Iran Awakening chronicles many of the cases that Ebadi has fought in Iran's inequitable courts, including, most dramatically, the infamous serial murders of a group of Iranian dissidents and writers in the winter of 1998, a case that ultimately resulted in the unprecedented arrest and conviction of members of the government's own Information Ministry (while working on the case, Ebadi learned that she was the next person the ministry had marked for death). Of course, Ebadi lost nearly every one of these cases, but in a rigged legal system like Iran's, winning or losing is beside the point. What matters is the light she has shone on a system that can function only if it remains in the shadows.
Ebadi's genius as a human rights lawyer comes from her ability to exploit the founding mythology of the Iranian revolution, namely that it was fought on behalf of the dispossessed. Her objective is to show Iranians that "the dispossessed [have] now become the dispossessors." By publicly unveiling the injustices suffered by the weakest members of society at the hands of a regime that likes to present itself as the champion of the weak, Ebadi seeks to shame the Iranian government into changing (much as she shamed the Treasury Department). In this way, she uses the same Islamic ideals that supposedly underpin the Islamic Republic as a weapon against the barbarisms of the clerical regime. It is a risky strategy that has repeatedly put her life in peril. But in a country like Iran, it is not enough to whisper that the emperor has no clothes; it must be shouted so that all the world becomes aware of his nakedness.
While such fearlessness has made Ebadi a hero to many Iranians, not everyone agrees with her approach. Indeed, Ebadi has her fair share of critics, particularly among influential Iranian-Americans who favor a more aggressive policy toward Iran. In the wake of the recent presidential election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the consolidation of the conservatives' control over every level of government, some Iranians believe that the days when the clerical system could be reformed from within have come and gone. For them, the only option left is to destroy the regime by any means necessary and build a new Iran on its ashes.
Meanwhile, recent reports in The New Yorker and elsewhere that the United States is preparing a sustained bombing campaign in Iran in hopes of halting the country's nuclear program, coupled with revelations that the Pentagon has been using an Iranian terrorist organization called the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) to conduct stealth operations in Iran from bases in Iraq and Pakistan, have pushed the already paranoid clerical regime into a panic. As happened during the Iran-Iraq war, the regime has begun clamping down even harder on dissent so that activists like Ebadi who seek a compromise on the nuclear impasse and détente with the West are increasingly being denounced as US stooges.
Still, Ebadi remains convinced that change in Iran can only come from within. "The Iranian Revolution," she writes, "has produced its own opposition, not least a nation of educated, conscious women who are agitating for their rights. They must be given the chance to fight their own fights, to transform their country uninterrupted." Whether Iranians like Ebadi get that chance depends in large part on US policy.