Deborah Amos - From Minnesota Public Radio this is an American Radio Works Report.
"My Name is Iran." I'm Deborah Amos.
Iran is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its Islamic Revolution. But while the streets are resounding with chants of "long live the Islamic republic," inside classrooms and courtrooms, a quiet revolution is taking place.
SOUND: montage of voices - Everybody inside Iran and outside Iran-they are looking for big changes. I think in Iran there is a hidden movement that is secular. All the laws the clergy threw out of the window now have made a come back although mangled and disfigured.
Amos - In the coming hour, "My name is Iran," from American Radio Works, the national documentary unit of Minnesota Public Radio. First this news update.
Amos - From American Radio Works this is "My Name is Iran." I'm Deborah Amos.
From Indonesia to Algeria, the Islamic world is struggling with the tension between modernity and Islamic tradition. At the center of this ferment is Shariah - the legal system based on the Koran and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.
Twenty-five years ago, Iran became the modern world's first theocracy.
The Iranian experiment galvanized fundamentalist Muslims throughout the
World. But today, within Iran, there are signs that, for many people, the experiment failed to create the society they had hoped for. In October 2003, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to an Iranian human rights lawyer who is challenging the ruling clerics' interpretation of Islam. The voices of change in Iran come from women, lawyers, and even clerics who have been instrumental in modifying the system.
SOUND: montage - There is a challenge between the clergyman about the application of Shariah. This is precisely the kind of law my parents were against. So we take out religion from politics to save it not to withdraw it because it's something bad but because we want to safeguard it. Ladies and Gentlemen Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi. If human rights are not manifested in codified laws then human beings will be left with no other choice but to stage rebellion against tyranny and oppression.
Amos - Before the Islamic revolution of 1979, Iran was the first country in the Middle East to bring together secular and sacred law. A legal code developed in 1927 did away with extreme Islamic punishments such as stoning and lashing. NPR Producer Davar Ardalan grew up in Iran. Her great-grandfather was the architect of Iran's legal code in the early 1920's. In the next hour, she and co-producer Rasool Nafisi look at Iran's long search for a lawful society.
SCRIPT: My name is Iran. Iran Davar Ardalan. Like the country I'm named for, my life has been filled with contradictions.
There's a picture of me in my photo album from March of 1982 posing like Brooke Shields. "Nothing comes between me and my Calvins" - remember that? It was taken at a photographer's studio in Boston where I was going to high school for a time. On the next page, there's a photo taken two years later in Tehran. I'm veiled and somber, a young bride in Ayatollah Khomeini's new revolution.
I've spent much of my life traveling back and forth between the U.S. and Iran. After college, I worked as a newscaster for Iranian State television. Today, I'm a journalist in Washington D.C. 1979 was the year my world turned upside down.
SOUND: news clip - The Shah arrived at the airport and got into a royal Boeing 747 and took off with the Shah himself at the controls. The Shah has flown himself out of the country . . .
SCRIPT: A popular uprising forced Iran's monarch Muhammad Reza Pahlavi to flee the country. From the large windows of my family's three-story home near Tehran University, I could see the Shah's army going through our street as they clashed with student demonstrators. [protest sounds] It was clear that the country was in turmoil. And before we knew it, we woke up to a revolution....
CUT: Susan Stamberg - After nearly 15 years in exile - the Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran today. The airport in Tehran was closed to all traffic except the Air France 747 that brought him from Paris -- an estimated 2 million people were there to meet him.
SCRIPT: I was one of those 2 million who flocked to see Khomeini. Curious to see the famous exiled leader of the clerical movement against the Shah.
CUT: Woman's voice - In Iran today this announcement was heard over the radio -- this is the voice of the revolution. The dictatorship has come to an endů
SOUND: archival revolutionary songs
SCRIPT: Having grown up in a secular Iran I felt scared and confused by the militancy around me. I had gotten some religious education growing up but I didn't understand this Islamic fervor. I'd go to school only to find a classmate wearing black - his father - a member of the Shah's cabinet having just been executed by the infamous hanging judge Khalkhali. The Shah was a close ally of the United States and my family had close ties to America.
CUT: Let's say a word or two about Iran and it's history. Well first of all thank you for inviting me here . . .
SCRIPT: My maternal grandmother Helen Jeffreys was from Boise, Idaho. She met my Iranian grandfather when they were both students in New York. After they married, Helen converted to Islam and lived in Iran. In the 1950's, Helen was a public health nurse in President Truman's Point Four Program and when she visited the US she gave interviews and talks about her family and travels through distant villages in Iran.
