20 May 2019
The Defender of Human Rights
“A real hero, a hero who deserves a biography, autobiography or memoir is someone who may attract attention but directs that attention beyond himself or herself and reflects in their daily lives everlasting values” (Harper). Charles Harper’s essay “How Should We Choose Our Heroes” informs readers about the importance of a society choosing a truly admirable hero. He also claims that if a society is in a desperate time and they choose an unworthy hero, then society will be ruined. A hero can take on the form of any regular person. However, what makes them a hero are the traits they possess and wield to the advantage of the world. An admirable hero needs to have certain qualities that make them a hero. For example, a hero isn’t egotistical or arrogant. Surely they could do good things at points of their lives, but does this outweigh the bad? A good hero is someone who truly devotes their time and effort into a cause and pursues change. They should be courageous, caring, selfless, and have integrity. A worthy hero should do good just to do it. They shouldn’t pursue change to raise their status or seem more important, like some current celebrities. I believe a hero should recognize a situation when a group of people or even a single person are being mistreated, and stand up to help them. However, just because a person did one or two acts of kindness doesn’t necessarily make them a hero. A good hero should continue their acts of kindness and selflessness for an extended period of time. A person that is worthy of being a hero should possess two main traits - courageousness and caring. They should chase after a cause and stick with it, and, in the process, deliver a major change in the world.
Shirin Ebadi is a human rights activist and a Nobel Prize laureate, and is considered a hero by many, including me. She was born in Hamadan, Iran, in 1947 but later moved to Tehran, where she still resides. She has accomplished many inspiring things in her life, including: leading several UNICEF projects; founding many organizations dedicated to fighting for children, women, and human rights in general; delivering over 30 speeches to universities and organizations to spread awareness about human rights; representing people as a lawyer for hundreds of cases that other lawyers were too scared to take on; and ultimately causing a ripple effect through both Iran and across the world in the fight for human rights. She was also the very first woman judge in Iran. Ebadi has faced many hardships in her life, however, she always kept fighting. When a new president in Iran took over, he wasn’t too fond of women, so he removed the licenses of all of the woman judges, including Ebadi. She took a new approach and switched to being a lawyer instead. As she continued her work for human rights, the Iranian government took notice of her and decided it did not like what she was fighting for. The government bugged every phone she used, put listening devices in the electrical outlets of her home, and even sent intelligence agents to pester and prevent her from completing work. She even once overheard a conversation between two intelligence agents, where they discussed how she was the first person named on the government’s kill list. She didn’t let this stop her though, as she went on to win the Nobel Prize, while continuing her efforts to bring about positive change throughout the world. A hero must possess courage and the ability to care. Ebadi exemplifies both of these traits. She has stood up to her government time and time again to bring about change, despite knowing it could potentially cost her her life. She also cares deeply about the people of Iran and fights for her fellow citizens with all that she has. Shirin Ebadi courageously stood up against her home country in her battle for human rights by pursuing change even when she was relentlessly attacked by her government and showed her ability to care for others and liberate them from their confinement of Iran’s suffocating laws.
Ebadi accepting her Nobel PrizeNobelPrize.orgAnother example of Ebadi’s great courage is exemplified in her memoir, “Until We Are Free: My Fight for Human Rights in Iran.” In the book, she describes how her friends and family were fleeing the country when she says:
When I walked into the country’s highest court and the new revolutionary authorities told me that women could no longer be judges, I stayed. I stayed when the authorities demoted me to a clerk in the same court I had presided over as a judge. I shut my ears when the revolutionaries who had taken over the justice system talked in my presence about how women were fickle and indecisive and unfit to mete out justice, which would now be the work of men. I stayed as the Iraqi warplanes bombed houses on our street to rubble. I stayed when the new authorities of said Islam demanded violent justice, that Islam allowed for young men and women to be executed on rooftops and hung from cranes for their political beliefs, their bodies dumped in mass graves. (Ebadi 4)
Ebadi decided to stay in her country to help those in need instead of fleeing for safety like everyone around her. Even though she got demoted and demeaned, she still remained in the country to help those less fortunate than herself. She took the abuse and the pain of being denigrated and belittled, yet still helped people stand up for what they believed in. Ebadi is a true hero who exemplifies fearlessness because despite the dangers of staying in Iran, even while “...Iraqi warplanes bombed houses on our street to rubble,” she still took the risk and ended up helping hundreds of people become free of injustice in the process. In the article “Shirin Ebadi,” Amy Tikkanen describes how Ebadi was thrown in jail for her work:
In court, Ebadi defended women and dissidents and represented many people who, like her, had run afoul of the Iranian government. She also distributed evidence implicating government officials in the 1999 murders of students at the University of Tehrān, for which she was jailed for three weeks in 2000. Found guilty of “disturbing public opinion,” she was given a prison term, barred from practicing law for five years, and fined, although her sentence was later suspended. (Tikkanen “Shirin Ebadi”)
Ebadi had the Iranian government hounding after her 24/7 for her work, however, she kept persisting. Every time it dissolved one of her organizations, she found a way to make a new one. This illustrates not only her courageousness but also her determination because she accepted the sentence, all the while knowing it was wrong, and kept at her work, not caring what her government did to her. Some may say that her decision to ultimately leave Iran for good was a sign of cowardice. However, the government at the time of her departure was cracking down on her harder than ever, and they were almost to the point of killing her, despite her national fame. She knew that, despite leaving, she could still work for her people and keep her life at the same time, so she took that opportunity. It takes a lot to leave behind one’s home country, but she chose to do it anyway. Shirin Ebadi has shown the world just how far her courageousness stretches, and this makes her a deserving hero for the world to follow in her footsteps. She is the definition of courage as she keeps striving for positive change, in spite of all the challenges thrown her way.
Shirin Ebadi demonstrates her trait of caring when she chose to take on tough legal cases for no charge, despite realizing that her actions could be harmful to herself. In her book, “Until We Are Free: My Fight for Human Rights in Iran”, Ebadi talks about the case she took on regarding a little girl who was raped:
One day, as Leila was picking wildflowers in the hills outside her village, three men snuck up and attacked her. The men raped her, struck her repeatedly on the head, and then threw her to death over a nearby cliff. The police arrested the men. Because of the laws at the time valued the life of a man convicted of murder more than that of a girl raped and tossed off a cliff… I took on their case and while I did not manage to secure anything like justice, their ordeal shaped the sort of legal response that became my career… I made a showcase out of Leila’s case, writing articles and speaking out publicly, and extensive coverage in the Iranian press soon led to a public outcry. (Ebadi 7)
Ebadi took this case early in her career as a lawyer instead of as a judge. She used this case to show the world, but mostly the people of Iran, just how unfair the system was at the time. She wanted to highlight that the value of a man that committed murder was considered more valuable than a small girl. Ebadi defended Leila with everything she had to honor her memory and to provide relief for the family. She tried as hard as she could to get the men thrown in jail, but because of the prejudice against her and the corrupt justice system, she couldn’t manage to do it. Ebadi knew this beforehand, so instead of focusing all of her attention on the men, she took Leila’s case and brought it to the attention of the world, so they could all see how unjust and unfair the laws were in Iran. She didn’t have to defend this girl as her judge license had just been taken away, and she was feeling lost as to what to do next with her life. Instead, she put her own problems aside for Leila and defended her with her whole heart. In the article “The New Suffragettes: Shirin Ebadi - the Campaigner Who Has Become An International Figurehead for Women’s Rights,” author Anne Penketh talks about Shirin Ebadi’s cases and the consequences of them:
Dr. Ebadi campaigned for the change after a young girl was beaten to death by her father and stepmother, who had legal custody of the child. But persecution and arrest were Dr. Ebadi’s reward for her efforts, particularly when she took on high-profile cases with political implications, defending the families of the victims of serial murders in 1999 and 2000 which left 80 writers and political activists dead… That year, she spent three weeks in jail after a closed hearing and was banned from working as a lawyer for five years, during which time she wrote articles and books. But she also took on the case of Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian journalist who was murdered in Tehran, three weeks after being arrested for taking pictures outside Tehran’s Evin prison in 2003. Dr. Ebadi now says that she has lost faith in the Iranian judicial system, which she describes as nothing less than “a subsidiary of the Intelligence Ministry”. In Tehran, she founded one of the country’s first independent non-governmental organisations, the Association for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, which has thousands of members and offers a hotline to report abuse. (Penketh “The New Suffragettes: Shirin Ebadi - the Campaigner Who Has Become An International Figurehead for Women’s Rights”)
Shirin Ebadi was persecuted for the cases she took, over and over again, but she kept taking them and facing the consequences on her own. Almost every time Ebadi decided to defend a person or a group of people, she was punished. She was even banned from being a lawyer for five years. She didn’t let this stop her from her fight for human rights, however. She kept pushing and eventually created a safe space for people to call with reports of abuse. Shirin Ebadi displayed her caring here because she took on the cases that everyone else was afraid to take on. She knew the consequences of course, but she didn’t let fear get in the way of her fight for human rights. Everywhere she turned, colleagues and friends were being thrown in jail or killed, her organizations were being dissolved, and her license to practice law was taken away. It was at her worst times that her ability to care and her heroic traits shone through the most. She cared so much for her people that she ignored the impact it had on her personally to help others and eventually succeed. Shirin Ebadi’s incredible capacity to care for others is demonstrated through her immeasurable list of actions that she has done to help others with their fight for basic human rights.
