Refusing To Be Silenced: Iranian Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi to Speak in Boulder (Part 1)

12/02/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

There is a lot of talk about Iran these days.

From the highly criticized, and widely protested, re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad this past June, to international condemnation about the country's "nuclear proliferation activities" (which Iranian authorities repeatedly deny), Iran is at the center of the debate on stability in the Middle East.

So where are the voices of Iranian women in the debate?

One woman who has been speaking out is Iran's 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Shirin Ebadi, and she will be speaking here in Colorado on Friday Oct. 9th, 7pm at Naropa University in Boulder (click the link to buy tickets in advance).

Shirin Ebadi, the first Iranian and only Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, has come out strongly against discrimination and injustice in her country, despite great risk to her own safety. In 2000, she spent a month in solitary confinement after defending the family of a student killed by police during protests.

Ebadi believes that because decisions in Iran are being made behind closed doors, away from public scrutiny, then neglecting democracy is a lot more dangerous than owning a nuclear weapon. A bold statement for her belief in the power of democracy, and one that goes hand-in-hand with her condemnation of the Iranian government's crackdown on election protesters.

The Iranian Intelligence Ministry has repeatedly summoned her husband and her brother for interrogations and ordered them to silence her. They told her husband that they could track her down wherever she was in the world. But despite the threats she continues to speak out, saying "Naturally the Iranian Government doesn't want the world to know what's happening in Iran, so it's my duty to inform as many people as possible,"

For years I worked for Urgent Action Fund for Women's Human Rights, during which I met dozens of women human rights defenders who, like Ebadi, risked everything to stand up for truth and justice.

I often wondered if I myself would have the courage to risk my life for my belief in universal human rights.

In 2007, I got the chance to find out when I was detained in Tibet by Chinese authorities for staging a pre-Olympics Tibetan Freedom protest on Mt. Everest. Five of us spent three days in detention being interrogated and threatened. It has taken years to deal with the trauma that single event caused for my family and I. I don't think I could ever return to China and challenge that regime again, not if I knew I would face much worse the second time.

Shirin Ebadi has been denounced by the state-controlled media in Iran and charged in abstentia with conspiring against the state. She has been traveling since the elections, after which she was advised by colleagues not to return. But she plans to go home in a couple of months, daring the regime to arrest the only Iranian to win a Nobel Prize. If not imprisoned, she has said she will fight to secure justice for the families of those killed in the crackdown.

It takes serious courage to choose to return to her homeland to face further imprisonment ... and before she does, she is coming to Colorado!

This is a rare opportunity for all of us to hear from a leading Iranian peace advocate about her vision for human rights and women's rights in Islam, and she will not be alone. Notable Muslim women, pioneers in the fields of conflict resolution, peace-building, community organizing, human rights, interfaith dialogue, media and Islamic thought will join Dr. Ebadi in a daylong symposium on Sat. October 10th, from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

If you can't make it, I will be covering it for the Huffington Post and will bring you the highlights in Part 2 ... though there may be too many to fit into a blog because Shirin Ebadi and her colleagues are bold and brave and they have a lot to say about women's leadership and activism in the Muslim world. Will you be listening?

When asked recently if she will stay silent on her return to Iran, Dr. Ebadi replied, "Never. If nobody stands up to them they will act even worse."

Join me,

Kiri Westby

Featured contributor to Ed and Deb Shapiro's new book, BE THE CHANGE, How Meditation Can Transform You And The World, with forewords by HH Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman.