“We are here to unite and announce our rejection of the separation of countries - and of hearts,” said Shirin Ebadi – encouraging us not to fear walls, but to fight them, knowing that they result in islamophobia, homophobia, and ultimately the fear of others.
“Think about the Berlin Wall. It was destroyed in less than 24 hours. This is the fate of any wall they create to separate people.”
Ebadi drew parallels between Iran, Europe and Mexico: across the world, families are being forcefully separated by borders, women are subject to violence and fear: more than a third of women will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, often from a male partner. “The people of the world have so much in common – it is us who need to find a solution for our problems.”
She also drew a forceful parallel between Iran and Venezuela: “We don’t have power at the political level or at the personal one, and the government is highly corrupt: this means there is great poverty. If this continues for another year, Iran will reach a situation very similar to Venezuela.”
Hope is to be found amongst Iran’s young people: she said that the country’s youth are fighting the government to make sure that deterioration does not happen: they want meaningful democracy, the right to make choices about their lifestyles, beliefs, and government.
The Iranian regime, meanwhile, are determinedly censoring and suppressing dissent: more than fifty poets and writers are in prison, and those who speak for democracy are accused of being pro-USA. The authorities are always looking for an enemy: “The discovery of an enemy justifies an attack on the people.” Fortunately, she said, social media allows some information to spread.
Ebadi spoke of her upbringing in Iran and the importance of education, stressing that it is particularly key for girls in tackling the patriarchal values of society - a society which does not truly believe in equality: “We must give them a good education so that they are not contaminated by that culture.” Women, too, need to unite, create safety together, and denounce those who commit crimes against them.
She spoke particularly of how her father taught her that all religions are fundamentally the same: though she gains energy from her faith as a Muslim, she doesn’t believe in religious divisions, or intermediaries between people and God. “A true religion is inside our hearts; there is nothing between us and God.” The worst governments are those who have religious ideology at their base: Ebadi referred to her own native Iran, speaking of heterodoxy, propaganda, and control by fear.
She had a particular message of hope for the young people in the audience: “Don’t fear failure: when I look at my own life, I see the moments of victory, and they all come directly after a moment of failure. Failure is like taking a step backwards from an obstacle so that you can jump much higher over it. There is nothing to fear. You may even end up in jail, but the important thing is that you continue with your work, with your path. Every failure is preparation for victory.”