CUT: Jeffreys - but these are the things I love. I love the rough, snow-capped mountains; I love the clang and clamor of Persian bazaars where purchasing an article is an art; I love the magnificent culture of Isfahan and Shiraz where perfumed gardens scented with the exotic aroma of Persian roses are plentiful.
SCRIPT: But my grandmother and our family weren't attuned to the political tensions in Iran in the 1950's. The country was ruled by the increasingly unpopular and dictatorial Shah. Human Rights organizations documented the use of torture by Savak, the Shah's secret police and the execution of political prisoners. The clash between the Shah and opposition forces continued through the 1960's and 70's when I was growing up in Iran.
SOUND: rally chanting sound archival
SCRIPT: Within days of the revolution in 1979, the clerics took control of the country's institutions. They took over the justice system and instituted a strict version of Islamic law - they made women wear the veil, brought back harsh punishments and denounced everything western.
CUT: Man's voice - Protesting Iranian students are occupying the American Embassy in Tehran. Student's voice - This is a message of the students in the American Embassy of Tehran. We are not against the people of the US; we are against the United States policy in Iran. They want the Shah returned to Tehran to stand trial.
SCRIPT: The main spokesperson for the students occupying the embassy had attended the same international high school as I did. When it became obvious that the school would be closed I left Iran to finish school in the US. That first day at Brookline High I found myself standing in the courtyard surrounded by yellow school buses and the American flag at half-mast. 52 Americans were being held captive at the embassy in Tehran. I just couldn't see introducing myself in class as Iran. So I registered using my middle name, Davar. The name means "arbitrator" in Persian. My parents named me Davar in memory of my great grandfather, Ali Akbar Davar.
SCRIPT: My great grandfather was responsible for reforming the laws of Iran in 1927 during the time of the first Pahlavi Shah. I've always been aware he was an important figure in Iran's history.
SOUND: door closing
SCRIPT: A US diplomat told me recently that Davar was one of his heroes. His reforms merged Western and Islamic Law. I wondered if his ideas could be useful today when Muslims are trying to figure out how to reconcile Islam and democracy.
CUT: Ardalan - Can you show us any books that make reference to Davar?
SCRIPT: I've come to the Library of Congress in Washington DC to study Iran's legal history.
CUT: I started the Persian section 28 years ago. The Persian books are over 800,000.
SCRIPT: The curator is an elegant elderly man named Ibrahim Pourhadi. Books and newspapers going back to the 1900's tell of an Iran already searching to accommodate modernity and tradition.
CUT: Pourhadi - This is constitution of 1906 . . .
SCRIPT: In 1906 Iran had a constitutional revolution. The movement was led Iranians of all classes, merchants, clerics and tribal leaders who demanded a limited monarchy and the creation of an elected parliament.
CUT: Pourhadi - We have many articles about Davar - Etelat - Kayhan from 1926 on
SOUND: microfilms scroll
SCRIPT: But the late 1920's the autocratic rule of Reza Shah-the first Pahlavi king weakened the democratic process in Iran. Never the less it was during this time that Iran's judiciary was modernized. (sound of microfilms) Microfilms from 1927 show official notices from by great grandfather, who was the Minister of Justice. One is about changing the laws of punishment.
SOUND: flipping through book
SCRIPT: I come to the Library of Congress with an Iranian lawyer named Mehrangiz Kar. She says before Davar's reforms, punishments came from a mix of the Koran and ancient tribal customs.
CUT: Kar - All punishment was very violent at that time. We had stoning, lashing but after Davar I think it was a very good and big step towards separation between Church and State.
SCRIPT: Kar is in the US getting medical treatment. She was thrown in jail in 2000, after criticizing the structure of the government under the current constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Kar says under the clerics, Iran has been set back a century.
CUT: Kar - The 1906 Constitution stated that the Parliament was completely independent but in Iran today the Parliament is not independent and a body known as the Guardian Council can veto all the laws and demand that they are according to Shariah law. I've to explain to you what is Guardian Council. The members of Guardian Council are selected by Supreme Leader. Supreme Leader is an Islamic Cleric. Therefore we have turned back in time.
