you are listening to President George W. Bush promise he wants to bring democracy to the Middle East. You are hearing him address the Iranian people in his State of the Union address, telling them that if they stand for their own liberty, America will stand with them. Do you believe him?

When the Iran-Iraq war stuttered to a truce eight years later, more than a million people on both sides had died. An entire generation of Iranian men had been obliterated, creating a vacuum in the workforce that could only be filled by the country's highly educated and capable women. Those who had lost their jobs in the postrevolutionary purges were invited back to work. Ebadi returned to her courtroom, this time as a lawyer (she remained barred from serving as a judge), where she has spent the past decade challenging the Iranian government as much in the court of public opinion as in the court of law.

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