Ebadi exemplifies the traits of courageousness and caring when she took on her government to put an end to their oppressive laws and take on the cases of people that every other lawyer in the entire country was afraid of. By relentlessly pursuing her goals and not letting the government stand in the way of her quest for human rights, Ebadi helped bring the problems within Iran to the attention of the world and establish many foundations that have had a national and international impact. Ebadi has flown past the expectations for being a hero because not only did she overcome death threats and harassment for her work, she created a lasting impact on the people of Iran to help them find the courage to fight back against the government. Ebadi has an immense ability to care for others, and it has allowed her to help her fellow countrymen in ways that have never been seen before. She took on case after case that others feared due to the government, and she managed to get justice for many. Because she made such a lasting impact, others looked up to her and aspired to be like her. In the article “Shirin Ebadi (Interview),” author Jonathan Gatehouse describes the events that occurred after Ebadi came home from receiving her Nobel Prize.
Traffic on the road to Mehrabad airport had been gridlocked for hours, so people simply abandoned their cars and continued on foot. By the time the plane touched down, 10,000 - the majority of them women, defiantly clad in white instead of the government-favoured black headscarves - were gathered outside the terminal. They clutched bouquets of flowers, waved bed sheet banners, sang and screamed her name in sheer joy. When Shirin Ebadi returned home to Tehran on Oct. 14, the crowd that awaited her made it abundantly clear how many Iranians feel about the winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize. It was a welcome fit for a conquering hero. (Gatehouse “Shirin Ebadi (Interview)”)
Ebadi had an impact on all ten thousand of these men and women because of the justice she called for and spread around the world. I consider Ebadi a hero because she inspires me to create positive change. Her fight for human rights and the way she persevered through tough challenges can be reflected in my life because sometimes when things get tough, I give up. But Ebadi never did; she kept going and it makes me want to keep going and make a difference in this world. But it’s not just me that she’s inspired, it’s her people, her country, her family and friends, and the whole world to stand up and fight for a change. Ebadi, like in the quote by Charles Harper, deserves a memoir, because she “...directs that attention beyond himself or herself and reflects in their daily lives everlasting values” (Harper). Shirin Ebadi is an amazing, dedicated woman who has turned the tide in the fight for human rights and allowed major change to occur throughout the world due to her work, and it is why I, and the world, think that she is a deserving hero.
Ebadi Shirin. Until We Are Free: My Fight for Human Rights in Iran. Random House, 2016.
Nordberg, Jenny. “'Until We Are Free,' by Shirin Ebadi.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 18 Mar. 2016, www.nytimes.com/2016/03/20/books/review/until-we-are-free-by-shirin-ebadi.html?rref=collection/timestopic/Ebadi, Shirin&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics®ion=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection.
Penketh, Anne. “The New Suffragettes: Shirin Ebadi - the Campaigner Who Has Become An.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 30 May 2013, www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/the-new-suffragettes-shirin-ebadi-the-campaigner-who-has-become-an-international-figurehead-for-8638504.html.
“Shirin Ebadi (Interview).” Shirin Ebadi (Interview) | The Canadian Encyclopedia, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/shirin-ebadi-interview.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Shirin Ebadi.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 29 Jan. 2019, www.britannica.com/biography/Shirin-Ebadi.
Stories, Art, and Media on Heroes Around the World,
"Shirin Ebadi." Gale Biography in Context, Gale, 2003. Biography In Context, https://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/K1650003782/BIC?u=powa9245&sid=BIC&xid=b4364206. Accessed 2 Apr. 2019