SCRIPT: My great grandfather was only 14 when he entered politics. By 24, he was Tehran's Prosecutor General. He later studied law in Belgium. In 1927, he shut down Iran's Justice Ministry to completely revamp it. A year later, a new system was born. It combined European legal code with Islamic jurisprudence. The new system had local courts, regional ones and a Supreme Court. Judges decided which cases should be handled by the clerics.
CUT: Kar - At that time we could have independent judge, independent lawyer and the parliament could legislate democratic law.
SCRIPT: But a half-century of the autocratic rule of the Pahlavi Shah eroded the independence of the judiciary. The Shah's secret police intimidated judges and dissidents were tried by military courts. And Davar himself was not without controversy. He was criticized for promoting Shah's repressive regime.
SOUND: door closes
SCRIPT: After the Revolution, the clerics suspicious of anything having to do with the Pahlavi through out all of Davar's legal reforms. But he hasn't been forgotten.
SOUND: newscast in Farsi
SCRIPT: Radio Farda, the Persian service of Radio Liberty recently reported that a prominent journalist in Iran had said publicly that the judicial system was so corrupt that it should be completely shut down and revamped like the in the time of Davar.
SOUND: newscast in Farsi
SCRIPT: Many voices in Iran are challenging the institution of the Judiciary. Over seventy years after Davar's reforms they find themselves once again struggling to reinterpret Shariah law, to make it more compatible to modern times.
SCRIPT: A year after the Islamic revolution I left Iran. The country embarrassed me. I had to get away from the rigidity. But it was hard being Iran Davar Ardalan in Brookline, Mass. I wasn't sure where I fit. So a year later, I went back to Iran to visit my family and without expecting it, I got swept up in the Islamic fervor and traditional ways. That's how I ended up getting married to someone I'd known for only a month. I was married according to Shariah Law - at my wedding men and women were in separate rooms. The cleric reading the vows sat behind a wooden door. My family and friends back in the US were stunned at my sudden change. I wore the veil and prayed five times a day. But I was starting to doubt whether the role of traditional submissive wife was going to work for me.
Amos - I'm Deborah Amos. Coming Up, Iran's first Nobel Laureate demands a reinterpretation of Islamic law that nurtures freedom of expression.
CUT: The People of Iran have shown that they deem participation in public affairs to be their right, and that they want to be masters of their own destiny.
Amos - Shirin Ebadi and the future of Iran - coming up next. You're listening to "My Name is Iran" from American Radio Works, the national documentary unit of Minnesota Public Radio. Our program continues in just a moment, from NPR, National Public Radio.
Amos - This is an American Radio Works report. "My Name is Iran" I'm Deborah
In the U.S., there are often heated debates over where to draw the line separating church and state--for example school prayer, and nativity scenes in public places. But in Iran, even discussing the separation of mosque and state can land you in jail.
Most Islamic countries around the world base their legal codes on a set of religious laws known as "Shariah", from the Koran and the sayings of the Prophet Mohammad. But countries vary greatly in their application of Shariah. For example, adultery is a serious breach of Islamic law. But in Egypt, the punishment is six months to 2 years in jail whereas in Iran, a woman convicted of adultery may be stoned to death.
For a quarter century, the fundamentalist clerics who control Iran's courts have insisted on an ultra-strict interpretation of Shariah law. But the fundamentalists are being challenged by reformers--women, lawyers and moderate clerics, who say the laws should be open to modification. In this next segment, NPR's Davar Ardalan and co-producer Rasool Nafisi look at the growing demand in Iran for a return to a legal system that respects individual rights and liberties.
SCRIPT: In their quest for a pristine Islamic State, Iran's clerics reached into all aspects of people lives. As a teenager in the 1970's, I used to watch TV shows like the Six Million Dollar Man, along with thousands of other Iranians.
SOUND: Quranic chanting
SCRIPT: But right after the 1979 revolution, Western programs were replaced with religious ones. The one you're hearing now is actually part of a popular new Quranic request line. Something like Iran's version of American Idol--where people call in to ask for their favorite chanters to read verses from the Quran.
SOUND: host reading names
SCRIPT: The host reads the name of the callers making the request. They are from all over Iran. Their favorite chanter is Abdul Mon-em Tufi.
SOUND: Abdul Mon-em Tufi reciting the Quran
SCRIPT: The state mandates all kinds of things related to daily life-even the names of children. There is a government-approved list of acceptable Islamic names. But the most dramatic changes after the Islamic Revolution of '79 came within the courts.
