Shirin Ebadi is Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize

On October 10 2003, Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her courageous efforts for democracy and human rights, especially for the rights of women and children.

The selection committee praised her as a "courageous person" who "has never heeded the threat to her own safety". Now she travels abroad lecturing in the West. She is against a policy of forced regime change. Her husband, Javad Tavassolian, was an advisor to President Khatami.

The selection of Ebadi by the Norwegian Nobel committee is thought by some observers in the last few years to represent an implicit criticism of American policy in the Middle East, in particular the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. George W. Bush has referred to Iran as a member of the axis of evil.

The decision of the Nobel committee surprised some observers worldwide - then Pope John Paul II was the bookies' favourite to scoop the prestigious award amid feverish speculation that he was nearing death. Some observers, mostly supporters of Pope John Paul II, viewed her selection as a calculated and political one, along the lines of the selection of Lech Wałęsa and Mikhail Gorbachev, among others, for the Peace Award. They claimed that none of Ebadi's previous activities were directly related to the stated goals for the award of the Nobel Peace Prize, as originally stated by Alfred Nobel, and that according to the will of Alfred Nobel the prize should have been awarded "to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses".

She presented a book entitled, Democracy, human rights, and Islam in modern Iran: Psychological, social and cultural perspectives (2003,Bergen: Fagbokforlaget), to the Nobel Committee. The volume documents the historical and cultural basis of democracy and human rights from Cyrus and Darius, 2,500 years ago to Muhammad Mossadeq, the popular Prime Minister of modern Iran who nationalized the oil industry.

In Iran, officials of the Islamic Republic were either silent or critical of the selection of Ebadi, calling it a political act by a pro-western institution and were also critical when Ebadi did not cover her hair at the Nobel award ceremony. IRNA reported it in few lines that the evening newspapers and the Iranian state media waited hours to report the Nobel committee's decision—and then only as the last item on the radio news update. Reformist officials are said to have "generally welcomed the award", but "come under attack for doing so." Reformist president Mohammad Khatami did not officially congratulate Ms. Ebadi and stated that although the scientific Nobels are important, the Peace Prize is "not very important" and was awarded to Ebadi on the basis of "totally political criteria". Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi, the only official to initially congratulate Ebadi, defended the president saying "abusing the President's words about Ms. Ebadi is tantamount to abusing the prize bestowed on her for political considerations".

"The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2003 to Shirin Ebadi for her efforts for democracy and human rights. She has focused especially on the campaign for the rights of women and children." This was the first sentence of the Committee's announcement on 10 October of this year's Peace Prize Laureate. I believe this announcement has already changed your life, Shirin Ebadi. Your name will shine in the history of the Peace Prize. Let us hope that the prize will also inspire changes in your beloved home country, Iran, as well as in many other parts of the world where people need to hear your clear voice. And let me hasten to add – this applies to the western world as well. Fundamental values, such as liberty, justice and respect for human rights will – in all places and at all times – need vigilant and critical champions.