Respect for the rights of minorities is vital, Ebadi says

The Nation - Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Respect for other religions and the rights of ethnic minorities will be key to achieving peace in southern Thailand, visiting Nobel Laureate for Peace Shirin Ebadi said yesterday.

“This violation of minority rights has been taking place in many countries,” said Ebadi, adding that the issue could not be ignored.

Ebadi was speaking at Chulalongkorn University on “Cultural Pluralism and Democracy”. Her talk was the last in the year-long series called “Bridges: Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace”, organized by the Vienna-based International Peace Foundation.

“(Thai Buddhists) should also respect the rights of minority Muslims. On the other hand, Islam doesn’t condone violence and terrorism. Real Muslims will not resort to violence.”

Ebadi said while the fight against terrorism by governments was legitimate. It should “not be a tool for oppressing people and extinguishing the voice of dissents”.

Ebadi, who in 2003 became the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, said cracking down on separatist terrorists alone was not enough, because “violence breeds violence and violence is contagious”.

The Iranian former judge suggested officials should focus instead on addressing two of the roots of terrorism, namely injustice and ignorance. “We should strive to eliminate these two factors.”

In her speech, Ebadi also criticized undemocratic Islamic regimes by declaring that Islamic states which try to created “paradise by compulsion is worse than hell”.

She said those who claim that Islam is not compatible with democracy and try to keep the interpretation of Islam as an exclusive domain for government interpretation were “reactionary oppressors who hide behind the mask of cultural differences”.

“We could remain Muslim and respect human rights and democracy. Islam is the religion of equality. Islam is not compatible with dictatorship and is against it. Muslims should not allow deceitful oppressors to use the name of Islam.”

The laureate blamed the lack of democracy in the Middle East for much of the war, violence and oppression wracking in the region.

Ebadi, whose long years of work for human rights and democracy in Iran has caused her to receive many death threats, be imprisoned, and twice endure attempts on her life said she’s a human rights activist “by default”.

“If I was in Norway I wouldn’t have anything to do,” she said, compared to the grave situation in her country, Iran.

“I’m scared [to continue the work] but after many years of being an activist I have learnt not to allow fear to stop me from what I’m doing”.