CUT: My name is Parastou Forouhar. My parents were prominent dissidents in Iran. On November 22, 1998 they were brutally murdered by agents of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
SCRIPT: Parastou Forouhar is an outspoken critic of Iran's judicial system. A tall elegant woman in her early 40's, she wears a locket with photos of her mother and father--Parvaneh and Dariush Forouhar.
CUT: Forouhar - They both were stabbed to death my mother 24 times and my father 15 times in their chest.
Ardalan - And how do you know these were agents from the Iranian government? Forouhar - Because a month and a half later the intelligence service of Iran announced it themselves, that agents of this organization were responsible.
SCRIPT: Parastou's parents were long-time pro-democracy activists in Iran. Her father was imprisoned several times by the Shah. Her mother was an outspoken critic of Iran's clerical regime especially it's treatment of women. Parastou is convinced their murders were ordered at the highest levels of government. She's spent the past five years trying to obtain justice in Iran's criminal courts. In January 2001, three former intelligence ministry agents were condemned to death for the killings. But that raised another problem for Parastou. She is against the death penalty and against a law that would require her to come up with thousands of dollars to "avenge" her mother's death.
CUT: Parastou - According to the law of the Islamic Republic a woman's life is worth only half that of the man and therefore we had to pay the family of the killer of my mother blood money if we wanted to ask for the death penalty for him. This is precisely the kind of law my parents were against.
SCRIPT: Because Parastou refused to demand the death penalty as Islamic law decrees; the judges instead, gave the three light jail sentences. Examples of how arbitrary and capricious the Islamic courts are. And they say the courts are used to punish journalists and political activists who speak out against the system.
SOUND: street noise
SCRIPT: I'd like to go back to Iran to see for myself the changes that are taking place but for personal reasons, relating to my first marriage, I won't go back right now. My co-producer Rasool Nafisi is writing a book on Iranian legal reforms and goes back and forth frequently. So he went to do interviews and research for this project.
CUT: Nafisi - I have to say I was a bit concerned this time. The Judiciary is the heart and the backbone of the rule of the fundamentalist clergy, intimidating intellectuals and parliamentary members and overall giving some kind of air of terror in to the country that is why I was concerned.
Ardalan - Tell us who you met first on your trip?
Nafisi - The first person I met was Ayatollah Damad. He is known as an advocate of a liberal Islam and for thirty years he has been on the side of a moderate interpretation of Shariah Law.
SOUND: street noise in Tehran.
CUT: Nafasi - Today, December 15, I'm here at the Academy of Sciences. And I am attending one of the classes of Dr. Damad. The area I'm entering is more like a house - carpeted, you take your shoes off when you enter. Tea is getting ready and a couple of servants take care of the people here.
SOUND: Ayatollah Damad's class in Farsi.
SCRIPT: The class is on the Law of Retribution, a core principle of Shariah law. Basically an eye for an eye a tooth for a tooth. It gives victims of serious crimes or their relatives, the right to demand punishment or restitution in the form of blood money. The punishments are often fixed...but can vary regarding the status or gender of the victim and perpetrator.
CUT: Nafisi - (Damad in Farsi under his voice) In this particular session Ayatollah Damad is talking about the case of a father killing his son. Under one interpretation of the Law, the Father is immune from the death penalty because he has killed his own flesh and blood, or in other words the father has ultimate authority over his children and he can do whatever. Ayatollah then poses the very unconventional question as to whether or not the government should play a role in bringing justice by treating the father like any other criminal, in other words what is the role of the public or society in this particular case.
SCRIPT: In the law of retribution, the decision to punish is left to the victim, rather than a court, which represents society as a whole. Ayatollah Damad says these ancient ideas of vengeance and harsh physical punishments don't belong in a modern state.
CUT: Damad - But unfortunately in Iran the clergymen the great clergymen in the government don't think like me. They believe we should apply the pure Shariah by the order of Islam but my point of view is that the applying of Shariah cannot prevent the criminal. It is necessary for us--a new System
CUT: Nafisi - What I impressed me the most was he was not shy to talk highly about your great grandfather Ali Abkar Davar, who managed to turn the judiciary system upside down.
CUT: Damad - During the Pahlavi dynasty he ordered the modernized judicial system by Dr. Davar. He came and constituted a very nice judicial system and a very organized judicial system. It was very important system.
CUT: Ardalan - You know Rasool it's really interesting to hear a cleric talk about the past in this way.
