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Iran Awakening by Shirin Ebadi is a concise auto-biography in which the author outlines not only her own life, but also the life of her home, Iran. Her focus remains though on the role of women in Iran. She paints a portrait of her own self, whose drive and courage never allowed her to be silenced. She speaks about Iran from within Iran, and she never left her homeland, feeling almost obligated to remain.
Her story begins as a child growing up in a relatively liberal home. Her mother was a bright woman who lost her chance to attend college because she was forced to marry. Ebadi's father was a Deputy Minister working under the popular government of Prime Mister Mohammad Mossadegh. Her father, as she says, was “as unpatriarchal as could be imagined for his time.” He treated her as an equal to her brother, never denying her many of the freedoms that her brother enjoyed. She entered law school in 1965 like most young adults did. She was appointed a judge by 1970. In Iran at this time, women had opportunities like this, but it also dimmed their marriage prospects, as grooms were deterred by their independence. While society allowed women other chances outside of the home, the patriarchal society still preferred women to take on a domestic role within the household. She did end up marrying an open-minded man, like her father, who did not fear her independence.
Ebadi's main focus in the book is her life and work under the Islamic Republic. People only wanted changed and saw no hurt in rallying round a fanatic like Kohmeini. It was not long before his traditional views of Islam began to spread. She was forced to wear a veil, relieved of her position and demoted to a role that was below her qualifications. Eventually, she decided to take case pro-bono, helping families who had been victimized by the antiquated views of Islamic law.
This book recounts the suffering of those people that Ebadi committed her life to representing. In doing so, she creates a great disapproval for the dictatorship of the ayatollahs. But the book does itself a great injustice when the author decides to shift the focus to herself rather than the plight of Iran. Although we must commend her for her great deeds against injustice, she does make it difficult for the reader to recognize her as symbol of democracy. She does this, in one sense, by celebrating the revolution and at the same time, condemning its consequences. However, despite this, it is still possible to recognize this book and her story as an example of how the revolution held the keys to freeing Iranian women by mobilizing and educating them. The Revolution held promises to breakdown traditional patriarchy, but in reality, it just created more discrimination against Iranian women. Ebadi hopes that the promises made early in the Revolution will finally cause the complacent people, as she described them, to rise up and bring down the Islamic Republic.
It is almost a little insulting to readers as Ebadi's continues to point out the obvious shortfalls and failed expectations of the Islamic Revolution. Even to just a person who tunes into CNN once in awhile, Ebadi's tales of discrimination and injustice are all too predictable. What is most troubling though is trying to identify what led Ebadi and members of her intellectual circle to be caught up in the fervor of the revolution. These educated, westernized individuals were somehow so easily hypnotized by the wild ideals of the revolution. It seemed that they held little value in their own freedom and rights as we saw them so easily give them up in the hopes of a dreamed utopia society becoming a reality.
Ebadi's memoir is a useful to identifying the paradox that exists in contemporary Iran. Ebadi shows us how much of the West and its mistakes have contributed to the situations mentioned in her book. Ebadi's perspective as an Iranian woman experiencing every bit of what she writes is a view very useful to us. I find the tone of her work to be a little too casual for the topics discussed in the book. I think this might come from the sense that her target audience may not be aware or have knowledge of the situation in Iran. So her casual tone is just her attempt to make the read a little easier. I would obviously like to see more detail, but as an introduction to Iran in the scopes of woman, country, and legal system it does give us an appropriate outline. And her story of what one woman can achieve under some of the most trying conditions is certainly inspirational tale that I am grateful to know.