CUT: Nafisi- What matters about the teachings of people like Ayatollah Damad is that he teaches to a number of law scholars and judges. They are all his graduate students. He's a part of a general tendency among the Ayatollahs and grand Ayatollahs who are coming to the conclusion based on 25 years of experience that the mixture of politics and religion has not worked for Islam or society so they are coming to this conclusion maybe not together but independently.
SOUND: street noise
SCRIPT: Moderate clerics are only one of the forces speaking out against the hard-line establishment. The second is lawyers.
SOUND: cell phone rings, Bashiri talking
SCRIPT: Ahmad Bashiri is a lawyer in Tehran. He was a judge at the time of the revolution. Bashiri says the clerics who took over had no legal training and what's more, they were suspicious of anything that had to do with the previous era when they began to islamicize the courts.
CUT: Bashiri - (in Farsi w/ translation) For example on the law of retribution, a large number of judges including myself voiced our opposition to this, and wrote letters to various newspapers on the subject. Unfortunately our letters, which were meant to help and adjust Islamic laws to the requirements of our modern society, were met with hostility from the government. The clerics regarded our behavior as opposition to the state, rather than an action meant to serve the legal system of the country.
SCRIPT: Bashiri says in recent years the regime has backed away from the enforcing the harshest manifestations of the law like stoning and lashing.
CUT: Bashiri - And let me tell you they didn't change these laws because they thought they were bad, they changed them because of all the international pressure from judiciary systems around the world. All the laws the clergy threw out of the window now have made a come back although mangled and disfigured, for example procedures governing civil and penal codes are replicas of pre-1979 legal system.
SCRIPT: Right after the revolution, lawyers were literally pushed out of the judicial system. Their desks, chairs and files were thrown into a pond near the ministry of justice. They were brought back after several years but remained under the control of the clergy.
CUT: Nafisi - Today I am coming back to visit my old friend and classmate Bahman Keshavarz -
SCRIPT: Bahman Keshavarz is the head of Iran's Bar Association.
CUT: Nafisi - I'm entering his room after passing by the secretary. Salam... Salam... I'm returning to my friend after 30 some odd years I find him in good health with his famous pointed mustache and his very keen eyes.
SCRIPT: Recently, the Bar Association has been instrumental is raising the age of marriage from nine to 13 years for girls and passing new laws that give divorced women better custody rights. But Bahman Keshavarz explains to Rasool that the Bar Association is under attack again. The Supreme Guardian Council has licensed 4,500 lawyers who haven't taken bar exams from the association. Their explanation--the country needs more lawyers and the association is too elitist.
CUT: Keshavarz in Farsi - according to the Declaration of Human Rights and the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights lawyers can not get their license to practice from the same body that appoints judges. If this is allowed to continue it will damage not only our profession, but also the judiciary itself. I don't think there is anywhere in the world left were they respect lawyers hired by the government.
SOUND: TV newscast
SCRIPT: The hard line clerics also have control over the media. In the mid-1980's I was newscaster for Iran's State Television. It was a real bastion of Islamic Orthodoxy. Everyday at 2:30 an official yellow jeep from the television station would pick me up. I was only 19, I'd show up and read what was handed to me in English and be on my way. Once a supervisor came up to me and asked if I wore mascara. He said there were complaints that my features were too attractive on the air. Later, all women newscasters were told to wear "maghnaes"--short black hoods covering our head and shoulders with a cutout for the face. I remember standing on a street corner in Tehran with my black sunglasses on waiting for a taxi when some wise guy came by and asked me if I was related to Zorro.
SOUND: newscast in Farsi talking about women admitted to university
SCRIPT: These days women on TV can wear a simple scarf. And, unlike Afghanistan under the Taliban, women and girls in Iran are encouraged to get an education. In fact, 63% of University students in Iran are female. Along with moderate Ayatollahs and lawyers, Iranian feminists are working hard within the system to get more rights for women.
CUT: There has been a big woman's lobby in Iran. And they are giving out little brochures, very small ones like 15 to 20 pages, saying what you should know about marriage and what you should know about dowry. And they are distributed and they are very cheap.
SCRIPT: Najma Yasseri is an expert on Islamic Law. Yasseri lives in Germany but she spent several months the past year sitting in Iran's family court and observing the women.
CUT: Yasseri - So I've seen how the judge is giving the dowry to women and how women are trying to negotiate their situation in the court and that is a fascinating thing because it's having Islamic arguments to reform an Islamic system which is really really interesting.
SCRIPT: In Iran today, there are hundreds of female journalists and publishers. And there are more female members in parliament then there are in the US Senate. The feminists were also instrumental in bringing back the Family Court that was disbanded after the revolution. Today eighty percent of those going to family court to dispute divorce and custody cases are women.
SCRIPT: But these lawyers, moderate Ayatollahs and women are still only making incremental changes. The majority of Iranians are under the age of 30 and they often want to just get away from all the turmoil inside the country. They get together in cafes for discreet dates. Those who can afford it are also on the internet writing web logs. There is a name for them:
CUT: Nafisi - The term is internal exile. It means that society has separated itself from the government and a great number of people take refuge and escape into various things from hard drugs to foreign movies and watching satellite. And basically pursuing a personal very private life away from edicts of government and what it is trying to do in society. In my observation I found young people who are so interested in life abroad that they emulate a foreign accent without being outside their own country. Or they read so much foreign literature or watched so many foreign movies that I am far behind them. So I found people who are in their own country foreigners and the term internal exiles fits very well with those people.
SCRIPT: Away from Iran, I don't know if I consider myself an exile. Even though I don't use it, my name is still Iran. And I felt all the pride of an Iranian in October 2003 when I heard that an Iranian human rights lawyer had just received the Nobel Peace Prize.
CUT: Woman's voice - As a lawyer, judge, lecturer, writer and activist she has spoken out clearly and strongly in her country Iran and far beyond its borders. Man's voice - And tonight we are gathered to pay homage to this year's laureate Iran Shirin Ebadi. (Music and clapping)
Amos - You are listening to "My Name is Iran," from American Radio Works, the national documentary unit of Minnesota Public Radio. I am Deborah Amos.
Major funding for American Radio Works comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the members of Minnesota Public Radio.
The audio and transcript of this program are available on our Web site, AmericanRadioWorks.org. There, you'll also find photographs of Davar and her family, images from the revolution, and more. That's AmericanRadioWorks.org.
Our program continues in just a moment from NPR, National Public Radio.
Amos - You're listening to "My Name is Iran" from American Radio Works. I'm Deborah Amos.
It's not just Iranians who are debating their country's future. Opinions come from Iranian exiles living abroad and Muslims in neighboring countries in the Middle East.
While many support the efforts of Iran's Islamic reformers, there are also those who believe Iran will only change with strong international pressure. There are even those who insist regime change is the only solution.
In December of 2003, two events brought Iran to the world's attention: first, Iran agreed to allow full inspections of its nuclear facilities, following intense pressure from European governments, the United States, and the United Nations.
In the same month, for the first time the Nobel peace prize was awarded to an Iranian, an Iranian woman, no less, who is working within the Islamic system to bring about peaceful change. In our final segment of 'My Name is Iran' Davar Ardalan and Rasool Nafisi examine the powerful forces that are working for change in Iran.
SCRIPT: Listening to sounds of Tehran's bazaars, I come across a classic Iranian scene.
SOUND: bargaining in Farsi
SCRIPT: A young woman demonstrates the art of "chooneh" or bargaining. [sounds of bargaining] She'll negotiate the price of this jewel relentlessly. Iranians are known for their bargaining skills. Like many, I wonder if the people of Iran will be able to bargain for change with the hardliners who are in power. The most well known voice advocating for peaceful reform inside Iran is that of Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi.
SOUND: Norwegian kids
SCRIPT: Just outside City hall in Oslo, Norway some 4,000 children wave white flags. They braved the cold to greet Iranian Lawyer Shirin Ebadi. Shirin Ebadi is the first Muslim woman to ever win a Peace prize. She has consistently stood up against the hard line clerical government in Iran. She's fought to improve children and women's rights, and she defends political prisoners. But not without a price--she's received death threats and has spent time in solitary confinement.
SCRIPT: Inside City Hall Shirin Ebadi is now seated next to the Royal Family of Norway. She wears no headscarf. In Iran this would be illegal but Ebadi says there are no laws in Europe requiring her to cover her hair. Her approach is pragmatic and she draws on Islamic tradition to counter fundamentalist doctrine.
CUT: Ebadi - Islam is a religion where the first divine address to its Prophet begins with the command "to read." Such an address and message cannot be in conflict with awareness, knowledge, wisdom, freedom of opinion and expression and cultural pluralism.
SCRIPT: Ebadi has gone on record stating that some Muslim countries justify repressive governments by saying that democracy isn't compatible with the teachings of Islam. Ebadi says it is. Robin Wright of the Washington Post has been covering Iran for the past 25 years. She says Shirin Ebadi is part of a larger movement in the Islamic World.
CUT: Robin Wright - The 50 plus nations of Islamic world are beginning to go through their Reformation and that means reinterpreting Islam to allow for multiple interpretations so that there is not just one set of ideas, one true path that directs all Muslims. And this is a process that is going to be very difficult, very traumatic and very even tumultuous in the Islamic world.
CUT: Ebadi - The people of Iran have been facing the continuous challenges of reconciling tradition and modernity for over 100 years.
SCRIPT: Ebadi says Iranians should be allowed to have a part in choosing their own destiny.
CUT: Ebadi - If human rights are not manifested in codified laws or put into effect by states then human beings will be left with no other choice but to stage rebellion against tyranny and oppression.
SCRIPT: But for those Iranians who want to see a complete separation of mosque and State and an Iran free from Islamic rule, Ebadi is controversial.
SCRIPT: At a demonstration outside the Nobel Institute a small group of protestors say that the reforms Ebadi preaches will only strengthen the clerics regime. Later, Ebadi causes an international stir when she uses her Nobel speech to chastise the US for human rights abuses in Guantanamo.
CUT: That platform was created for Iranian women to raise and tackle Iranian problem.
SCRIPT: Elahe Sharifpour Hicks has been an Iran Researcher at Human Rights Watch since 1994. She's disappointed that the Nobel Laureate missed an opportunity to condemn Iran on its human rights record.
CUT: Sharifour - She is now a leader inside Iran for human rights movement and nothing else. She shouldn't play into hands of Iranian government. We have many other issues to tackle instead of bashing US government.
SCRIPT: Shirin Ebadi is a lawyer; she understands the power of words; she knows the danger of ideas. Throughout history, on the basis of these ideas alone many have died and many more have been imprisoned. My great grandfather Ali Akbar Davar would come to know the power of ideas and their price.
SOUND: The Voice Of America in Farsi
SCRIPT: Across the Atlantic, in Washington DC at the headquarters of The Voice of America.
SOUND: Reza Pahlavi asking for a notepad
SCRIPT: Reza Pahlavi is getting ready to go on the air and take calls from people inside Iran. He was just a teenager when his father Mohammad Reza Shah fled Iran on this very day 25 years earlier.
SOUND: from The Voice of America
SCRIPT: Pahlavi is the leading voice for change from outside Iran. He advocates a return to Constitutional Monarchy and says democracy would strengthen not only the country but Islam as well.
CUT: Pahlavi - I would have a hard time believing that a democratic Iran that can contribute to the process of liberalization in the Middle East would not tighten the noose around the neck of those who are still preaching violence and extremism and radicalism. The consequences of democracy in the Middle East will certainly achieve that well beyond our own borders in the Middle East.
SCRIPT: Pahlavi insists that the US shouldn't engage in direct dialogue with the current regime in Iran.
CUT: Pahlavi - This is an irreformable (sic) regime. Its claim to legitimacy is not on the basis of popular sovereignty but on divine rule and divine law to be interpreted by one supreme leader who can decide what is law and what is not.
SCRIPT: Many of Iran's 70 million people have access to satellite television, Internet chat rooms and radio. These mediums are increasingly being used by the West to reach into Iran.
SOUND: Radio broadcaster
SCRIPT: The American Enterprise Institute, a think-tank with strong ties to the Bush Administration, is hosting a town hall meeting that is being fed to Iran from a radio station based in Los Angeles. It's operated by Iranian exiles. Members of the Congress want to fund stations like this one so they can strengthen their signals enough to overcome the Iranian governments efforts to jam them.
CUT: The question that is before the US government is what should be done to help?
SCRIPT: The topic is should the US help Iran financially, economically or diplomatically in order to help strengthen the forces inside working for change. One of AEI's most influential members is Richard Perle, who's also a member of the defense department's advisory board and an advocate of regime change in Iran.
CUT: Perle - We're not alone in thinking that the regime of the mullahs is dangerous. It's also disagreeable to the overwhelming majority of Iranians, so we ought to be supporting those Iranians who want to rid themselves of a group of corrupt mullahs who dictate every aspect of their lives.
SCRIPT: In his 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush included Iran in an Axis of Evil along with Iraq and North Korea. But today, the administration is sounding more conciliatory especially since Iran bowed to internal pressure and agreed to nuclear inspections. Richard Armitage is the US Deputy Secretary of State.
CUT: Armitage - I was very moved by Nobel peace prize-winner Nobel Laureate famous lawyer Shirin Ebadi, where she said these movements have to be in and of Iranians themselves within the country and not a function of outside string pulling.
SCRIPT: Democratic change is emerging in Iran today. The moderate clerics, lawyers and feminists who have pushed the ruling clerics of Iran to open up are seeing some success. But Robin Wright of the Washington Post says that doesn't mean that deep political change will come soon.
CUT: Wright - Senior hard line clerics are unprepared to give up on the essential issue and that is their veto power over political change, over legislation over the kinds of candidates who can run for public office. So they allow a wide array of openings, whether it is allowing people to play chess again or for there to public popular music--the small things so that they don't have to give up on bigger issues.
SCRIPT: Human rights lawyer Mehrangiz Kar came up against the limits of hardliners tolerance for dissent when she returned from a conference in Berlin.
CUT: Kar - I gave a lecture against Islamic Republic constitution. When I came back to Iran they arrested me and they charged me as someone who worked against national security abroad and something like that.
SCRIPT: Kar spent 2 months in solitary confinement. After her release she came to the US. Her husband, a well-known writer and intellectual, was arrested just after she left and is still in jail two years later.
CUT: Kar - Everybody inside Iran and outside Iran they are looking to big changes. I think there is a hidden movement in Iran that is secular, but they can't show themselves. Because they don't have permission to be organized. They don't have permission to be in parliament. But I can wish that we could have a referendum in the future under control of the UN and the people could have permission to say yes or no - this is something that I wish and it is in my dream.
SCRIPT: My journey is coming to a close. I can see how the past frames the present. Mehrangiz Kar tells me she wishes the young people of Iran could learn that once upon a time Iran had one of the most sophisticated legal systems in the Middle East, that 100 years ago Iran had experimented with democracy and secularism and for a time accommodated modernity and Islam. Now I have learned that my great grandfather Ali Akbar Davar was the architect of that legal system at great sacrifice to himself and his family. On January 11, 1936 at the age of 49 Ali Akbar Davar went silently into his room, wrote a long testament and asked his mother for forgiveness. He then swallowed poison and killed himself. For years it was forbidden by the government of the time to speak his name, years later his name showed up on a plaque in front of the Ministry of Justice where it remains to this day.
SCRIPT: One of the last places my co-producer Rasool Nafisi visited before leaving Iran was the home of my aunt--Mehraghdas Maleki, the 97-year-old sister of my great grandfather Davar.
SOUND: conversation in Farsi
CUT: Nafisi - I was quite impressed by her memory and her elegance and aristocratic pride. Her living room was filled with picture of five generations of Davars as she talked passionately about her late brother Ali Akbar Davar.
SOUND: Maleki speaking in Farsi
SCRIPT: My mother mourned his death for 18 years she says. He was one of a kind for his country.
Amos - The debate over religion and modernity in the Muslim world will continue for decades to come. Now that Iraq and Afghanistan are creating their new legal system, the Iranian experience becomes even more important. Twenty-five years ago Iran's Islamic revolution gave birth to extremism. Now it might very well be preparing to deliver an Islamic reformation.
"My Name is Iran" was produced by Davar Ardalan and Rasool Nafisi and edited by Deborah George.
Production assistance from Andy Lyman, Jim Lesher and Ellen Guettler.
Coordinating producer Sasha Aslanian
Project director Misha Quill.
Mixing by Bill McQuay, Vincent Muse, Tom Mudge and Craig Thorson.
Web producer Ochen Kaylan with help from Paul Schomer at NPR Online.
American Radio Works' managing editor is Stephen Smith. The executive producer is Bill Buzenberg. I'm Deborah Amos.
Major funding for American Radio Works comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the members of Minnesota Public Radio.
If you'd like to hear this, or any other American Radio Works program, visit our Web site at AmericanRadioWorks.org.
CD's of this program are available for 12 dollars. Send a check or money order to Tapes, 45 East 7th Street, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55101.
American Radio Works is the national documentary unit of Minnesota Public Radio. This is NPR, National Public Radio.
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